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Tactics Insight: Cardiff City 2-0 Reading FC

Rounding off our coverage of Reading's weekend defeat in South Wales we have a detailed look at the match highlights for moments of hope and despair.

The Good

Reading's eleventh league game without a victory over Cardiff will be consigned to the games to forget category for Royals fans. Since Saturday Reading's performance has been described as "dreadful", the team's effort and desire to win has been questioned, and one or two fans have even raised doubts about Steve Clarke's future.

The fallacy of these reactions is perhaps best shown in the tweet below by @TalkReading and the fact that David Marshall, possibly the best goalkeeper in the Championship, was named man of the match after the game. The saves Marshall made are not that of a goalkeeper who had a quiet afternoon. He had to be at his best and pulled off more than one stunning save.

I'm not sure how you can say Reading were dreadful or question their desire when they forced Marshall into making so many saves. Football is often a game of small margins and a month ago Reading probably would have had the luck they needed to score.

The chance below highlights this and also why there is some cause for hope. The speed of the Reading counter attack and the number of players in attacking positions is reminiscent of the September performances that brought such hype. A month ago Blackman would have scored and Reading would have gone onto win.

Blackman chance Cardiff

The team is out of form and confidence at the moment but it is still vastly better than last season's team. Can you imagine that team creating so many chances when they were out of form and not at their best? If Reading continue to create chances like they did against Cardiff then I remain confident with the attacking talent in the squad that we will turn things around.

The Bad

Of course if Reading's fortunes are to take a turn for better then they will have to cut out some of the sloppy mistakes that have started to creep into their game. The clip below shows Orlando Sa carelessly losing the ball on the edge of the Reading box. Craig Noone, the outstanding outfield player in the match, beats Michael Hector far too easily and only a smart save from Ali Al-Habsi stopped the Bluebirds taking the lead earlier than they did.

Noone missed chance

Last week I commented how against Huddersfield the distance between Reading's defence and attack was worryingly far. It meant that the defence, midfield and attack were effectively defending as three units which made it easier for Huddersfield to play through Reading.

It was noticeable in the first half at the Cardiff City Stadium (what an unimaginative name) how Reading made a concerted effort to play compact. The team went up and down the pitch as a unit. However, after Cardiff's second goal a few heads did drop and the team stopped playing as a unit.

The dangers of having such large gaps between the defence, midfield and attack is shown below in a near miss by Aron Gunnarsson. Oliver Norwood is trying to keep an eye on both Gunnarsson and Joe Ralls. This allowed Gunnarsson to steal a start on Norwood when the ball was played to Kenwyne Jones. Jones played a neat flick to Gunnarsson who is in acres of space.

Gunnarsson miss

Hector is forced to make a decision of whether to drop deep or challenge Gunnarsson. He picks the latter and is skillfully taken out of the game. From a Cardiff point of view it is a great move but for Reading it shows how vulnerable they can become when they stop defending as a team.

The Ugly

Reading and Kenwyne Jones have history. The Trinidad and Tobago international has now scored three goals against the Royals but it feels like more. His goal on Saturday felt very similar to his goal against us last year. Everyone knows Jones is an aerial threat so you can bet Reading would have practiced dealing with his threat before the game.

Unfortunately whatever plans Reading made to combat Cardiff's set pieces did not work. The clip below shows Anton Ferdinand telling the Reading defence to stay in a line in the build up to the opening goal. We can also see Hector trying to organise the defence whilst keeping an eye on Jones.

Jones goal 1

Whilst Reading do initially start in a line they retreat when Ralls takes the free kick. Jones get in front of Hector and under no pressure powerfully heads the ball home. Hector's positioning seems all wrong. We can see above that he starts on the far side of Jones. In hindsight this was the wrong decision as it allowed Jones to use his positioning and strength to stop him making any sort of challenge for the ball.

Jones goal 2

It would seem that Hector should have been in front of Jones. That was certainly my conclusion when I first saw the highlights. However, we should maybe take note of Martin Keown's criticism on Match of the Day 2 of Arsenal's set piece defending against Tottenham Hotspur. Keown pulled the Gunners' defenders up for not being able to see the Spurs players' shirt numbers. He argued that this meant they could not see the runs that the Spurs players made.

With that in mind take another look at the clip above but this time look at Ferdinand's marking of Sean Morrison. Unlike Hector he is standing in front of his player but, unable to see him, Morrison is able to get away from Ferdinand. It shows the complexity of marking at set pieces. It would be interesting to hear from an expert, like Ady Williams, on how they would position themselves in situations like the one above. Whatever their answer they would probably disapprove of how easy Hector made it for Jones.

All GIFs not credited made from match highlights from the official Reading FC YouTube channel.