It's going to get pretty bleak later on, so let's start off on a fairly positive note: Reading can pass the ball and hold on to it relatively well. Reading attempted an impressive 538 passes all evening against Huddersfield, which soars roughly 100 passes over our season average. With an accuracy of 76% surpassing our season average of 74%, we can chalk up Huddersfield as a fairly successful day at the office for passing. Oh yeah, no goals, though. Let's not forget that.
Sorry, let's keep it positive for a little while longer. Oliver Norwood seems to have fallen out of favour lately with the arrival of Nathaniel Chalobah, but the former Huddersfield man is one of the few Reading players to emerge relatively unscathed from the defeat. He managed an impressive 82 passes all game, 25 more than the next Reading player (Obita). Even more impressive is the amount of the ball he saw: on his own he held 9.6% of possession, so roughly one sixth of Reading's possession was with Norwood. Not bad, and he had a good shot from the half way line, but still no goals. Darn, I said I would keep it positive.
Now's Your Chance
Ok, what about the returning cast. Clarke rotated the team for this one, and brought in some players that we haven't really seen for a while, most notably Hope Akpan, Danny Guthrie, and Jake Taylor. I've been wondering where the three of them had disappeared to, and I was really glad in particular to see Taylor back in the team, as he had a weird knack earlier in the season for poking in important goals here and there. Did any of them really take their chance back in the team?
Akpan was the only one who lasted all 90 minutes, and so his stats do seem a good bit better than the other 2, with his 59 touches comparing favourably to Taylor's 32 and Guthrie's 33. Defensively, unsurprisingly it was Akpan who offered the most, with one successful tackle and a clearance to his name. Taylor managed a couple of clearances, while Guthrie didn't fulfil any defensive actions according to WhoScored. Not good so far, but what about offensively. Guthrie made 30 passes, which put him on pace to have matched Akpan's 49 over a full 90 minutes, while Taylor managed only 22 passes in his 60 minutes. Guthrie didn't manage a single shot, while Taylor had one off target. Akpan, on the other hand, had debatably our best chance of the game with a fabulous diving header.
Of our three returnees, it seems that Hope Akpan comes off well, performing admirably offensively and defensively across a 90 minute stint. Guthrie and Taylor will be fortunate to see their services recalled at the weekend, while Akpan has put in a good case for at least an appearance off the bench.
This Is Where It Gets Ugly
Ok, now for the bad stuff. Specifically, let's look at the defence. Conceding three goals is always bad news, but was this a case of bad luck/individual error, or was this a more systemic issue at play?
A first glance at the stats does seem to point to point to a systematically bad performance, when we see that Alex Pearce made a grand total of 0 tackles and 0 interceptions all game. Such a figure rightly makes us ask questions of our defence. If we compare Pearce's stats to his Huddersfield counterpart Murray Wallace, however, it doesn't seem so bad for the Reading defender. Similar to Pearce, Wallace also delivered 0 tackles or interceptions, and he walked away with a clean sheet under his belt. Pearce also doesn't come off too badly when you consider the length of time that Wallace had to defend for: with Reading holding close to 60% possession Wallace's area was under considerably more pressure most of the time than Pearce's was, so there is no need to get overly concerned from that stat on Pearce's performance.
What is concerning, however, is Reading's apparent inability to deal with being on top in games, be that in attack or defence. It seems that our attackers lack the creativity to unlock defences that choose to sit back and absorb the pressure, while Huddersfield's pace on the break exposed a relatively sluggish Reading defence.
Oh, so you want numbers to back this up? Let's just say, this isn't the first time that Reading have dominated games and lost. And it's not he first time I've pointed it out, either. The most important numbers in this game for me are that Huddersfield had 41% possession, 6 more shots than Reading, 3 times the number of shots on target, and 3 more goals. It is strange for a home team to play such a successful counter-attack, but Huddersfield did it.
Frankly, I'm tired of pointing this out every time I write a statistical report, and you're probably sick of reading it. I'm still waiting for that one game where Reading dominate possession and take home the three points, if we get that before season's end I'll be happy, and have a good deal of hope for next season. There's my challenge for Steve Clarke, and it's worth noting that Nigel Adkins never really got such a performance from this team over his tenure. Best of luck, Steve.