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Blackburn 3-1 Reading FC: A Statistical Review

Another half decent performance from the Royals was wasted with another worrying defensive performance. Will Jones wonders whether Nigel Adkins' tactics played into Blackburn's hands.

Jan Kruger

I think it's fair to say that few fans would have picked the same side as Nigel Adkins did on Saturday. When asked about his selection, he seemed particularly defensive, claiming he had no regrets with the way he had lined his team up.

His reasoning, for selecting Nick Blackman and Jake Taylor on the wings, was that Blackburn play a narrow game which he wanted to combat with two wide men whose instincts are to cut in. Certainly the statistics back his point. This season 31% of Blackburn's attacks have come through the middle of the pitch compared to just 21% for Reading.

The game's key player

With this in mind, Adkins' choice of Blackman and Taylor seemed to make sense. Yet, as we know, the game's outstanding and decisive player ended up being Rovers' winger Ben Marshall. The former Stoke City man terrorised Chris Gunter, setting up two goals as well as scoring a stunning 30 yard free kick.

What is noticeable about Marshall's statistics, for his man-of-the-match performance, was how wide he played. The graphic below shows his 41 touches during the game. Far from cutting in, he actually rarely ventured away from the left flank.

Ben Marshall

Looking at his most recent appearances, it is clear that Marshall is a wide man who is happy to play on both flanks, stay wide, or cut inside. His touchline hugging performance against the Royals, would seem to be down to Adkins tactics forcing him out wide, and/or Gary Bowyer targeting Chris Gunter as a weakness.

Targeting Reading's weaknesses

Now I like Gunter but I have to admit that I am becoming concerned how often we concede goals from his wing. The Wales international has great energy and put in some superb overlapping runs in the first half. But time and time again he simply fails to stop decisive crosses.

If we fans notice such things you can bet that opposition managers do. They will also notice that no other team in the Championship has conceded as many headed goals as Reading (9).

If they needed another stat to encourage them to attack Reading down the wings, then they may be persuaded by the 24 goals the Royals have conceded inside their own area. By contrast, Adkins' team have only conceded two goals from shots outside their area: a deflected Stevie May free kick and Marshall's wonder strike on Saturday.

Wrong priorities

To be fair to Adkins, Blackburn have shown they are a dangerous team from distance. Only Watford have scored more than their six goals from outside the penalty area. But when you've got as bad as a defence as Reading have, sometimes it makes more sense to concentrate on your own weaknesses rather than the opposition's strengths.

Reading's full backs seem unable to stop crosses, particular on the counter attack, while their defensive partners at centre back are clearly far from dominant in the air. It would seem the opposition should be encouraged to play inside, perhaps by wide midfielders told to protect their full backs.

For Blackburn's first goal, Nick Blackman didn't do this. When Tom Cairney picked up the ball in the centre of the park, both Hope Akpan and Chris Gunter followed Corry Evans' run. Oliver Norwood tried to close down Cairney who ignored Evans' run and played the ball out wide for Marshall to run onto.

By the time Blackman realised, Marshall was on the ball, with Gunter out of position, and able to put over the cross that Rudy Gestede not surprisingly beat Jordan Obita to, and headed home the opening goal.

If Adkins was worried by Blackburn's strength at attacking through the middle then personally I think it would have made more sense to sacrifice a striker, especially as Simon Cox has struggled in recent weeks to have an impact linking up with the midfield.

As the first goal showed, an extra central midfielder might have been closer to Cairney meaning Norwood could have made the covering run that Gunter did, allowing Reading's captain to worry about Marshall.

Of course hindsight is a wonderful thing! Whatever your take on the current situation though, it is clear that something is not working.

On Tuesday against Rotherham, Reading will play one of the only two sides that attack more down the middle than Blackburn. What changes Adkins makes, may show whether he really did have regrets about his tactical choices against Rovers.