Sunday, 2 October 2016

Brentford 4-1 Reading

Back to Earth with a bit of a bump, a 4-1 loss to Brentford signalling the end of eight games unbeaten. Although disappointing, I'll definitely take more 4-1 losses if they sandwich runs of eight games without loss. To be honest, and this may sound ridiculous given the scoreline, I didn't think we played that much worse than against Huddersfield, but Brentford's parity in terms of numbers, combined with the ability to actually punish mistakes.

It didn't really start well when within thirty seconds Liam Moore had already punted the ball downfield, and Reading never really managed to get hold of it again in the first half, culminating in two late goals. The first was a fairly nice flowing Brentford move, where the home side's continual man over eventually paid dividends. However, Obita constantly let his man inside of him which gave the opportunity to begin with. He consistently tries to read the pass into the feet of the man on the outside, which allows the ball to be played inside. The second was dreadful, with two men around the man on the ball somehow allowing him to still slip it through to an unmarked Vibe to poke home.

All three goals in the second half I was somewhat unsighted for - terraces have their downsides. It seemed to me that people crept in behind the defence far too easily, far too often. I was totally unsighted for the penalty award, but Yann at least put it away well.

We did have more chances, hitting the woodwork a couple of times, but ultimately we seemed toothless. One of the main issues is that our centre backs trying to play long cross-field balls when they weren't working in the slightest. In fact, their pass map is fairly telling. Lots of green around the back, but the longer attempts all show red.

There's some cause for optimism that the two sitting in front of them, JVDB and Evans were both much better with finding their targets, and on occasion helped get in behind the Brentford backline. I'd rather see Moore and McShane almost solely distribute short - to the fullbacks or the two CMs. It just requires someone to take the initiative and drive us forward - we do still miss opportunities to put our foot on the pedal, but that should come with time.

Overall it was pretty dire, but Brentford are a strong side and a point against Derby this weekend builds on a decent start. The international break may have come a good point this time round, and trips to QPR and Rotherham sandwich a home tie with Aston Villa - at the moment we look capable of getting something from all those sides. Onwards!

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Twenty-Sixteen - Seventeen

A somewhat interesting summer has seen a fair bit of change. McDermott replaced by Stam, the instrumental Norwood following the prodigal son in Tshibola out the door, and a not insignificant influx of talent under the guidance of the new boss and the sharply dressed Brian Tevreden.

And the new management structure is a good place to start. Reading Stam's and Tevreden's interviews there seems to be a fair bit of reason for optimism. By the sounds of it a great deal of the thinking behind Stam's appointment is his dedication to youth - and our transfer policy also reflects that. If we can take the DoF at his word then the reason to turn down signing Campi was because of our options within the academy. It's almost the actual dream. Not just that, we've been turning down signings based on the fact they don't fit the system. It's all very Barcelona.

With the departure of Norwood there's now a big chance for Liam Kelly in particular, who seems to be becoming a legitimate choice recently, to step up and make his mark. Equally there's not necessarily as much depth on the wings, with only McCleary and Beerens as our first choice options, so fingers crossed that there may also be chances for Fosu and Stacey.

Recruitment has been fairly solid. Beerens and Swift in particular are exciting signings that will hopefully be able to cut open defences - an area that we've often struggled in the past few seasons. We looked light up front last season, and although Méïte and Mendes may not be signings to set the world alight, they're more options. Rakels and Samuel also looked decent during pre-season, the former has really impressed me since he finally got his chance in the side.

I think there are still key weaknesses, Cooper still has a mistake in him and the full backs are not the best, and a 4-3-3 doesn't offer the same degree as cover as McDermott's preferred 4-2-3-1. And while the striking department may have had new faces brought in, its still not the most potent on paper.

My heart says on the fringes of the top 10, while my head is just hoping we avoid relegation. We shall see.

Also, I would implore anyone that hasn't to read Brian Tevreden's interview with Charles Watts.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The NEW Improved* EFL Trophy

Today, as well as the launch of the new kits, Reading's academy were drawn into EFL Trophy Southern Group A alongside Bristol Rovers, Portsmouth, and Yeovil. With away trips to Fratton Park and the Memorial Ground there's certainly incentive for our fans, but I'm still against academy sides entering the competition.

For one, part of this seems to have been set up for the Premier League sides but the likes of Arsenal, the Manchester clubs, and Liverpool are conspicuous in their absence; the addition of Championship clubs seems to be in response to this snub. The emphasis on academies playing one team at the club's 'actual' stadium was surely so some sides get the chance to play at Old Trafford, Anfield, and The Emirates. So while Oxford get the chance to play at Stamford Bridge and Northampton will visit the Olympic Stadium others will end up with a trip to The Hawthorns, The AMEX, and Carrow Road which is less glamorous.

I'm not entirely sure what side teams will end up fielding. From our perspective I would much rather our top talents go out on loan to get experience throughout the season - rather than in three glorified friendly games. So we'll likely end up with those that can't make the first team squad plus a few second string youngsters. Bearing in mind Aston Villa's U21s lost to Biggleswade and ours could not overcome Basingstoke it's going to be interesting. Heaven forbid anyone gets injured.

Presumably to incorporate the changes, there's now a group stage. In a climate where the Premier League are continually complaining about the amount of games they have to play, those in the Trophy now have, potentially, two more than they would have had to begin with. Alongside the league, the League Cup - that starts in the first week of the season, and the FA Cup - whose first round is the same week as the last group games of the Trophy, teams will be playing at least fifty-one games.

Frankly the lower leagues are not there for the sake of teams in the Premier League (and Championship). I was lucky enough to go to the final in 2009 and it was one of the greatest matches I've witnessed - Luton eventually winning in extra time after Claude Gnakpa came off the bench to nick it 3-2. I hope this is an abject failure. 

Monday, 4 July 2016

Exit Through the Gift Shop

There's been upheaval at Reading in recent years, and this summer is no different, with even the Bosnian Messi leaving the club. However, more seriously, there's a few first teamers that won't be here come August as well.

Hal Robson-Kanu is having an absolute whale of a time on international duty with his country. The fella now has - allegedly - multiple offers from the Premier League. However at the club the guy has been phoning it in since our relegation, after arguably being our best player in the top division. I decided to check out his stats, and wasn't surprised at what I found. "Player has no significant strengths" really does sum it up. He does, however, show up in the big games, so it's possible that a step up would actually get the best out of him. I was sad about losing him until he said running down his contract was the best decision of his life - at which point it's time to say goodbye and hope he fails at his next club.

Then there's HRK's teammate - Chris Gunter. Another who, despite his club form, deserves all the plaudits his gaining with his country. But again, his form away on international duty isn't translated to the Championship. His assist for one of the most famous goals in Wales' history - Vokes' header against Belgium - doesn't hide the fact that his crossing in a Reading shirt has been woeful. Two assists in forty-four matches isn't great for a full back who seems to have a license to get forward. Especially when playing with your supposed best friend, who you had a telepathic connection with at one point, but totally lost at some point. Then there's the fact he has a £1m release clause, and the only reason I can think of to have such a price is that he wouldn't sign a contract without it. In which case I guess it's good to get some sort of fee for him. Maybe.

I'm on record as saying that selling Aaron Tshibola will be the single worst decision we make this transfer window and I absolutely stick by that. Last season we looked absolutely lost without someone playing in the anchorman role. Norwood tried, and it totally crippled his offensive capability - and considering he was our only ray of hope going forward at times last year, that's not good. Williams also doesn't fit the role. However Hector and Tshibola absolutely dominated there. Their breaking up of play made the back four look far more solid, while simultaneously starting more attacks than the rest of the team combined. Perhaps it's Clarke's pull which , but Tish's comments that he wants to leave - coming within a day of HRK's knife in the back - stings. I can't help but think that older regimes may have got more than £5m for one of our most talented prospects.

It's possible that Gravenberch and van den Berg will somewhat replace Tshibola (and other centre backs we've lost) but they're not academy graduates, they haven't been instilled with 'the Reading wayTM'. They're very much part of the new way. They, and that way, are totally untested. I'm slightly worried.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

This is the Worst Season of Football Since 2014/15 a.k.a. It's the Hope that Kills You

I think the worst bit about a final minute loss to 'boro is the absolute inevitability of the situation. Vydra misses a chance to put Reading into the lead, Williams loses his head, and Reading concede an absolutely shambolic goal that almost makes last season's Brentford debacle look like competent defending.

You only have to look at the reverse fixture to see how far Reading have fallen - a commanding 2-0 victory that cemented third place in the table. That fixture was the last before the first international break, which arguably proved the turning point in this season. Reading then scraped past Charlton before surrendering a two goal advantage in four minutes away at Craven Cottage and from there it's been a truly dire six months. Before that game Reading had won 6 games, and sat second in the table, in the subsequent 30 games there have been only seven more wins. How did it go so wrong?

Despite how it felt in September most pre-season signings have proved to be catrostrophic failures. Orlando Sá is no longer at the club, and Paolo Hurtado returned to Portugal on loan. Jonathon Bond and Ali Al-Habsi have both tried their best to give the other a chance in goal. The loanees have faired no better. Álex hasn't been able to get into the team, Piazon has contributed towards five league goals in twenty two starts, which sounds reasonable until you consider the last was Bolton at home in November after charging down a poor clearance. Matej Vydra has cost the club more points than he's won, and his goal against Forest was also his first goal or assist in the league since the last game against Forest. Whoscored ranks him the worst of any regular player (the players below him don't have as many starts combined as he does).

There was one shining light this year, Nick Blackman. The kid who finally came good. The signs have legitimately been there since he signed, but for some reason he was scapegoated and never given a real chance until this year. Then bam! Contributing more goals before the first international break than Vydra has in the entire season. He dried up after the Fulham debacle, as did the whole team, and a lot of that was down to his move back to the wing where he was nowhere near as potent. He was offloaded in January, unfortunately when there was still a chance to kick on. Still, perhaps he didn't want to be here - who could blame him considering the abuse he got from some of the fans - or perhaps the offer was too good to turn down.

Then there's the decision to phase out loan players which leads to the resurgence of the Williams/Norwood partnership which does not work. I am, frankly, tired of Danny Williams existence at Reading - especially after tonight's scrap with the captain. I won't be unhappy if he's offloaded over summer. He's not passionate, he's hotheaded. He's an absolute liability half the time, and his shots from outside the box do not work at all. Two goals in 79 shots from outside the penalty area (and that's including a fairly simple slot past the keeper against Bolton). Yes, his other goal is in the running for goal of the season but the law of averages always comes good at some stage.

With Williams pushing forward, and playing as a Regista (I've been playing a lot of Football Manager lately), that leaves Norwood to sit in a Half Back role. A player who makes more key passes per game than anybody else in the team is relegated to sitting in front of the back four. I understand that Tshibola isn't fit, and we need to get ready to life without Hector, but then play a five at the back and let Norwood roam until his heart's content.

I think I'd be playing a 5-2-2-1 (or at least that's what my brother tells me it's called). Obita and Gunter can push forward; Cooper can play with the ball at his feet; and Norwood can push up a bit, dropping into the hole when necessary. We manage to get all of Norwood, John, and McCleary on the pitch at once so we'd potentially have some sort of creativity in the side. Quinn would hopefully provide the hustle and bustle in midfield, while Kermorgant can hold up the ball and lay it off to the wingers/an onrushing Norwood to pick out the top corner for sixty-five yards.

I'm done with this season, I've been done with this season for weeks. This is how I felt about last season. That is precisely what I'm worried about. I do think calling for McDermott's head is premature, it must be difficult to motivate a team when half the team won't be here come August. Last time he managed to make an immediate impact because Siggy carried the team for months, this will be a slower rebuild, but I'm confident he'll get there. Let's remember, he's the guy that brought in Nick Blackman to begin with and we all know what a bargain that turned out to be.

Monday, 14 March 2016

FA Cup: Reading 0-2 Crystal Palace

Heartbreak. Absolute heartbreak. After eighty-five minutes Cooper reaches across Bolasie, and the Crystal Palace man takes a tumble inside the box. After a couple of seconds Mike Dean points at the spot. Cabaye converts, even with Al-Habsi managing to get a hand to it and Palace proceed to Wembley. At the ground I thought it was a penalty, from replays it's the definition of soft. After Benteke's tumble last weekend Palace may feel like things have been set right, but from Reading's point of view it was just the solidification of how awful a game Dean had.

Palace were the better team, and really should have been out of sight, but a string of excellent Al-Hasbi saves, alongside some goalline clearances, and Palace's profligacy generally - in total they had twenty-three shots - kept the home side in it. In fact if Ola John had kept his composure when Hennessey flapped at the ball and it fell to the Dutchman, then The Royals could have gone one-nil up. Instead he shot wide from a tight angle, rather than attempting to shift the ball a little more central. In fact both of our best chances fell to John, Hal Robson-Kanu who had a quiet game managed to find space and loop a ball to the back post which found the winger unmarked, but Hennessey got down to his header.

The standard of refereeing in the Championship isn't terrific, but if Mike Dean is anything to go by then the division above isn't much better. It felt like the Palace players were chummier with him than ours. Things that they could get away with our players couldn't. Delaney fouled Hal Robson-Kanu on the edge of the area but escaped a yellow, before Cooper had the exact same foul punished by a booking at the other end. There was also the curious decision that a high foot from Hector lead to a direct free-kick. And don't even get me started on Hennessey going over the top of McShane somehow won the keeper a foul. There were multiple decisions that Reading got that I didn't understand either - but this is an incredibly biased blog that will just accept those.

I expected Obita and Gunter to be torn apart, and while Zaha and Bolasie ran the show in large parts they put up a much better account of themselves than I expected. McShane looked assured alongside them, and if it wasn't for that questionable decision from Dean even Cooper played his part. The latter just needs to learn to keep his head a little more, his first booking was an unnecessary tackle on the edge of the box which could have ended worse if our Omani goalkeeper wasn't having such a solid game. In fact Al-Habsi managed to receive the MOTM from multiple sources despite the final scoreline, and was the main reason that the game stayed goalless for so long.

At the end of the day Palace deserved the game, but the manner of the defeat is what stings.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Reading 0-0 Burnley

Reading fans have now gone two games without seeing a goal after this weekend's game against Burnley ended in a second consecutive goalless draw. At least this time there was some excitement.

Andre Gray's Shots
In truth Burnley should have been out sight, but Andre Gray had an absolutely shocking game. In the third minute the division top scorer nipped in front of Cooper, but skied it from six yards. Around the hour mark he tumbled (read: dived) over the leg of Al-Habsi to win a penalty. After a fair bit of a kerfuffle, in which Reading showed passion that's been lacking for much of the season, Gray's shot was well saved. Potentially Hal scuffing up the penalty spot wasn't the greatest show of sportsmanship ever, and Al-Habsi may have been off his line before the ball was struck but all of that is consigned to irrelevance. Seconds later the Burnley striker somehow knocked the ball wide from the centre of the goal, five yards out. It is somewhat telling that the only change Sean Dyche made was to replace the former Brentford man.

Reading obviously had their own chances; the best saw Piazon nod over from six yards. A glorious Norwood cross picked out the Chelsea loanee completely unmarked, but he didn't convert. In fact that was pretty much the only thing of note Piazon did all game. 0 chances created, 0 crosses, 0 take-ons, 0 tackles, 1 interception, and that header. Like Gray, not a surprise he was substituted.

Hal Robson-Kanu had a solid first forty-five, but dropped off in the second period. His cross early in the game saw Kermorgant hit the post. He does seem to be finding some form, although he failed with all three of his attempted take-ons, with Stephen Ward managing to dispossess him every time. Maybe he should stick to passing back to Gunter (or maybe not, more on that in a sec). Meanwhile Norwood continues to be a shining light; despite a relatively poor game, his four key passes was the most of anyone on the pitch.

Hector again showed why defensive midfield should be considered his primary position, not really putting a foot wrong. The only minor issue being he seemed to give his overconfidence to Cooper who played himself into trouble a little and, as mentioned, let Gray in front of him for a chance that should have seen us go one nil down. McShane alongside him bailed him out a couple of times too with his experience. Obviously he's still young, and he should cut those mistakes out of his game as he grows - thankfully they didn't cost us this time.

Gunter and Obita's Crossing
The real cause for concern comes at full back on both sides of the pitch. Four crosses in total with none of them finding a Reading shirt is atrocious. It's not new, but it's frustrating. Obita always feels like he's phoning it in, and while Gunter works hard his crossing is poor. When compared to Matthew Lowton it looks even worse. The Burnley right-back attempted five crosses, and found his target with two. An infinitely better return than Reading's duo. It's not just crossing, comparing them to their opposite numbers on Saturday the stats read:

Tackles : 43% - 83%
Aerial Duels : 33% - 75%
Chances Created : 0 - 2

The only place Gunter and Obita come out on top is passing percentage, and that's only because Burnley play a much more direct style, as can be seen below. Historically Reading's full backs have overlapped their wingers, put in dangerous crosses, and run their socks off. Hypothetically that's doable within the seemingly preferred 4-2-3-1 we play. This would allow the AML/AMR to play slightly narrower in a role I believe Football Manager would call the 'Inside Forward'. That means that Kermorgant would be less isolated, and would have three options for knockdowns/flick-ons than the one he currently has. The only downside is it requires a much more disciplined DM to fill in when one goes forward, which doesn't tend to be the case when Norwood and Williams play together. It would shackle two players who require much freer roles. However playing with Hector or Tish is perfect. They sit further back, and play much more as the anchor man. So in this particular game I'd expect far more touches in around the opposition box, but Obita didn't make a pass in the final third. Football requires risk. I don't think it's particularly surprising we can't open up defenses when our full backs seem so scared to lose the ball.

Full backs' passing for both teams

Either way a draw against third in the table is nothing to be sniffed at - especially when it means we've taken four points from them this season. It may have taken an ill-tempered game with some of the poorest refereeing I've seen in a long time (appealing should not equal a foul, and how many fouls does it take Barton to get booked?) but there was some actual passion on show for what felt like the first time in a long time. Now just to find some shooting boots and maybe we can coast our way to the play-offs on the back of a succession of 1-0 victories. After we get through to the fifth round of the FA Cup this weekend, of course.