Coming from behind
Some things have remained consistent with Reading in recent years, no matter who is in charge. These themes can be broadly put into a couple of general rules:
1) Reading do better against top-half opponents than bottom-half opponents.
2) Reading do not win when conceding the first goal, while doing okay when they lead first.
The first of these stats is clear; the Royals are the 10th best side in the league against the top 12, W4 D3 L6 and are 18th against the bottom half - W4 D3 L4. Granted the records are similar, but in terms of expectations beating only four of the worst 12 sides in the league isn't good enough.
The second statistic is even more stark. In 2015 as a whole Reading have lost 17 league games when conceding the first goal, drawing four and winning none. A whole year with no comeback wins, let's hope the man famed for them during his first spell in charge can dispel this curse from the current squad. We clearly struggle when teams set up to hold onto a lead and it's little wonder we've suffered the joint-highest amount of 0-1 defeats in the league (four).
It is such a shame, too, as the Royals are particularly good at setting up to hold onto a lead, getting men behind the ball and threatening on the break. The stats back this up: 12 wins in 2015 after scoring first with three draws and four defeats. Clearly this side are so fragile mentally that they cannot fight back, and yet so talented that a genuine shot of confidence can turn them into a really hard to beat side. For a while against Brentford it looked like Reading could get their first comeback win in 2015 (and this writer's first home win of 2015) but after the equaliser the visitors pressed back up the pitch and with more space in the game, they picked off their hosts with a classy winner.
The game's opener was quite simply a bolt from the blue, but could Reading have dealt with it? One man who certainly didn't have his finest match in a hooped shirt on Monday was Oli Norwood, and the Euro 2016-bound midfielder could certainly have shown his usual defensive awareness for Ryan Woods' strike. See below the culmination of Woods marauding forward undisturbed, Norwood some yards away, before unleashing a fierce effort under no pressure.
For the second goal one can easily put it down to the goalscorer Sergi Canos. The 18-year-old plucks Woods' ball over the top with aplomb, beating a helpless Stephen Quinn in the process. Watching Michael Hector's defending many times over one can still find little else the Jamaican was meant to do. With a high defensive line typical of a home side pushing for a winner, as they should, Hector is forced to make up ground and while at pace he shows Canos out wide and onto the winger's right foot. However, as the gif below shows Canos produces an excellent flick to beat his man and fire in the goal. Even Paul McShane's strong block attempt isn't enough and Jonathan Bond, much like the first, is equally helpless.
To Dive Or Not To Dive
There were one or two penalty shouts in this game, largely of the 50/50 type where a shoulder challenge between two players ended up with the striker going to ground with a hint of suspicion. In the final moments we saw Hector do just this, tumbling unconvincingly after making contact with Bees man Woods. The opposition player does move towards Hector - in a non-threatening manner - but not nearly as much as Hector deviates his run to ensure contact with the defender.
There is contact, so why is it a dive? The referee doesn't even look that bothered, at first, but the tell-tale raise of the hand to claim the spot-kick by Hector is all that's needed to confirm that this is a player looking for a penalty by subversive manners and not an innocent coming together of bodies. After this, the fed up man in the middle has no hesitation in producing a second yellow for an equally foolish and desperate Hector.
Can The Real Nick Blackman Please Stand Up?
For long Reading fans have pondered if top scorer Nick Blackman is truly a winger or a striker, and the answer remains the same: a bit of both. What is becoming apparent after this game was that his identity changes dependent on whether he's in possession of the ball, or not.
While on the ball his fearless running, cuts inside and ability to cause trouble from distance makes for an excellent winger. However, off the ball he abandons the basics of wing-play, drifting out of position and displaying too much intent on getting into the box. On Monday this meant whenever Chris Gunter bombed down the right wing, Blackman abandoned his teammate and ended any overlap chances, harming the attack. As the heatmap shows below, this meant Blackman was rarely on the ball in an advanced position on the right wing.
The question of Blackman on the flank is thus, how can Brian McDermott play his typical wing-based attacking football if his wingers don't stay on the wing? Time will tell, but there's plenty of work for the manager to be getting on with this new years.
What did you make of the Brentford defeat? Comment below.
Highlights provided by Reading FC Youtube & stats by Statto, WhoScored and Squawka.