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Matt's Mid-Season Rants - Possession or Progression?

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Tis the season to be jolly, or in Reading's case, fairly miserable. Still, we're here as a site to get things off your chest and so Matt Cox takes a look at a disappointing first half of the season for Reading Football Club.

Ben Hoskins

Sunday's northern collapse sent Twitter into meltdown and it became clear that a real divide has arisen between the fans (or at least those egos - I am one - who indulge in the social media). Should Adkins stay or go? Some blamed the instability at the club. Others pointed to Adkins having to work with a less than ball confident squad. Another group blamed the manager's arrogance in driving ahead with his own philosophy at the expense of results. All of these are valid arguments but there is no denying the fact that beyond this dank run of Christmas form the last few months have revealed a broken side that does not function in terms of attacking flow and crucially lacks spirit and belief.

Why has this gone so wrong and how can it be fixed? It seems there are two options: either stick with the manager's plan to bring passing football and give him the funds to overhaul the squad or sack him and start again. Both options carry real financial risk and are also hamstrung by the fact that the kingmaker Anton is nowhere to be seen let alone act. It seems that neither decision will be made until the new owner is in place and that can only lead to a slow decline for the season.

Assuming the manager stays then he has to acknowledge (publicly would be preferred) the decline in his team and the failure of his tactics or at the least the failure of his team to adapt to the same.

On Twitter there is in some quarters a constant Kanute style defence of ‘passing football for me or be damned'. I find this very frustrating in terms of an argument as it offers no practical solution to the current decline. I also find it flawed as for me the best form of football is attacking positive play. That does not mean a priority on possession. It is the current (possibly waning?) fashion that the passing game is the only way to proceed. This has flowed over the last ten years from the dominance of the Spanish national team which in turn is founded on the Barcelona side. Is that the only aspiration for a successful team? Football is not the type of sport that can have a Fosbury flop revolution. The hugely disproportionate value of a goal compared to skill and or dominance means that success in this game is open to tactical interpretation. I would argue that the main contenders for the Premier league do not adhere to a slavish passing style but rather an attacking football ethos that is adapted as appropriate to win games. No matter how you want to analyse football games it is about results.

Last season it was undeniable that newer Premier League teams such as Swansea and Southampton managed to establish themselves in the Premier League with a modern brand of passing football. This gave them an edge against the bigger sides with the funds and players that otherwise they could not compete against. It is however just that - one way to win a game.

When I look at the Championship title chasers (which we are now well out of) you have teams such as Leicester, Derby, Burnley, QPR, Forest, Ipswich and even our old friend Brian's Leeds. I do not see any of these teams as ‘passing football' sides. Yet I do not see heavy criticism of their winning attacking style. Is not the main priority in this league to simply get out of it? That is done by results. Results are achieved through goals. Is not the best strategy to craft a positive winning team and then once up look to tweak the team to bring in the more cultured players to cement the passing style that can enable you to compete in that league? An example would be our troubled centre halves. None of them are confident enough and or able to play the style of football that the manager wants. A player such as Pearce should not be required to have the number of touches with his feet that are currently being asked of him - the consequence being evident in that dire second goal for Wigan. I would proffer that we cut to our cloth and maintain our centre halves in a more traditional dare I say McDermott style of play (quite sad how the name of the manager that won the league can bring out such disdain from certain fans). We try to move up the league and gather confidence and momentum. If we can secure promotion then we immediately look to bring in new faces to take the team and passing ethos forwards.

In short, if and when Leicester (and let's go for Derby) win automatic promotion to the Premier League people will not be discussing their style of play but their attacking effectiveness and confidence. Does this mean advocating long ball football? No, and it is lazy to bring that argument. Think back to 2006. We were promoted with an attacking minded team that crucially brimmed with confidence. The result? 8th place in the top division. Investment at the end of that season may well have led to an established innings.

In coming to the end of this waffle it dawns on me that this could have been a much more concise
piece -

You don't walk before you can crawl.