Ask most Middlesbrough fans about Reading and it would be likely that they would describe the Royals as hard to beat but low in quality. Four points and two clean sheets in our two encounters show Reading are no pushovers.
But across the two games Reading have made only 680 passes (329 at the weekend and 351 up at the Riverside). The Royals passing accuracy for both games was also only 57% - a joint worst for the whole season. So apologies Boro fans if we haven't been that entertaining for you this season, but thank you for the four points!
Lacklustre first half
Of course Boro fans don't really care about how entertaining Reading are. But if like me you're debating whether to renew your season ticket next season, then these sort of things matter. And in the first half we were not entertaining. Reading created just one chance in the opening 45 minutes, by Hal Robson-Kanu, which Pavel Pogrebnyak missed.
The stats get worse attacking wise. After the second minute and two Jordan Obita crosses, Reading attempted just one more cross (by Chris Gunter) from open play. There were also only two occasions (Pogrebnyak past Dean Whitehead and Robson-Kanu past Albert Adomah) when Reading players dribbled past their opponents and they were both in the middle third of the pitch.
The inability of Steve Clarke's men to get a real attacking threat going in the first half is perhaps best shown by the passing of Simon Cox (in red in the graphic below) and Jamie Mackie (in blue). At half-time I had actually thought that Cox had linked up reasonably well. His through ball on the right was a rare attempt by a Reading player to try and force the issue. But his passing shows that the Royals were not able to get him onto the ball in the areas that really matter.
Mackie's passing on the other hand shows what little attacking threat he offered. His passes are all very short and simple. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it does highlight his lack of x-factor compared to Garath McCleary. Coupled with his zero crossing or dribbling attempts (which stayed the same in the second half) and you're left with a performance that hints at playing it safe. Is that what you really want from a winger?
So far this all seems rather negative. In Reading's defence, Steve Clarke did admit in his post-match interview that he wasn't happy with his team's first half performance. But at this stage of his reign Clarke will be happy that he has already made Reading a tougher team to beat.
Saturday's nil-nil draw may not live long in the memory but it was another clean sheet for the Royals. This was also just the second time this season that Reading have managed two clean sheets in a row. When appointed Clarke said he likes his teams to be hard to beat. He has also said in the past how important he thinks a good defence is. These two things are obviously intertwined.
The defensive stats perhaps show that the former West Brom manager is already asking his team to do more defensively. From August onwards, if you look at the number of defensive actions (blocks, clearances and interceptions) per game, it is noticeable how three of the five games where Reading did the most actions have been under Clarke.
Doing the dirty work
All this perhaps points towards a team who under their previous manager were not willing to do the dirty work. In Adkins' last 16 games Reading conceded 30 times. Under Clarke the record is four goals in five games. Need further evidence of the Clarke effect. Then may I may give you the performance of Reading's wingers. Jamie Mackie may not have been at his best offensively, but you can always guarantee that he will work hard. Four tackles and a block are a testament to that.
But what about Hal Robson-Kanu, a player often accused of going missing and not putting a shift in. Well the Wales international did three tackles, one interception and two blocks. So the often derided Robson-Kanu, at least statistically, seems to have worked harder than the winger who is pretty much the definition of a hard working winger. This isn't a one off either. Against Norwich at home HRK did two blocks, three clearances, two interceptions and five tackles. His stats for Brighton are similar though less impressive.
It seems that Robson-Kanu, like his Reading teammates, is responding to and willing to put a shift in for his new manager. Against Middlesbrough, Jordan Obita was the only outfield starter to not attempt a tackle. Clarke has got Reading worker harder and making sure the opposition know they are in a game. It may not be too entertaining at the moment, but the foundations to return the Royals into a competitive team are being laid.