Let's start by taking a look at the performances of Reading's centre backs against Wolves.
We've been saying for a long time that Alex Pearce is not exactly the most comfortable player on the ball, and we've also been keen on the idea that Michael Hector is a much more effective ball player than his more senior partner. Until the game against Wolves, I must admit that I had seen little evidence to back up this idea, but digging into the passing stats it seems that our impressions may be right.
At first glance, the opposite seems true: Hector attempted 38 passes to Pearce's 39. Moreover, Pearce's accuracy was much better, with his 69% outshining Hector's seemingly unimpressive 42%. I don't think these summary stats give a fair presentation of their respective passing games, though, and it only takes a little digging until we see some evidence of Hector's fairly impressive passing performance.
Pearce's passes were mostly short, with only six attempted long balls; Hector, on the other hand, attempted a whopping 21 long balls, with six of them reaching their target (for some context on this, Adam Federici also made six accurate long passes but from an attempted 26). Such a big difference shows that Steve Clarke has had some hand in telling Pearce to keep it simple and letting Hector have a lot more freedom in how he wants to play.
In case we needed any more evidence of how different Pearce and Hector's passing games were on Saturday, compare these two pictures:
Pearce's Passing Against Wolves
Hector's Passing Against Wolves
Hector passes almost exclusively forward, while Pearce is a little more conservative in his approach. Of course Hector's more ambitious passes don't always come off, but at least there's some level of invention and positivity to his play. Both Pearce and Hector seem much more comfortable under Clarke, and the Wolves game shows two players specialising in what they do best. This could be a fruitful partnership for years to come.
Learning From Past Mistakes
A couple of weeks ago, Will implored Reading to abandon relying on crosses - a plea which I think has been a theme of many of these statistical reports over the season. It is my pleasure to report that someone in Reading HQ has started reading this blog, and has decided to do something about it.
The goalless draw at Millwall two weeks ago was somewhat of a freak in terms of the sheer number of crosses: with Reading notching a frankly ridiculous 50. This was cut in half to 25 for the Sheffield Wednesday game. I didn't get too carried away with this because playing against ten men at the New Den gave Reading many more opportunities to attack than against Wednesday. Against Wolves, however, Reading put in only 13 crosses, showing a concerted effort from the team to reduce the number of crosses going in to the box, and there has been some reward from this, with Reading's 17 shots against Wolves comparing favourably against their 12 against Wednesday.
Perhaps Clarke is asking the team to be more patient, and only put the ball in when there is a genuine opportunity at hand, or perhaps the wingers are being asked to cut in to the centre more often, but whatever it is, I hope Clarke sticks with it, because the results are likely to continue to flow if he does.
Keep It Simple
I've already looked at Reading's central defensive partnership, but I'm now going to cast an eye on the centre of midfield.
This seems to have been the game where Danny Williams announced his return to form, and yet his passing does not scream of flair and invention:
Williams' Passing Against Wolves
Notice that most of Williams' passing was sideways or backwards, but that didn't stop him putting in more key passes than any other Reading player (the arrows highlighted in yellow are key passes). Williams kept it simple but effective, feeding those in better positions than his own and taking his own chances well when they came to him (his finish for the winning goal has got to be one of the goals of our season).
Add to this his defensive contributions: three tackles (compared to Nathaniel Chalobah's zero), a clearance and a blocked shot, and we have a picture of a central midfielder embracing his box to box briefing. I've criticised Williams in the past few games, and I don't think anyone would have claimed that he was back to his best, but his stats from the Wolves game are starting to convince me that the all-action midfielder of last season is finally back.
There is lots to be positive about following that game, and the stats point to a management team focusing on bringing the best out of each individual player, from central defence to centre forward (it's almost scandalous that I haven't had time to make any comment on Pavel Pogrebnyak's much-improved performance).
The last manager to do that was Brian McDermott, and I don't think it's outrageous to claim that, if Clarke continues to get performances like that against Wolves, he could eventually see the same level of success that McDermott had with the club. How wonderful it is to be positive about the direction of the club once again!
All stats from Squawka and WhoScored