Sometimes you put yourself forward selflessly, thinking that there's nothing that could dampen your day. When reader of the TTE, AJ Kendrick, asked the question of "How have we conceded goals this year?" - sure, I thought, no problem. What's the worst that could be unearthed? Put it this way, I've resorted to an 8.2% cider for solace. Read on, if you dare...
Before we begin, I'll add a caveat that this is no way a 'witch hunt' on any given player or players. I have tried to be as objective as possible and given players the benefit of the doubt where I have genuinely felt there has been no fault found. Wigan's first goal where the ball ricochets off a defender, the melee in the box against Forest, for example.
What I have noted as an error is for both when the initial cross has not been dealt with AND for the man not being picked up in the box. Believe me, there's plenty of that.
I'll start off with some good news, which is scant, I'll grant you - but we've not been beaten from distance from open play. Hurrah! We have been undone by two direct free kicks - Stevie May's deflected effort in the defeat to Sheffield Wednesday and Ben Marshall's sublime finish for Blackburn. Oh, that wasn't good news...oh well, can't hide what can't be disguised any further.
Basically, there are two areas that we are being punished with time after time after time, both will come as no surprise whatsoever. Out wide and from set pieces, we are being crucified.
Six times we've conceded direct headers from corners alone. Marking at set pieces has a lot to be desired. Chris Gunter's lack of a physical presence at the back post has been targeted, clearly. By my count, he's been culpable three times of letting his man get the best of him. He's not alone, Pearce and Obita, have also lost their man from set pieces too.
Nine goals in total we've been breached by headed goals. Even at this point in the season, that seems to be a very high number. Compare the 14 goals conceded by the traditional inside the box method, nine goals from headers does seem excessive.
Out wide, as would be predicted, the amount of crosses that turn into goals is alarming. 11 goals originate from wide positions. Four from the left side, seven from the right. Again, the full backs are simply not physical enough to pressure the wide player. The gap that is often left between the cross taker and the Reading player (it's not just the full backs - HRK at Brentford, for instance) is just too great.
Opposites Attract (...or not...)
This video nasty of seeing the opposition not being closed down, ball watching (see below), or even where midfield players are not even double-teaming on the wide player to prevent the cross in the first place - it's harrowing viewing!
What seems more apparent looking back is that the 'team ethic' just isn't there. We've all seen Reading teams in the past where they'd bust a gut for each other, hounding down the opposition into making an error. That element of closing down, denying space and good ol' fashioned putting a foot in - all of these are inadequate.
Coming in the air (tonight)
I take no pleasure in pointing out that, in either letting a cross come in, or being beaten in the air, Chris Gunter has had his hand in no fewer than TEN goals against. Furthermore, in the last five games, he's been involved in five goals, so his form is undoubtedly suffering as a result. Maybe the captaincy is taking it's toll, maybe he needs more support from midfield, either way, I believe he's being targeted as a weakness. Look at his body shape here, he should be in a much better position to cope with Marshall. This move leads to Blackburn's third goal.
It's clear to me that we desperately need some defensive coaching, organisation and belief. Hopefully, as has been mentioned from the Rotherham match, Anton Ferdinand could use his experience to organise the back line and provide some needed solidity.
Always look on the...oh.
If there are any bright spots to be found, rarely are we played through the middle and we don't seem to be caught often on the counter attack. We often have enough bodies behind the ball, yet it's how we are not attacking the ball, not watching the runner(s) and preventing the inbound cross that's the undoubted problem. Voila...(sorry, Chris.)
It seems trite to say that defence is the only problem; we do need to play more as a unit, with players understanding their roles and responsibilities. Of course, having a settled XI would dictate more togetherness. Whether this group can overcome their frailties at set pieces and from out wide remain to be seen. Whatever happens before January when possible changes could be made, Reading need to have faith in their convictions, win or lose.