Reading struggled to assert dominance in the middle of the park
Normally when I sit down to look through the stats after a home game, a familiar story emerges. Typically, we have quite a lot of possession and make a lot more touches and passes than the opposition - giving us a fairly solid control of the game, despite our lack of productivity in the final third.
However, things were rather different on Saturday - to put things into perspective, and to show you just how bad we were against Bolton, I've compared some of the basic stats against the ones from the Brighton game - in each match the away side was pretty poor on the day, but it's important to remember that Brighton and Bolton are at the opposite ends of the table.
Against the then league leaders, the Royals racked up an impressive 53% possession, 549 passes to Brighton's 450, and 738 touches to 611 - and that was hardly a stellar Reading performance. In contrast, the equivalent figures for the Bolton game were 50%, 399 to 408, and 569 to 576. If you swapped those numbers round, you could reasonably argue that Reading were outplayed by one of the best sides in the division but, obviously, this wasn't the case.
The statistics clearly show that the home side simply didn't play like the home side - Reading didn't get stuck in to the opposition and then assert themselves onto the game. There may well be a good explanation for this drop in performance (*cough Steve Clarke cough*), but what I saw on Saturday was still dire nonetheless.
Player in focus: Garath McCleary
One big positive to take away from the match was an encouraging performance from Garath McCleary. In the international break, I wrote about how we needed to get the Jamaican back on form - as, when he's at his best, he can be so very dangerous from out wide. Well, judging by the Bolton game, it looks like we might be seeing that sooner rather than later.
Crucially, McCleary was given a much wider role on Saturday than he had been in previous weeks. Here are his heatmaps from Huddersfield and Bolton respectively...
What a difference there is between the two above images! In the first, McCleary drifts infield a lot, rarely hugging the touchline. However, in the second, he does just that - even spending a lot of time in the dangerous space by the corner flag where he can potentially beat the full back before getting in behind the defence. That's exactly what I think Reading have lacked of late, so it's very encouraging to see it coming back into our game. Although you obviously want some variation going forwards, the breakdown of Reading's attacks against Bolton show that Steve Clarke saw the importance of utilising Garath McCleary...
Indeed, that wide positioning paid dividends for McCleary on Saturday afternoon, as shown by his personal stats. He made the most dribbles (7), crosses (16) and key passes (7), and even won corner duty off Oliver Norwood - who's been fairly unimpressive in that category recently. With Reading in need of midfield replacements for the injured Stephen Quinn, Aaron Tshibola and Hal Robson-Kanu, McCleary is making a strong case to be given the run of starts that he needs to get back to his best.
Reading continue to struggle against the lower sides
We're a fair way through the season now, and have only six more sides to play before we start getting into the reverse fixtures. Looking at the worse sides in the division, we've gone up against almost all of them (seven out of the bottom ten to be exact), but the results don't make for especially pretty reading.
In fairness, we haven't yet lost to anyone below 12th in the table, but we've still struggled against the basement boys. Of the previously mentioned seven, we've only beaten three of them (Bristol City, Charlton and Bolton) - drawing the other four matches (Leeds United, MK Dons, Huddersfield and Rotherham). What's more, as I see it, we haven't been that convincing in any of those three matches we've actually won. The trip to Ashton Gate was a routine, yet fairly dull, 2-0 win, with Reading struggling to break down either Charlton or Bolton when they visited the Madejski. In other words, Saturday's performance was the latest in a long line of sub-par showings against teams that we really should be beating comfortably if we want to get back into the Premier League.
You may be wondering about those other three games against Championship strugglers. As it happens, those teams are Nottingham Forest, QPR and Preston - our next three opponents. If we're to think about turning this season around and climbing up the table, we have the perfect opportunity to do just that in the coming couple of weeks - starting with next Saturday's trip to the City Ground.
All stats and graphics are taken from WhoScored.com.