5 Things: Reading v Derby County

Richard Heathcote

Another home game without a win, Saturday's clash saw the Royals take on Play-Off rivals Derby County, with the two sides honours even at 0-0. Bucks Royal gives us his '5 Things' from the match.

1. A Pog-shaped hole

What stood out for me on Saturday was the lack of direction our attacking play often seems to have when we're missing our big Russian frontman. Recent success in the league has come with a strong target man spearheading the attack, with other players in support, be it in a 4-4-2 formation or something more akin to a 4-2-3-1. The annual January upturn in form came with the partnership of Pogrebnyak and Le Fondre although Hal Robson-Kanu, fulfilling the role he clearly craves, was a more than able deputy for the spot at the head of the Reading XI at Elland Road last Tuesday. However, as soon as he was forced off through injury against Derby, his replacement Adam Le Fondre found it impossible to compete with the Rams' centre halves. It bears striking similarities to the beginning of the season when, with no new attacking signing and the Pog yet to hit form, little Alf was just as ill-suited to playing as the lone target man. What's clear is that we desperately need that physical striker in the side.

2. Akpan looking lost

On Saturday, I thought Hope Akpan looked out of his depth. At his best, he's a tenacious, energetic player who'll break down opposition attacks and work his socks off for the team. To his great credit, we've seen this side of his play come through in the New Year - his performance at Loftus Road sticks out for me as a high point, not to mention a well taken finish in the 7-1 drubbing of Bolton Wanderers back in January. However, at his worst, he's a shaky player who doesn't quite know what he is or isn't capably of. On Saturday, he often did well to win the ball, but would dally on it and give it away unnecessarily not through laziness, but more because he just didn't look settled. For me, he's very much a confidence player much more content with the simple jobs than the more complicated ones (it might just be me, but I rarely see him trying any long, ambitious passes). Without doubt it's a matter of experience - with more game-times comes know-how and confidence, the two things he really needs.

3. Lack of goals at home

It's been a surprising goal drought at the Madejski recently, given that we scored 12 goals in 2 games not that long ago. Since then, we've only been able to find the net once, that being an own-goal courtesy of Yeovil Town (although Alfie did manage to stick the ball in the net on Saturday, albeit with his hand). As I write this, Alex Pearce has said that the team finds it easier to break down teams away from home, given the skill of our quicker players, especially our wingers, to exploit the gaps found in an opposition's defence when on the counterattack. Indeed, the last couple of visitors to the Madejski (with the probable exception of Derby County) have all packed men behind the ball to avoid conceding, and then nicked goals from set pieces or counterattacks of their own. If we're to pick up the points that in all truth we should be picking up at home, we need to work out how to dominate games, and make that domination count.

4. Our Play-Off Rivals

With Wigan's impressive form (and games in hand) beginning to tell, it very much looks like a three-way scrap for the 6th spot in this year's Play-Offs. Further up the table, teams like Derby and QPR look to me like they'll have enough points to hold their ground, whereas teams like Ipswich and Blackburn might just find it too tough to make up ground. That leaves ourselves, Brighton and Hove Albion and Nottingham Forest in the hunt for 6th place, and it could very much come down to the wire. Forest currently top our mini-league on 57 points, with ourselves and Brighton level on 56, although the sea-siders have a game in hand on both us and Forest. Playing both these sides twice already, the Royals have remained unbeaten, albeit only taking one win - the 3-2 victory at the City Ground last November. The Reds have already won 3-1 on the Seagulls' ground this season, and are yet to play the reverse fixture. Typically, the Championship fixtures always throw up an interesting final day, and typically, our Play-Off hunting rivals do indeed face themselves on that last day of the season. It certainly makes for a potentially thrilling run-in.

5. The Record's Under Threat

One of my proudest thoughts about being a Reading fan is that, whatever other clubs say, we hold the record for the biggest points tally in a single season in English league football. The chant of "we hold the record, 106" rings out from the East Stand at every home game, and Saturday was no exception. But, it pains me to say that it looks like Leicester City might just be able to wrestle that record away from us this season. Currently sitting pretty with 80 points at the top of the table, it looks beyond doubt that the title will be going to the King Power Stadium. But with 11 games for the Foxes still to play, they need to drop 8 points in those remaining fixtures for us to keep our chant. It's up to us to take 3 of those points off them on the 14th April at the Madejski.

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