Perhaps no position sums up the changed nature of the new Reading side than goalkeeper. This summer saw Adam Federici, one of the best goalkeepers in the club's history, leave the club as well as his deputy Mikkel Andersen. For the first time since 1999, when Phil Whitehead became one of the players who helped transform the club under Alan Pardew, the club paid a transfer fee for a first team goalkeeper. The signing of Jonathan Bond seemed a no brainer. A highly rated England U21 international available for a transfer fee rumoured to be under £600,000.
He was joined by the experienced Ali Al-Habsi. It is perhaps both players misfortune that they are the only new signings who play in positions which Reading did not look short of quality last season. He may not have been universally loved but few fans would deny that Federici has consistently been one of the best goalkeepers in the Championship this decade.
Replacing the club's current Player of the Season, and the nature of the goalkeeper positions, means Bond and Al-Habsi were always going to come under more scrutiny than the other new signings. It is fair to say that their performances during pre-season did not inspire confidence in some quarters. Former Reading captain Ady Williams was particularly vocal of his doubts about both players on BBC Berkshire.
These doubts have continued into the new season and only intensified after a Bond dropped cross gifted Sheffield Wednesday a last minute equaliser and an Al-Habsi walkabout led to Portsmouth taking the lead in the League Cup. My own tweet after the Wednesday game drew some criticism for jumping on Bond's back and forgetting Federici's mistakes.
And to think there were lots of #ReadingFC fans happy to see Federici go. Goalkeeper has gone from our strongest position to our weakest.
— Will Jones (@WilliamOwain) August 19, 2015
The tweet was intended as a show of support for Federici, who I felt came under some unfair criticism after he left, but the replies did make me wonder whether I was being a bit harsh on Bond. At the MK Dons game I made an effort to check his positioning when we were in attack. From the Birmingham City and Leeds United games I had developed a view that he was less imposing than Federici and reluctant to come off his line. His positioning against MK Dons seemed to confirm that as he rarely ventured outside his box even when the ball was in the opposition's half.
This made me wonder whether part of the reason why Reading fans are finding it hard to trust Bond is because his style and positioning is so different from what we have become accustomed to. Goalkeeping is rarely discussed in detail and when it is it mostly concentrates on their mistakes. This means we rarely think about or notice them beyond the times we see them involved in the game.
For more than 10 years Reading have had two goalkeepers who have been as close to sweeper keepers as you will probably find in the English second tier. Hahnemann and Federici were comfortable with the ball at their feet and thought nothing of standing well outside the box. Reading fans are used to seeing a goalkeeper playing high up the pitch with excellent kicking.
We take it for granted that our goalkeeper is comfortable leaving his goal and sweeping up behind his defence. Alex McCarthy's brief spells as number one often saw some fans question his kicking perhaps another indication of how Hahnemann and Federici have shaped what Reading fans now think a goalkeeper should look like.
To see if my suspicions were right I decided to compare Bond's performances against Leeds at home, Brentford away and MK Dons at home with Federici's displays against Leeds at home, Derby away and Blackburn at home. The two Leeds games compare them against the same opposition, admittedly under different managers. The MK Dons and Blackburn games were both goalless games at the Madejski Stadium while Brentford and Derby were two impressive away victories.
Touches of the ball
The first two graphics are of Bond's (top) and Federici's touches in the Leeds games. As you can see Bond has only really touched the ball twice outside the box compared to Federici's seven times.
A similar picture emerges in the two home games that finished 0-0. Bond (top) again makes far fewer touches outside the box than Federici.
It is different with the away games. Against Brentford, Bond touched the ball across Reading's half in the same way that Federici used to. Was it a complete coincidence that the team's best performance of the season coincided with what would seem to be our goalkeepers most confident display.
Interestingly the only other game where Bond made more than a handful of touches out of the box was against Sheffield Wednesday which was another game where the team played well.
These graphics seem to confirm that Bond does play much deeper compared to Federici. This is the sort of thing us fans won't really notice during a game but it will mean that the defence cannot play as high up the pitch. It would be interesting to know whether the Brentford and Wednesday games are hints that Bond is being asked to play higher up the pitch than he is used to.
If he is then it is not surprising that he has looked a bit uncomfortable at times. Being asked to play just five metres higher up the pitch will be going against everything that a goalkeeper's instinct have taught them to do. They will have to concentrate on their positioning whilst learning new instincts. You only have to read the book on Robert Enke to realise how something that may look like such a small change to a non-goalkeeper can put a goalkeeper at unease.
Interestingly Squawka's graphics of Bond's and Federici's kicking appears to show little difference in their lengths. Federici hits the ball longer on a more regular basis but in each game Bond makes kicks comparable in length to Federici. His style of kicking the ball is much less graceful than Federici and is perhaps why we have doubted his kicking more than we should have.
Leeds United games - Bond (top)
MK Dons Bond (top) and Blackburn Federici
Brentford Bond (top) and Derby Federici
Claims, Punches and Saves
This is where it gets interesting (so I hope somebody has kept with me). Having seen that Bond stayed deeper than Federici when it came to touches of the ball I presumed the same picture would emerge when looking at what Squakwa and WhoScored describe as goalkeeper actions (claims, punches and saves).
In truth Bond has had so little to do it is a bit hard to really judge him especially when you are only looking at three games. All the same it was interesting that in these games Bond made one claim, punch and save in the area between the six yard box and the edge of the penalty area. The graphic below (Bond is the red dot) shows how far he came for a claim against Leeds.
Federici on the other hand did not make a single claim, punch or save outside his six yard box. The Derby game aside all his actions were not just inside the six yard box they were also closer to his goal line than the edge of the six yard box. This was maybe not a total surprise as there was normally one occasion a season where Federici would come under criticism for his lack of control over his box. Was this a genuine fault or just one we noticed from a rare mistake?
It is of course hard to fully judge and compare Bond and Federici on just six games and these limited stats and graphics. It does though give a brief insight into how they have different styles. Bond is more reluctant to leave his penalty box but is more adventurous inside it than Federici. Reading fans will have to get used to not having a goalkeeper sitting behind the defence and also one who may be more proactive when it comes to attacking balls which come into the box.
The Sheffield Wednesday game shows what can happen when goalkeepers get things wrong. It is important to remember that Bond only turned 22 in May. He made just six starts in all competitions last season and has never made more than six consecutive league appearances in his career. He is an inexperienced goalkeeper who is playing with a new team and may well be receiving coaching and instructions that he has never been given before. It is important that we are patient with him and don't make the mistake of comparing him unfairly just because he has a different style from what we are used to.