Many fans were disappointed to end a four game winning streak with a 1-1 draw against a side who at the start of play sat second from bottom of the Championship table. But compare the result to last season when Reading lost 2-1 away at Rotherham, and you can instantly see an improvement from 2014-15. Indeed, if you look at all the teams that Reading have played this season, all of the results are better, as shown in the table below.
From those 12 games, last season the Royals won one, drew two and lost nine with four goals scored and 22 conceded. This campaign, they have won six, drawn four and lost two with 18 goals scored and eight conceded. Furthermore, just three points were accumulated in 2014-15 compared with 22 this time around. It’s an incredible turnaround and one that Steve Clarke must be congratulated for.
If you need any more positive stats, here’s one my fellow TTE assistant editor BucksRoyal brought up after the game. In the promotion winning 2011-12 campaign, a 1-1 draw in Yorkshire on a Tuesday night (against Doncaster) also ended a winning streak, which on that occasion was seven games long. Hands up if you now feel as positive as Nigel Adkins!
All Down To Ali
We’ve praised the defence for the entire season for limiting the amount of shots that opponents take at goal, but against Rotherham, it was a slightly different story. The Millers had 17 shots (the most any team has had against Reading this season) and six on target (also the highest tally this campaign). It meant that Ali Ali-Habsi was called into action more than he or Jonathan Bond has before in a Royals shirt.
It’s a prospect that may have worried some fans after shaky performances in the League Cup against Portsmouth and Everton, but the Oman international is growing in confidence following clean sheets against Middlesbrough and Charlton. When Reading were on the back foot in the second half, he made important saves to deny Jonson Clarke-Harris and then Farrend Rawson. This came after a superb save to keep out Matt Derbyshire’s effort in the first half.
Jonathan Bond is set to return from injury in a few weeks’ time, but would you want him to replace Al-Habsi in the starting line-up?
As much as Nick Blackman’s goal was spectacular, it wouldn’t have been possible without an incredible pass from Oliver Norwood – one that I don’t think many players in the Championship would have been able to complete. Only four other midfielders can better his average pass length of 23 metres this season. He is the man that keeps Reading ticking over in the middle of the park, and created more chances than anyone else in a blue and white shirt on Tuesday night. Overall in 2015-16, the Northern Irishman has created 24 chances, which is nine more than his nearest Royal rival Orlando Sa.
It’s a contrast to last season when Norwood’s excellent early season form dipped upon the arrival of Steve Clarke, but he now seems to be back to his best under the Scot, who has started him in every league game so far this season. The already pivotal role he plays in the side has also just got even more important due to the news that Stephen Quinn will be out injured until the New Year.
Taylor Made Replacement
Not for one second am I suggesting that Andrew Taylor should replace Jordan Obita in the starting XI every week, but against Rotherham he once again showed that he is perfectly capable of covering for the youngster every now and again. The 29 year old showed his experience of playing in the top two tiers of English football for nearly 10 years by proving solid at the back with four clearances, three interceptions and one block – only Michael Hector made more in total.
Overall, his stats are actually strangely similar to that of Obita so far in 2015-16. Both make an average of six defensive actions per game, both have a 60% success rate in duels, whilst Taylor’s average pass accuracy of 69% is only 1% lower than Obita’s percentage. Spooky.
This is probably pure coincidence, but it could suggest that Steve Clarke wants to improve the defensive part of Obita’s game as a way of banishing those thoughts of playing further up the field which are probably lingering in the back of the left-back’s head. That can only be a good thing in my opinion, and having an experienced left-back at the club like Andrew Taylor creates a role model figure that Obita has never really had in that position except for perhaps a pretty much dead on his feet Wayne Bridge (no, Jure Travner does not count!). The fact that Taylor can also comfortably and confidently provide back-up when the 21 year needs a rest makes the loan signing even more beneficial.
*All stats provided by Squawka, WhoScored and the BBC.