Tuesday night's win on home turf was a welcome surprise when considering the woeful home form of late. Tactically, a great performance gives us hope ahead of our massive FA Cup quarter-final replay on Monday night.
It was evident from the first minute until the last against Brighton that Reading were a changed side from the miserable defensive performances under Nigel Adkins as well as the team who squandered countless numbers of opportunities in front of goal.
Reading manager Steve Clarke changed tactics from the 0-0 draw at Bradford at the weekend making five changes to his fatigue-stricken team. Chris Gunter, Garath McCleary, Hope Akpan, Jake Cooper and Nick Blackman all came in after missing Saturday's draw. Jordan Obita, Oliver Norwood, Alex Pearce, Pavel Pogrebnyak, and Stephen Kelly made way.
Despite being fatigued of late, Reading made a powerful start to the game, pressuring Brighton players into making mistakes and not giving them any time on the ball. Pressure was all over the pitch and deep into Brighton's half. This was encouraging to see as similar passion continued from the battled draw at Bradford. With the inclusion of four wingers in the attack, Reading looked full of tenacity and pace. This made for an encouraging first half. Aside from one minor chance at goal in the first half, Brighton struggled to have any real attacking impact on the game. Therefore, it came as little surprise that Reading scored the game's first goal, through Jamie Mackie.
The above screen-shot of the Reading's YouTube highlights clearly shows Reading's pressure high up the pitch in the few seconds leading up to Mackie's first goal. Clarke and his backroom staff must have instilled an attacking mind-set in his pre-match tactics and this paid off. Usually when facing opposition goal-kicks, we are preparing for aerial battles on or around the half-way line. This time, however, Reading had four players deep in the opposition half applying pressure. Brighton's mistake was straight from a goal kick when former Chelsea trainee Rohan Ince failed to control the ball. Hope Akpan pounced and played it to Jamie Mackie who ran past two defenders before blasting the ball past Brighton keeper David Stockdale and into the top right-hand corner of the net. Brighton looked uneasy under the constant pressure and when attacked at with pace and, crucially, with the ball at feet, Reading created a number of goal-scoring opportunities.
It was Reading's first goal at home since Nathaniel Chalobah's effort against Sheffield Wednesday over a month ago. For once, as fans we can say we witnessed a warranted win at home, thankfully.
No Negatives... well just one
Just one real negative from the 2-1 win - it feels good to say that for once! The pass completion rate, credit to Squawka, was a very low 62% compared with Brighton's 75%. The below picture from Squawka's iPhone app shows a woeful stat of just 194 completed passes out of a total of 314.
The woeful pass completion rate, as shown above is a recurring theme amongst Reading lineups recently. The below graphic, again from Squawka shows how over the last few months, Reading's pass completion rates have declined rapidly to an average of 73%.
With the absence of our big Russian striker Pavel Pogrebnyak, we looked to play the ball along the ground bar a few rushed defensive clearances. This was, again, encouraging as we know our opponents on this coming Monday night are used to winning aerial battles, so it may make for an interesting change.
One other big positive I took from Tuesday's game was the fact possession was rarely lost. So many times, fans around me moan and groan about our defense simply 'hoofing' the ball aimlessly towards Pogrebnyak. This was not to be on Tuesday night, as we kept the ball at ground level for most of the game, kept our passes direct and released the ball before the pressure became too much. Similarly, it has become apparent in recent matches that we'd constantly be forced into playing the ball back to Adam Federici. 'Fedders' is usually good on the ball so it isn't his fault, yet we all know Reading elevens have recently looked backwards rather than forwards and into attack. Therefore, it was satisfying to see the introduction of Jake Cooper ahead of Alex Pearce. Cooper always looked forward and would always look for the safe, yet positive option.
When the lineups were announced, it came as a surprise that Pearce had been left out as he played incredibly well at Bradford at the weekend and even had praise heaped upon him by manager Steve Clarke who said; "He's a proper centre-half". However, his absence did not have anywhere near as much of a negative impact as first thought. Cooper was solid and his height gave us a great advantage at set pieces, both attacking and defending. However, one thing I thought would be worth mentioning is the levelheadedness of Michael Hector - or in this case, the lack of it. Hector, without Pearce's experience and leadership seemed to lose his cool with a physical Brighton team quite easily. He received a needless yellow card, yet seemed to proceed in time-wasting which nearly earned him a second yellow. Luckily he escaped further punishment and will be available, barring any injury, for Bradford in our FA Cup quarter-final replay on Monday night. I think the absence of Pearce's cool head had a negative effect on the youthful Hector. Hopefully the Royals' backroom staff will have noticed this and will bring it up ahead of Monday's crunch match.
As mentioned above, Jordan Obita was dropped from the starting eleven at Bradford and replaced with Chelsea loanee Nathaniel Chalobah. Chalobah is known for being versalite with capabilities in the centre of defence and the centre of midfield. However, for Tuesday's game, Clarke decided he would field him as left-back. This was a surprising choice that even more surprisingly paid dividends as on the left side defensively as Reading seemed to avoid attack there almost with ease.
Jamie Mackie's passion throughout the game epitomised exactly what all Reading fans have been desperate to see which gives even more weight to him justifiably being man of the match as well as player of the month for February. He is now even well on course for being named player of the month for March. With the determination and quality he showed, coupled with the fact he has scored all of Reading's last four goals at home, we must surely be looking at signing him on a permanent basis in the summer as he is only on loan from Nottingham Forest.
He is acting as a fantastic role model for the youth of the team whom Clarke so desperately wants to get involved. This was shown when Niall Keown made his debut for Reading late on in the game with grit.
All in all, Reading played incredibly well, fully deserving the three points despite a small slip-up made by Jake Cooper in giving away a penalty early in the second half. The tempo was high as was the front line of pressure. Brighton were no pushovers therefore Reading needed to maintain a It was a thoroughly entertaining game with great value for money. 'Clarky' got his tactics spot on! Here's to more of the same performance-wise and tactically on Monday night! URZZ!