It’s been talked about before here on The Tilehurst End and by the majority of Reading fans in the past couple of months. It’s the incredible rise of Nick Blackman, a player who since joining from Sheffield United for £1.2 million in January 2013 has been nothing but a disappointment.
Until this season. Despite scoring just nine goals in his first 85 games for the club, the 25 year old has hit the back of the net 11 times in 15 appearances so far this campaign. That makes him both the Royals’ top scorer and the Championship’s top scorer. But are Steve Clarke’s side starting to rely on Blackman too much? Are Reading becoming a so called ‘one man team’?
There’s no denying that without Nick Blackman, Reading wouldn’t be doing as well as they are this season. His tally of 11 goals and three assists in all competitions makes him the biggest contributor in the squad – Orlando Sa is second with five goals and one assist. That’s a total of difference of eight combined goals and assists, which says to me that Reading are heavily relying on Blackman a lot more than anyone else. Indeed, without his goals, the Royals would only have 16 points, placing us 15th in the Championship table.
When Blackman doesn’t perform, Reading don’t perform. He has scored in every single one of the club’s wins this season except for against Colchester in the League Cup, and his worst performance of the campaign coincided with the team’s worst performance of the campaign against Fulham. In most games, he has dominated our player of the match polls, and that shows how much the fans value him. On the pitch, Blackman is the player who all of his teammates look to find. Take Matej Vydra for example, who when presented with a golden opportunity to score against Brighton at the weekend decided to try and pass to Blackman instead. All of our attacks go through Blackman, whether that be on the left, right or straight down the middle, he is always there.
If you had been told at the start of the season that Blackman would be injured for the entirety of the campaign, you probably wouldn’t have really minded. But if he were to get injured for the rest of the season in the next game, then you might worry how Reading would pick up as many points and the bookies would probably make our odds for promotion higher.
Up until the last couple of games, the defence has been very impressive this season. Whoever has been picked out of Paul McShane, Anton Ferdinand and Michael Hector has generally done a good job and kept opposition attackers out well. If you exclude the horrendous defending seen at Craven Cottage and the four goals conceded, Reading would have the joint second best goals against record in the league. Considering how sloppy the back four were last season, it’s a massive improvement. Even though they might not get as much praise or recognition that Blackman, it could be said that the defence have been equally as important.
Furthermore, it’s certainly not just Blackman who is full of quality further up the field. So far this season, Orlando Sa has scored a hat-trick, Danny Williams has scored within 15 seconds of kick-off and even Hal Robson-Kanu was hitting form before he got injured. Just as the defence has improved, so has the attack and they seem to have a lot more confidence going forward than last season. Goals are coming from all areas of the pitch. When Blackman did have a poor game against Fulham, other players stepped up attacking wise – specifically Vydra and Sa (in the first half anyway).
One player who I haven’t mentioned but might just be the most important out of the rest of the squad is Oliver Norwood. It is his work in the middle of the park that is vital to Reading, and he has a big role to play in a lot of the chances that Blackman creates. According to Squawka, Norwood has completed nearly 200 more passes than anyone else in the side (616) and created the most chances (26). His long pass to set up Blackman at Rotherham was just as good as the finish, and he attempts those kind passes most games. More often than not they are completed. I hate to go back to the Fulham game again, but Norwood was another player who had a rare poor game in West London, which could be given as a big reason why we lost. He didn’t provide his normal defensive cover and was unable to supply the attack effectively.
It's worth noting that Blackman has played in every single one of Reading’s league and cup matches this season, so we are yet to see the effect it would have on the team if he was missing. You could imagine there might be less chances, less shots on goal and most importantly, less goals. But as I’ve said, there are other quality attacking players in the side who should be more than capable of winning the game for the Royals.
Looking at the two Reading sides that have got promotion in the past, both have gone up to the Premier League on good all round team performances. However, there were players in both squads whose goals were key to the success. Kitson and Doyle both got 18 league goals in 05/06, whilst Adam Le Fondre got 12 league goals in 11/12. Blackman could well beat both of those tallies, but I don’t think that makes Reading a one man team, it just makes him an excellent goal scorer.
The way I see it is that even though Blackman has been so crucial with his impact this season, he has certainly been helped by the rest of the team. He is naturally going to attract the most attention because of his goals, but there are a lot of unsung heroes in Steve Clarke’s squad such as Norwood and Sa. Nick Blackman might be the star man, but overall the team are performing well together and that’s what has got us promoted in the past.
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