So far this season Reading have scored seven goals in the first 15 minutes of games. This is the most in the Championship and they started Saturday's game in a typical high tempoed manner. Lucas Piazon and Orlando Sa both forced Nick Pope into saves whilst Nick Blackman and Ola John had shots off target.
Charlton were sloppy in possession and it looked like this would be a routine win for the home side, but after the first quarter of an hour the game became much harder for the Royals. In the remainder of the first half they managed just two shots on goal as the game rarely ventured out of the middle third of the pitch.
Both teams defended in two banks of four that only started to put the opposition under pressure close to the halfway line. One of the features of Reading's play this season has been their excellent defensive positioning which has seen them face the fewest shots by a team in the Championship.
Such a tactic relies on quick counter attacking but this approach can let the opposition of the hook. Charlton were able to play their way back into the game. They were tidy in possession and like Reading had a good defensive shape.
With Reading rarely winning the ball back in the Charlton third it meant Piazon and Sa often came deep to start moves. This allowed Charlton to get in shape and get their defence and midfield behind the ball. Sure the Addicks weren't posing a threat themselves, but they had taken the sting out of the game and for an out of form team in the lower half of the table that surely has to be the aim when away against one of the best teams in the league.
Half time changes
I remarked at half time to my fellow Tilehurst End editors that the game was like a poised game of chess where one team needed to take the gamble of losing a pawn to open the game up. Charlton were clearly not going to do that so I hoped Steve Clarke would encourage his team to play higher up the pitch and he did.
He moved Blackman up front alongside Sa and moved Piazon to the left wing and John to the right. He also crucially told Blackman and Sa to stop dropping deep and force the Charlton centre backs to stay deep even when Reading were not in possession.
The two graphics below highlight this change. In the above one, nearly half of Piazon and Sa's actions take place in middle third of the pitch. In the second graphic, nearly two thirds of Blackman and Sa's area of play takes place in the final third.
These changes stopped Patrick Bauer and Alou Diarra from pushing high up the pitch. Charlton's central midfielders, and thus their whole team, then dropped back, anxious to not leave a big gap between the defence and midfield.
This is best illustrated by the next two graphics. The first shows the area of play by Charlton's central midfielders in the first half and the bottom graphic the second half.
Clarke effectively used Charlton's strength against them. In the first half their excellent positioning meant their two banks of four stopped Reading getting out of the middle third of the pitch. In the second half it stopped them getting out of their own third. Reading were able to get on the ball and win it back higher up the pitch.
Cue the second half avalanche of shots as Reading once again showed that if they can get men into dangerous areas they now have the ability to play through even the compactest of defences.
The last ten minutes of Saturday's game was effectively a practice game of keep ball for Reading. A whole half of defending and losing a man had worn Charlton down. Reading had total control.
In the last ten minutes Reading made 144 passes. To put that into perspective, if that ratio had occurred for the whole match then the home side would have made 1296 passes.
Of course, the game was over by this time and Charlton were a beaten side only putting Reading under pressure in their own defensive third. Still this amazing stat underlines how comfortable Reading now are on the ball. The days of when the ball was treated like a hot potato are long gone!
The great entertainer
I can't finish this article without mentioning Charlton's manager. As the first half finished in a lull I couldn't help but be drawn by the antics of Guy Luzon. One minute he was pacing up and down his technical box, the next he was waving his hands widely, then he'd be shouting at his players to close Reading down before he would walk back to the dugout.
Barely a minute was he sat down and he was up again before he calmed himself down by crouching on his knees. He was pure entertainment and it was amusing to see the referee tell him to calm down. He was just being a passionate Israeli and as anyone who has been to the Middle East will know it does not take a lot for people from that region to get animated.
I can't imagine what the calm and collected Steve Clarke made of his counterpart but I loved it. I just hope Charlton stick with Luzon. He had his team lined up well defensively and I think their shortcomings were as much down to the quality in their team as him. The Championship would be poorer without Luzon.
All stats are from Squawka and WhoScored.