The match against Swansea City on Friday wasn't the most exciting of affairs. Considering that it was a friendly, played out on a drenched pitch, that's not too surprising. Bar some moments of excitement in the second half, with good chances falling to both sides, it was largely a battle for the ball in the middle third. When either side did threaten to score, it tended to be from range or set pieces, with the wet weather not suiting intricate attacking play.
Despite their Premier League status, the Swans only managed to carve out a few decent opportunities in the first half. After clever work down the left, Marvin Emnes dragged a shot harmlessly wide, with Gylfi Sigurdsson also showing little danger with a free kick that was well off-target. For Reading, Danny Williams' drive was the best chance of the opening 45, but it was the wrong side of the post.
Nick 'I only score screamers against Swansea' Blackman gave the visiting Royals something to cheer about just after the restart with an impressive finish from distance. Skipping in from the right wing, he crashed a 25-yard screamer onto the underside of Nordfelt's bar: cue sheer delight from the fans on the terrace behind the goal. Reading's lead lasted for only a few minutes though, with Bartley tucking the ball in from close range after the ball had been worked infield from a Swansea corner.
The match then started to look more lively, with Reading threatening on several occasions. First, a peach of an inswinging delivery from Stephen Quinn's corner found the head of Pavel Pogrebnyak, whose effort smashed against the near post. Soon after, an Oliver Norwood drive from distance was deflected wide. For the Welsh side, ex Liverpool man Jonjo Shelvey dragged a shot wide, and the same man's inswinging corner struck the woodwork. Striker Marvin Emnes was also denied by the frame of the goal.
Some general thoughts
Pre-season games tend to be judged on what they predict for the coming season. With that in mind, much of this match should arguably be ignored. Adams Park isn't a venue we'll be seeing again until possibly next summer (bar any cup visits to South Buckinghamshire in 2015/16), and similar can be said of Swansea - the Welsh side being a much higher challenge than anything we'll face in the coming season. Even the starting XI is unlikely to be seen again, unless injuries necessitate the selection of the likes of Niall Keown and Jake Taylor - the latter coming off the bench.
With that in mind, there were some interesting clues to be found in the 1-1 draw. Reading's dogged determination against a very well-drilled, possession based Premier League side shows the kind of grit that Steve Clarke sides are known for. The conditions were certainly a factor this time, but on various occasions we've seen Reading struggle to deal with the Swans' style of play - not this time.
As regards team selection, this is how the starting XI appeared to line up on Friday night...
On first impressions, that's a side designed to counter Swansea's style of football. With Oliver Norwood and Aaron Tshibola playing deep, Reading had two CMs comfortable with the ball at their feet. Ironically, that pairing is very similar to the Norwood/Akpan partnership of last season, when Nigel Adkins had the most success in the 2014/15 campaign. Norwood is naturally the passer out of the two, whereas Tshibola provides the energy that Akpan did - with the academy graduate probably an upgrade on Akpan in his ball retention.
New roles for Williams and Quinn
Things get more interesting further up field. Although I've seen alternative opinions on Twitter, the general consensus amongst Reading fans seems to be that Williams is best suited as an all-action box-to-box midfielder - playing in the deeper 'two'. However, against Swansea he was much more advanced, sometimes playing off Pavel Pogrebnyak - even partnering Samuel up front a few times after the youngster replaced the Russian. The reintroduction of the likes of Hal Robson-Kanu, Garath McCleary and Tarique Fosu could mean that Williams does indeed go back to a deeper role, but this was definitely a worthwhile experiment. The clever thing about using Williams as a CAM means that, in tougher games, he can easily drop back into a midfield three. If Steve Clarke wants a team that can quickly swap between setups, this could be it.
It was probably similar thinking behind the decision to play Stephen Quinn as a left winger. Like Williams, I'd largely thought of the ex-Hull man as a central midfielder - either in a deep or advanced position. But, like Williams' ability to drop deep, the use of Quinn down the left meant that Reading could narrow the play down effectively, with his terrier-like tenacity in the midfield an important tool in countering Swansea's play.
Although both Williams and Quinn had good games in their relatively new positions, I don't think using them there suits an attacking game plan. Although their industry and stamina works well in countering a team like Swansea, there was a lack of pace and width on Friday night. That's not a criticism - sometimes you need to think more about defusing the opposition that anything else, which Williams and Quinn did very well. However, in Championship matches where you need to take the game to the other side, we need that extra pace and creativity - which is where the likes of Tarique Fosu and Garath McCleary come in.
I don't expect to see this team replicated too much over the course of the 2015/16 campaign, with other key players still to come back. That said, the match in Wycombe taught us a lot about how Steve Clarke sees his squad.