Changing an effective side
Probably the most discussed aspect of the last week was the odd decision to change the system that beat Wolves away from home. Reading looked comfortable in a 4-2-3-1 at Molineux; were solid at the back and dangerous going forwards. Instrumental on the Saturday, in my view, was Simon Cox. His clever use of the ball and tireless running when he didn't have it gave much needed support to the midfield and attack. Naturally, playing in that position, Cox is always the most likely to be dropped in a formation change.
Nonetheless, I can see clear logic behind Clarke's thinking. With Leeds looking to keep things tight away from home, they were always going to go 4-5-1. Therefore, bringing in Oliver Norwood for Simon Cox would give us more bodies in the middle of the park, whilst retaining a creative outlet. It's easy to blame the manager when things go wrong, but you can't blame him for Tuesday's performance. Any system will fail if it's operated by players so lifeless as the ones that played against Leeds. On a better day, that exact same XI would have beaten Leeds.
The wandering Pog
Working tirelessly up front on your own is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it endears you to the fans and proves your worth to the manager. On the other however, doing it over-zealously can blunt your attacking output. It might seem odd to say that the Pog's attacking output has been 'blunted', considering his two goals in the last three games.
But I've noticed recently how the Big Russian tends to drift out wide constantly in search of the ball. That's obviously a positive sign, but surely it's a job for others? As the lone striker, the Pog is the natural goal threat, and he can only be in so many places at once.
The table is still so very tight
Reading appear to be taking part in a mini league right in the middle of the Championship. Just five points separate Nottingham Forest in 10th on 40 points and Fulham in 18th on 35 points. The Royals find themselves in 14th at the moment, level on 37 points with Bolton and Huddersfield. For me, that goes to show what level we really are at the moment. With the division splitting into three parts: promotion candidates, relegation threats and everyone in-between, Reading are firmly in that last category. Even in the darkest parts of this season under Nigel Adkins, relegation never really looked a major possibility, bar an even bigger collapse in form.
To show how tight things are, a win against Leeds would have taken us up to 11th. In that scenario, despite being 5 places off the Playoffs and 11 off the relegation zone, we would have been closer to the bottom three (10 points) than to the top six (12 points). For the Championship as a whole, this is a season of average, inconsistent blandness. First under Nigel Adkins and now (less so) under Steve Clarke, we've enthusiastically played our part in that. At the start of the season we predicted a boring mid-table finish. I wouldn't be surprised if that's what we get in early May.
Blackman showing Robson-Kanu how it's done
I thought this was a very good week for Nick Blackman (how often does anyone say that?). Against Wolves, he probably looked more dangerous in his 15 minute cameo than Robson-Kanu did in 73 minutes. With Reading needing to see the game out, he was an effective outlet down the left wing, stinging the palms of Tomasz Kuszczak with a low drive late on. Rewarded with a start against Leeds, he was similarly positive. His technical skill, in comparison to his Welsh counterpart, is notably lacking, but he makes up for it with a desire to actually try something that Robson-Kanu could do well to learn from.
Creative players are notoriously inconsistent. One moment they're dancing through a back four, the next they're struggling to get any crosses in. Take Garath McCleary for example - his combination of skill and desire make him a dangerous player, but he does often have off days. The worrying thing about Robson-Kanu is that he doesn't have particularly good or bad days; he's predictably predictable in his mediocrity. Combine Nick Blackman's enthusiasm with Robson-Kanu's skill and you have a quality left winger.
Yakubu is no short-term fix
Steve Clarke's unwillingness to bring the Yak on for a clearly knackered Pavel Pogrebnyak against Wolves seemed odd at the time, but made sense against Leeds. We knew what we could expect from the new signing - he fits the 'big man you can whack the ball up to' mould perfectly. On Tuesday, I thought he looked seriously off the pace. As I said in my player ratings, his control was poor, he didn't win the long balls that the defence was all too happy to feed him with, and made a hash of a wonderful chance at 0-1. I don't see how he can be an effective partner for the Pog, but he's still a very important player to have in the squad. With the Yak as competition, the Pog has to stay on his toes.