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Further Reading: Reading FC 1-0 Blackburn Rovers

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Might Brian McDermott have found this Reading team more familiar than first thought? Our Stats Desk look at the strengths and weaknesses of the current squad and find Sunday's win followed a trend for this season.

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Feelgood Factor

Whether fans agree or not with the return of Brian McDermott, few could deny that there was a feel-good factor at the Madejski Stadium on Sunday. McDermott may divide opinion amongst the Reading fanbase but it is hard not to warm to him. Michael Calvin, in his book on football managers, described him as being "admired as a man of unchallenged integrity and deceptive sensitivity."

Nice guys don't always win but at a club like Reading being decent, honest and hard-working counts for something. If McDermott can install that into his team then the stats for this season suggest Reading will be successful. Steve Clarke may ultimately not be remembered fondly by Royals fans but he left the club in a healthier state than when he took over.

Nigel Adkins left a team devoid of confidence but even worse was the lack of any clear identity. Despite having two pre-seasons and a full season in charge it was never clear what he was trying to get Reading to do.

Clarke never got a full season in charge, however, still managed to develop a team that showed potential. Playing a counter attacking game Reading turned over promotion favourites and looked set for a title challenge. Until it all went pear-shaped.

Familiar Squad?

Looking at the stats for this season there are a couple of trends that perhaps show why that happened and why the return of McDermott may have been a better or worse decision than first thought.

Perhaps the one that may surprise and alarm fans most is how the number of passes Reading make per game seems to influence the outcome. This season Reading have won just one game when they have made more than 400 passes. They have also lost just twice, to late goals against Hull and QPR, when they have made less than 400 passes.

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Now of course 400 is not a magic number. Reading did not beat Blackburn because they were on the "right side" of 400 nor lose to Cardiff because they made the mistake of attempting one pass too many. What the graph above highlights is both the strength and weakness of this current Reading team.

Under Steve Clarke Reading always looked their best when playing a counter attacking game. The FA Cup semi-final performance was one of the best tactical performances I have ever seen from a Reading team. The impressive late summer wins over Brentford, Ipswich, Bristol City, Burnley and Middlesbrough all saw Reading play a similar game.

Following those wins Reading rightly became a team to be feared and the opposition in the last two months have been far more prone to sitting deep than the teams listed above. I saw enough under Clarke to see that there were signs that Reading were getting better on the ball and that he knew that it was a long term weakness that needed remedying.

This is now the job of McDermott. Certainly we know his teams tend to be counter attacking so there shouldn't be much change in style. The challenge for McDermott and the current squad is how they deal with teams who sit back. Blackburn were happy to play an open game so Reading were never forced to break down a team with eight or more men behind the ball.

One of the biggest criticisms of McDermott last time he was manager was that he was a long ball manager whose teams struggled to break teams down. There's a lot of goodwill towards him at the moment but that will go very quickly if those same deficiencies start to occur regularly again.

Working Hard

McDermott may have walked into a very different looking dressing room last week but it is one that has been coached to play a game he would approve of. In some way the situation is similar to the last time he was appointed Reading manager. Just like in 2010 his predecessor is a highly rated coach. He is again taking over a well coached team who are out of confidence, under performing and not getting the results they should be.

McDermott is possibly the best man manager Reading has ever had so fans should be optimistic for the rest of the season. This is not a team that needs overhauling or radical changes in tactics.

This is perhaps shown by the second trend in Reading's stats. As the graph below shows, the more interceptions Reading make per game the better their results are. That Reading have won every game where they made less than 400 passes and more than 19 interceptions again shows their strengths as a counter attacking team.

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However, I think the graph also shows something that some people might think a far too simplified argument: the harder a team works the better it will do. The only anomaly in terms of results in the graph is the defeat to Birmingham but that was an excellent performance that deserved at least a draw.

Again I'm not claiming there is a magic number that Reading need to pass to win a game. However, the games Reading did make more interceptions were probably the same games they closed the opposition down quicker and were in better positions defensively. Such stats after 22 games surely can't be a complete coincidence.

I questioned the players' mentality after the defeat to QPR before Clarke was sacked and I'd seen these stats. I can't help but think that there's a connection with Reading missing the hard-working Stephen Quinn, Hal Robson-Kanu and Aaron Tshibola and them doing less of the dirty work and results suffering.

Luckily for McDermott, Quinn and Robson-Kanu have returned to fitness just as he's taken charge. With his man management skills and their return it would not come as a surprise to me if Reading charge up the table.

How many passes did Reading attempt on Sunday? 398. How many interceptions did they make? 20. It would appear the win over Blackburn was more familiar than we realised. Maybe the turnaround has started.

Stats taken from WhoScored.