The Strikers' Performances
Both Hal Robson-Kanu and Matej Vydra came in for criticism from fans during and after Reading's defeat to Wolves. Watching the highlights of the game it's hard not to feel that was a little bit harsh. Reading created three decent chances before Wolves took the lead and they were involved in the build-up each time. Not to mention, the link-up play between the two was very encouraging. Added to that, for players who are supposedly on barren runs, they did get into very encouraging positions throughout the first half - which is illustrated by the following graphic...
As you can see, Vydra and Robson-Kanu covered a lot of ground for Reading, giving variation to the Royals' attacks. Indeed, the green clusters of activity are spread out, meaning that we weren't seeing the attacking duo simply going through the motions. Surely they deserve some credit for not hiding on the pitch - a hallmark of out-of-form players?
For me, this is very encouraging viewing. Even with Vydra and Robson-Kanu apparently out of form, some key elements are still there in their gameplay. That gives Brian McDermott, fresh off the boat (again), something to work with in the coming weeks. Of course, we've been here before. Several years ago, it was Shane Long who found himself in a very Robson-Kanu/Vydra-esque situation. Then, as now, the talent was clearly there, but things weren't quite clicking. Eventually, McDermott managed to get the best out of Long and Reading reaped the rewards. Could we see a similar thing happen this season?
Wolves sit very deep in second half
You'd be forgiven for thinking that Boxing Day's match was a home game, such was the degree to which Wolves sat back in the second period. For an indication of that, take a glance at the following graphics - the former shows the opening 45, and the latter the closing 45...
On one level this is encouraging, but on another one it's incredibly frustrating. Granted, Reading did manage to take the game to their hosts with the score at 1-0, incredibly keeping the majority of the play in Wolves' half. For a team that's often looked short of ideas up top, the Royals controlled the game in the latter period and racked up a lot of shots (24 to the home side's 6, over the course of the full 90).
However, as we all know, dominance and sheer number of shots don't win you football matches. For all their control of the game, Reading could only muster three efforts on target in the entire game - Wolves may have only had one, but it went in the back of the net.
I'd argue that this is evidence that the performance on Saturday was much more a 'Steve Clarke' one than a 'Brian McDermott' one. Throughout this season, as I've noted in various previous Further Readings, Reading rack up an awful lot of shots - typically from outside the box, and often from midfielders likes Danny Williams and Nick Blackman. As it happens, they were joint first and second respectively, as far as number of shots against Wolves on Saturday goes. This isn't necessarily a bad thing per se - you can't score if you don't shoot after all, but Brian McDermott needs to find a way of converting those shots into goals.
John and McCleary
With players returning from injury, places in Brian McDermott's side will soon be at a premium. One battle for a starting spot we're likely to see is between Ola John and Garath McCleary, two pretty orthodox wingers who offer pace and trickery. But, as we can see from the stats, it's pretty clear which one is performing at a higher standard.
This is perhaps a little hypocritical of me to say, considering that I wrote a piece in his defence only a few weeks ago, but Garath McCleary isn't the better of the two. Against Wolves, McCleary played for the first 62 minutes, with John completing the game. Looking at one of the most relevant points of comparison however, you'd think that it was John who'd been on the pitch for longer. Indeed, in half an hour, the Dutchman made eight dribbles - more than anyone else on the pitch in the entire game - and also got a respectable 29 touches. In contrast, McCleary made only five dribbles, and could manage only fractionally more touches - 32.
I'm not going to lie, I'm a big Garath McCleary fan. On his day, he's certainly one of the best players in the squad, and even when he's out of form he can still often manage the odd spark of genius. That all being said, the stats don't lie. Coming on from the bench, Ola John makes things happen, attacking defences at any given opportunity. It's probably time that he got a place in the starting XI.
Stats from Squawka and WhoScored