While Reading have been grinding their way up the table, the goals still aren't flowing freely, with Chris Hartley pondering just why that is.
Seeing goals is what keeps fans coming back week after week, each of them coming to the ground hoping for that sweet unexpected moment that makes the game what it is.
With 30 games played Reading have netted just 38 goals, that is just thirty-eight times us fans have had the chance to leap from our seats and celebrate. For me, It's a pitiful total for a team that views themselves as a play-off chasing side but despite the lack of goals in this side, Reading lay 6th in the Championship table just in the last of the playoff places but question is how have they done this?
For me it's in no small part down to the defence. A defensive effort has been a trait of McDermott’s sides ever since he was appointed manager back in December 2009. It's clear to see that he likes to set his sides up with two primarily defensive minded central midfielders with Karacan and Leigertwood, currently charged with performing those roles. This strategy has worked out well from a defensive point of view so far this season with Reading conceding just 27 goals. However, by having 6 defensive minded players in the side it has left a dearth of attacking options.
It is clear that McDermott has picked up where Coppell and Pardew left off in encouraging his team to get the ball out wide as quickly before pumping in as many balls into the box as possible. To be most effective, this strategy relies upon bodies breaking into the box which is something that Reading are largely failing to do. As a fan it's frustrating to see just two players in the box for either winger to aim for, meaning that the ball has to be perfect for the striker so he has the opportunity to score which rarely happens. More often than not the ball into the box is either easy to read or worse cut out by the first defender and I've lost count of how many times on of our attacks have been ended like that.
Bearing that in mind I fail to understand how Reading fans can be critical of any of our strikers, when it is clear that for the most part they are feeding off scraps and I can count on the fingers on one hand the amount of guilt edged chances we have actually missed this season. Other than the wide players, we lack any creative force in the midfield area and this has been the case ever since Gylfi Sigurdsson was sold to Hoffenhiem at the beginning of last season. Sigurdsson was a play-maker Reading hadn't had since the days of Darren Caskey, a player who could not only provide for the forwards but also weigh in with his own far share of goals. It is not is not a coincidence that Kebe played was playing his best football with Sigurdsson in the side.
Since the sale of Siggurdsson we have lost another goal scoring threat when Shane Long was sold to West Bromwich Albion earlier in this campaign. Long filled the goal scoring void that Siggurdsson’s sale created but while his loss has clearly had an adverse affect on the amount of goals we have scored this season, I still believe that with the recent additions of Karl Sheppard and Jason Roberts to the front line we have enough fire power to eventually cover the hole left by his departure. Goals from strikers can be more replaced far more easily than from a creative midfield player like Siggurdsson but replace him we must.
It is clear that this current side lacks that attack minded passing midfielder, someone who can distribute the ball quickly and stretch teams. The addition of that type of midfielder is an absolute must before we can seriously challenge for promotion out of the championship. The good news for Reading fans is that we may have one or two of that type of midfielder coming through the academy in the shape of Jake Taylor (20) and Lawson D’Ath (18) but realistically it is too early for either to put pressure on them to be ‘that’ player in the first team.
Before you all shout at me, I do recognise that we did add an attacking midfielder in the January window in the shape of the Polish International Thomas Cwyka. He has looked impressive in his two cameo appearances of the bench and clearly his addition to the ranks has given the team a new attacking threat off the bench, something the side has been lacking. But before we get to excited it's worth remembering that those brief appearances have come on wing, were we are already leading, plus it's too small a sample size to be able to properly judge as to whether he is the missing piece of the midfield puzzle, though the early signs a positive.
The fact that we are still in position to be in the play-off hunt a is testament to how good a manager McDermott is and hopefully with the investment that Reading fans have been longing for on its way come June, we maybe be able to finally find a suitable replacement for the Sig.