The Madejski Stadium welcomed back guest manager Nigel Adkins to the touchline as Steve Clarke appeared to take a wee sabbatical for the night. Well, that's certainly what it felt like on this cold Tuesday evening at least. No steps forward and a couple back.
This had all the hallmarks of a malfunctioning Adkins side, minus the endless crossing. More on that later. Maybe it was tiredness, maybe the change in system didn't help matters, maybe too many of the players had wished they were tucked up with a Horlicks and playing FIFA instead. What was plain to see is that Reading were well off the boil and a shadow of the side that won at Molineux and how they have performed lately.
Shanking The Night Away
Reading laboured to produce any quality of any note, registering only 4 shots on target and, wait for it, just 30 crosses all evening. When we did have the ball, we rarely appeared to hold on it for long. On a bobbly pitch, Reading lacked urgency and tempo. Our passing stats were almost identical to the weekend win at Wolves (65%), but considering we were at home against a very average looking Leeds side (central defence apart who were almost flawless), one would think we would be be able to hold onto the ball for longer. Maybe the congestion in the middle of the park was just not conducive to keeping the ball, yet time and time again the ball would bounce off a shin or be shanked into the West Stand by all and sundry.
Olly, Olly, Olly...No, No, No.
So, where did it all go wrong? Firstly, the change of personnel clearly didn't work. Dropping Cox for Norwood, thus changing the formation to a 4-5-1/4-3-3 system just didn't produce anything tangible. Norwood buzzed around, but seemed a lot less effectual than when he sat in front of the back four. Whilst Norwood completed 76% of his passes, this is way, way down compared to earlier in the season where he regularly hit the 90's.
As this heatmap would suggest, whilst being everywhere, he was nowhere for very long. Just what was his role supposed to be? If he was supposed to be the link man between midfield and attack, this did not materialise.
Picking up the pieces...or not.
As a result, the in form Pavel Pogrebnyak (not often we've said that!) was left to flounder up top, without much support. An early tactic appeared to use Nick Blackman's height to win headers against Leeds' right back (and eventual scorer) Byram. However, whilst the tactic worked to the end that he won the header, the subsequent second ball was nowhere near the Pog. So what was the aim here? Either Pavel missed the memo and wasn't close enough to pick up the pieces, or too much was expected of Blackman.
Pavel's heatmap shows how he struggled to get a hold of the game, having to roam away from central areas and pick up scraps from throw-ins. The minute activity in the box itself paints a sorry scene. If we can get the ball to the big man in the area we need to, it doesn't take a genius to work out that we ended up with nil points.
Worst of all, certainly in my view was the performance of Garath McCleary. Whilst not worthy of a boot up the behind from Danny Williams this week, he appeared to be decidedly out of sorts against a left back that appeared to hold no problems for him. Garath delivered only one successful cross from seven attempts - the one completion would also appear to be a mis-hit! By the end of proceedings, he seemed barely interested. Unlike substitute Cox who chose to take his frustration out by lashing the ball against an opposition player (he missed), McCleary seemed to stroll around in a strop. That seemed to sum up the whole evening. Frustration.
To finalise the whole ineffectiveness of our play, I'll trot out the rare used stat of clearances. It occurred to me that Leeds were able to mop up much of our play very easily as we tried in vain to lob up endless balls to Pavel. Whilst not exactly long ball tactics, this was overly used and Leeds saw right through it. Their positioning throughout the game nullified most of what we tried to achieve.
Too Much Too Young
All in all, very little to gain from the evening when most of the team failed to keep possession (51% - 49%). Both of Leeds' goals coming from almost identical situations through losing possession in our own half. First, when Williams lost the ball in the centre circle, and Hector trying to do too much (again) on his own in a desperate attempt in trying to get further forward - which I guess says a lot about what he thought was needed at the time. Momentum.
With a heavy schedule of games coming up, Clarke can be forgiven for trying to rotate the team a little, he is still learning what this current crop is possible of doing...or not. Whether it was down to tiredness, fitness, or frustration getting the better of them, this team can, and has demonstrated, much better resolve than this....bobbins.
Stats courtesy of Squawka and Whoscored.com