The context must always be considered with any stat-checking in football; firstly let’s consider the pre-season claims thrown around by Nigel Adkins and the club’s media.
A triple digit goals tally, 20+ clean sheets, and arguably most important of all, the promise of attractive, entertaining football. Such two words were never further from the truth in the 1-0 win over Charlton on Tuesday, that’s for sure.
The passing game:
This is perhaps the biggest bugbear for many fans in the early Adkins era, and the stats from the last two games won’t please those wishing for possession-oriented football. 46% possession against Nottingham Forest was followed by another minority 48% at home to lowly-Charlton.
Away from home this can form into an effective game plan, based on set-pieces (from which we scored 2) and the counter (from which we scored the winner). We had a 65% pass success rate typical of a long-ball approach as Danny Guthrie, Chris Gunter and Alex McCarthy sent up 9 ‘hoofs’ each. However, while Guthrie’s found a hooped-shirt 4 times, the other two only successfully played 1 long ball, which is ineffective when under pressure in a game away to a big team- the ball will keep coming back at you.
Many teams, such as Swansea, prefer to pass around the back-line, hiding the ball away from opponents no matter what their stature in away games, while also scoring via counter-attacks and speedy forward play. There is no doubt Reading are some way off the quality needed to fulfill this, and with this approach new to the players under a new-ish manager, patience is needed.
Something is different about Charlton, though, a team who freely allowed Reading to play a smooth attacking game early on and then only grew in confidence as the home team faded and sat in on a flimsy 1-0 lead. 68% pass accuracy is indicative of a team who all-too-often resorted to lumping the ball clear as they defended. While passing it clear is unwise for the reasons just mentioned, the stats don’t lie when it comes to taking due care and attention with the basics when under low pressure.
Passing it out from the back is becoming more common for Reading, so McCarthy’s 20 long balls (8 successful) seems excessive, while Danny Guthrie played 18- completing 14.
Comparing the games directly we see that at Forest Pavel Pogrebnyak scored a team-high 83% pass accuracy, with Guthrie on a somewhat low 73%. Back at home on Tuesday night Danny Williams return to the Madejski seemed to deserve the praise he took, completing 88% of passes, while replacement Hope Akpan saw just 25% of his passes completed- which by all accounts isn’t good enough in any style of football and adds weight to some of the thoughts Wimb looked at the other week when looking at Akpan's fortunes.
Taking the time to look at the season as a whole so far, it's a bit surprising- and worrying given their injury worries- to see Royston Drenthe (86.2%) and Jem Karacan (84%) as Reading’s most accurate passers. There are no prizes for guessing who attempts the most passes; Danny Guthrie with 49.8. His deep sit-in role in central midfield suits him and the team; a very modern role that sees him dictate the play as Williams/Karacan offer the dirty-side to the game with a greater box-to-box emphasis.
A typical complaint about Alex McCarthy, if one can be made at all, is that his kicking isn’t quite as accurate as Adam Federici, whose long-range kicks are often undoubtedly pinpoint. But, this season the stats show McCarthy has 55.8% accuracy over Federici’s 44%.
The jump-out statistics from these 2 games are the goals conceded, 2 against Forest and a clean-sheet against Charlton. With team-changes made before the Friday’s encounter Kaspars Gorkss and Alex Pearce partnered up in central defence, many fans would fear a lack of pace or miss the influence of vice-captain Sean Morrison.
Both games saw Kaspars Gorkss made most clearances (13 on both occasions) while the Latvian captain intercepted possession 4 times in Nottingham- temporary left-back Shaun Cummings charted highest with 2 against Charlton.
That should do well to answer the critics of Kaspars, who still has the experienced defensive eye that reminds me of Ivar Ingimarsson in his later years.
It is worth noting that across the season Chris Baird has made the most interceptions per game (2.2), typical of an experienced central midfielder and showcasing his role at the club, if he is to have one.
Looking at how the two sides took on Reading, Charlton were restricted to shots from range (69%), while their left-back Cedric Evina was very advanced up the pitch, pointing towards how pinned in our half Reading were late in the game. Nottingham Forest, meanwhile, played 31% of the game in our final-third and mainly attacked down the left, possibly targeting our out-of-position full-back Stephen Kelly.
The most worrying statistic is that we only have one play with over 2 assists this season, Garath McCleary (7). McCleary was more of a threat against Forest than on Tuesday night, and his pitch position was game unusually central, nevertheless the goal he created coming from the right-wing. That trip saw Jordan Obita play in the most crosses (5, completing 1) as we predominantly attacked down the wings. Our wingers were more restricted in the Charlton game, shown by their pitch positions and lack of crosses, something to fix if we are to dominate home games on a more regular basis.
In both games we had the majority of our shots from outside the area, taking a total of 10 in Nottingham and 13 at home to Charlton, showing clinicality away and poor chance creation at home.
Across the season Royston has popped up as the most accurate crosser (2.4 per game), frequent shooter (2- but no goals) and most fouled (2.6), so his critics may not realise his value to the team during an injury lay-off, but his fans will not like to hear that he is also our most dispossessed (3.6 times a match).
So there is as many statistics as I dare throw at you in one lengthy article.
I think many key points can be taken from this; our free-flowing passing game is restricted to one or two individual players and our control of possession is generally poor.
In attack the prevalence of Garath McCleary is there to be seen, whereas the middle-ranking of some players such as Alfie and Hal Robson-Kanu is telling, considering our high expectations of such players. Also, as a relatively low-expectation player, Gorkss seems to be doing a pretty good job at the back, even if a lack of a ‘falling over’ tally saves his blushes somewhat.
One player who did appear high up the charts is Jem Karacan, emphasising how dearly we may miss him, as the Championship is a real squad game, it may be useful to retain Chris Baird given Danny Williams’ injury worries and Hope Akpan’s comparatively low stats and lack of confidence.
Personally, a crucial point to take from this article is that Nigel Adkins is almost the epitome modern manager. Himself and his staff will work closely with the facts and figures of the games and be well aware of what I’ve just pointed out, so next time a questionable substitution is made, or we play long-ball away from home; just remember, the reasoning behind it could be found here.
For your own analysis and interpretations feel free to check this summary for more. Feel free to post comments on the topic of stats, and as to whether you’d like this could be a semi-regular feature.