It might seem like a little bit of a chore to wade through the statistics of this match in which it seemed we lacked a cutting edge, but actually the figures are kinder to Reading than one would expect on first glance. Obviously raw data can’t change what Royals fans saw on the day and in replays, but there are some positives to glean from the match, despite the meek 1-0 loss. As ever, thanks to EPL Index for the data.
The figures here are relatively similar for both sides. West Brom completed 339/440 passes for a 77% pass completion rate. Reading mustered 382 attempts, completing 286, or 75% of their passes. That’s 70 more than Reading tried at home to Spurs. In terms of possession, we saw more of the ball at the Hawthorns than at the Mad Stad last week. Andre Villas-Boas’ high pressing system limited the Royals to just 42.3% of possession, whereas the Baggies were happier for us to keep the ball – 47.1% of the time, Reading had possession. It’s certainly a far cry from the Chelsea match, where we saw just 28.6% of the ball!
In the final third Reading actually attempted more passes than West Brom – 139 to 134 – but only completed 78 compared to the Baggies’ 83. One passing stat which might surprise Royals fans is the gulf in passing between our two strikers Pogrebnyak and Le Fondre. When we signed the Pog, many thought he would be the big target and link-man to bring others into play. However, he only completed 11 of 18 passes for 61%, the lowest for any outfield player for either team. Meanwhile Adam Le Fondre only misplaced one of his 19 attempted passes – the highest completion rate of any starting player.
Many have thought Danny Guthrie would be the key midfield cog this year, but it was infact Mikele Leigertwood who attempted more passes (58) than anyone else in yellow. Chris Gunter (49) and Nicky Shorey (48) also tried more than the former Newcastle man (47), but their accuracies were far worse – Guthrie’s 89% by far beating out the other three, who all scored below 75%. Leigertwood (8/17) also attempted more final-third passes than Guthrie (10/14), but again it was the full-backs who were asked to get forward and support attacks – Shorey (11/19) and Gunter (7/16). Good to see the Royals being braver in the final third by pushing up the full-backs.
This department was far better than at home to Spurs, where we completed just 3 of 28 crosses. This week we completed 9 of 33 and it was Jobi McAnuff who completed 4 of them. Shorey weighed in with 2 more successful crosses, whilst Garath McCleary has now completed just one of 17 in the last two games, the sole success coming against the Baggies. Chris Gunter attempted 4 but completed none, so clearly the left side is more effective than the right at the moment, despite the impression from watching the game, where it appeared McAnuff was more wasteful than most.
Frustratingly, Reading won no corners on Saturday, which is a source from which Royals fans might get more excited than most owing to our success last year from set-pieces. Alex Pearce had one header from a free-kick but no other set-play chances greatly reduced our odds of scoring. Whether it was our own failure to win the corners or tactical play from West Brom to limit them, it proved costly. Chris Brunt was the main crossing outlet for the Baggies – he attempted 17 crosses and was successful with 6, including the corner from which Jonas Olsson hit the bar.
Well, for all the positivity, there had to be some negatives… You can’t score if you don’t shoot and for the fourth game in a row, we’ve been outgunned up top. It was only 11 shots to 10 for West Brom, but the Royals only mustered one shot on target all game – Garath McCleary’s spectacular but weak overhead kick. Adam Le Fondre had two attempts (one off target, one blocked) whilst Pogrebnyak didn’t have a shot all game. Kaspars Gorkss even popped up with a shot – a 35 yard daisy cutter which, er, bobbled well wide.
Romelu Lukaku for the Baggies only had two shots but he showed that if you at least hit the target, anything can happen – Alex McCarthy might be a little disappointed to be beaten from 18 yards but if you don’t buy a ticket, you can’t win the raffle. The England U21 keeper will be happier to have kept out West Brom’s top gunner James Morrison, whose two shots on target were both well saved.
Reading won more on the ground than West Brom, and slightly less in the air. Breaking down the key zones: Jobi McAnuff was Reading’s most successful ground dueller, winning 8 of his 11 contests. Pavel Pogrebnyak, meanwhile, was least successful, losing 75% of his contests on the floor.
The match was, as you might expect, dominated by the centre backs in the air. Pearce and Gorkss won 9 of their 13 aerial duels, mainly against Romelu Lukaku who won only 2 of 8. Pogrebnyak had more success in the air, winning 4 of 8, but again the Baggies defenders for the most part had our attackers in their pockets – their centre-backs winning 11 of their 17 aerial challenges.
Reading just about matched West Brom in every department except finishing. The Baggies were pretty much matched in passing and tackling, and in fact beaten on crossing, but again it’s the shooting which is letting the Royals down. One shot on target all game from a team playing 4-4-2 is simply wasteful, and it’s easy to see why Reading have scored just 4 goals in 4 games. Ironically this was the first match we’ve been kept out in, despite perhaps having the best opportunity to score – on paper. Of course, football isn’t played on reams of paper, but the stats can reveal players making better or worse contributions than you think.
Jobi McAnuff bore most of the brunt of Reading’s last two losses but the stats show he actually had a decent game. He attempted 6 dribbles and completed 5, he attempted 9 crosses and completed 4, and he generally kept the ball when challenged on the ground. Compare this to McCleary, who may have electric pace and the "wow" factor, but his stats (0/0 dribbles, 1/7 crosses, 3/6 ground duels) show him to perhaps be less effective than people might believe. One can only hope that when Jimmy Kebe returns, he might provide the spark Reading need.
Another returning player is Jason Roberts, who could be back in a couple of weeks. His ball retention may be better than Pog’s, which might free the Russian up to do more in front of goal – the stats reveal he might not be the target man we all hoped he would be. Yet Le Fondre had the most shots of any Reading player, and the best pass completion, so that just tells you that raw stats can’t give you the same impression watching the game does. Football is becoming increasingly played in the stats lab these days and I’m sure McDermott and his team will have an eye on these figures – we’re matching similar teams in every department except the finishing one, which could be the most important of all.