Something went right against Rotherham that has been missing over the past month or so, I'd say it was a bit of grit and courage from the manager.
Adkins was criticised at the weekend for dropping Simon Cox and Jamie Mackie from the side in place of Jake Taylor and Nick Blackman, a decision the manager defended on the grounds of Blackburn's centrally-minded style of play. Anticipating that Taylor and Blackman would be more likely to stay central in their play, the manager reckoned that we would have ample midfield force to deal with the Blackburn attack. Will's review shows that Adkins may have bargained wrongly here, and the game collapsed when Blackburn noticed Reading's Plan A and reacted in style.
If Adkins was worried about central-minded attacking, then the visit of Rotherham should have had him especially nervous. Of all the teams in the Championship, none have mounted more attacks down the centre of the pitch than the Millers (34%, compared to Reading's 21%). Did we see the same game plan come out, though? Clearly not, as Cox and Mackie received a recall to the side.
This was a Reading team designed to play to its strengths, and not designed as a defensive reaction to the set-up of the opposition. Adkins could have acted even more defensively last night, and, as it turns out, Rotherham played more central than their average (37% compared to an average of 34%). We did not see this side, though, and a brave selection choice bore some sweet fruit. Hopefully we continue to see a proactive Reading in the next few months, and I think we are in a respected enough position as a club to start trying to stamp some of our own identity on games rather than reacting to others.
Two of Adkins' bravest decisions against Rotherham on Tuesday night were to bring in Anton Ferdinand and Stephen Kelly in an attempt to stop the inevitability of conceding three goals. The defensive stats from last night suggest that this may have been a good call, although it is worth remembering that Michael Hector played for the second half, so this is not by any means an indictment of Reading's young defenders.
Rotherham may be the 4th lowest scorers in the division, but don't confuse them for a defensively-minded side because of this. Steve Evans' men sit 7th in the Championship in terms of average shots per game, with Reading sit on lowly 20th. They also play high up the pitch, with a season average of 32% of play in opponent's half; the best in the league. The significance of a clean sheet, then, is not to be understated. Sure, Rotherham may not be clinical (7th in number of shots taken, 20th in number of goals scored), but the fact that Reading limited them to only 8 shots last night (almost 7 below their season average) shows that something went right at the back.
One of the main goals for an experienced defence would be to force attackers away from the goal, and force them into long shots. This season, Reading have struggled in both these departments.
Reading's struggle in blocking crosses this season is hardly a secret: we are second in terms of goals conceded within the 6 yard box. Further to that, Reading have struggled to force offences into shooting long, with only 40% of attempts on the Reading goal coming from outside the box, the 4th lowest in the Championship. Against Rotherham, however, the Reading defence managed to stop any shots at all occurring within the 6 yard box, and 50% of shots came from outside the area. These figures defy our season averages thus far, and suggest that a bit of experience at the back managed to shore up an uncertain defence.
Not out of the woods yet...
There's always something to improve on, and this week I have picked up on something that bothered me at the start of the season. Reading are not a balanced team.
Look at the attack zones from last night:
Reading Attack Zones Against Rotherham
It is perhaps unsurprising that more attacks came down the right with the form that Mackie was in, but with our best crosser of the ball, Jordan Obita, out on the left, we will want to bring him into games more in the coming weeks (assuming that he keeps his spot on the wing).
Chris Gunter is an easy scapegoat for this imbalance: a right footed player at left back cannot be as effective as a left-footer. This doesn't seem totally fair to me, though, and I lay the blame at the feet of Danny Williams.
Now, I know that he is returning from injury, and I want to go relatively easy on him until he is back to full match fitness, but he struggled to impact the game much, and as the left sided central midfielder (with Norwood on the right), it was his job to bring the left side of the team into play.
Williams made only 26 touches of the ball, compared to Norwood's impressive 77. His passing could also hardly be described as ‘incisive':
Williams' Passing Against Rotherham
As I've said, and as Wimb pointed out in his player ratings, it's not fair to go too hard on Williams, but this performance leaves room for improvement. His passing was accurate, but we will need to see more of the adventurous Danny Williams that we saw at the end of last season if he is to keep the much-improved Hope Akpan out of this squad.
Two positives and something to improve on is always a good way to look at things, and yesterday's match is as statistically impressive as the scoreline suggested. The final word has to go to Nigel Adkins, though: his bold team selection paid off, and we seem to have a much stronger base to push off now compared to the win against Blackpool.
All stats courtesy of Squawka and WhoScored.com