A Captain's Innings
When Tyler Blackett was shifted out to the left to make room for Paul McShane, I felt a little sorry for our summer signing, but this week has proved just how important it is to accommodate the captain.
In these two games combined the former Sunderland man leads the team in clearances (18) and passes (153), is second for tackles (3) and interceptions (4) and third in passing completion (83%) — all while not conceding a single foul.
The Newcastle game also marked the 10th clean sheet he's picked up in 28 appearances this season. In the eight games he's missed, we've only kept one, that coming at home to Barnsley.
Ali Al-Habsi's Continued Excellence
It's hard to believe that just over a year ago many fans, myself included, couldn't wait to get someone in to replace Al-Habsi. Yet memories of clangers against Everton and QPR were soon erased by some stunning saves as the Omani keeper went on to win the Player of the Season vote.
This season he's picked up where he left off and, while he still drops the odd clanger, he's bailed us out week after week. In the Championship, only Barnsley's Adam Davies can beat Al-Habsi's save total of 128, of which a division topping nine have come inside the six-yard box. WhoScored has him at the best rated keeper in the division, a feat even more remarkable when you consider he turned 36 in December.
One question that I've been pondering is just where he fits in among the ranks of the best Reading keepers in the Sir John Madejski era. He's not quite at the level of Marcus Hahnemann or Shaka Hislop, but he's closing in on Adam Federici. You can even make the case he's been better overall than Alex McCarthy, who he passed for total appearances this month. Of those to make their debut since 1990, Al-Habsi's 78 starts are bettered since 1990 by Hahnemann (296), Federici (242), Shaka Hislop (126), Phil Whitehead (108) and Scott Howie (101), with the final pair certainly behind Ali quality wise.
Garath McCleary's Unusual Role
While McCleary occasionally swapping wings during a game isn't unusual, the Newcastle game marked just the second time this season that Stam has opted to start him on the left-hand side.
After a rest against Wolves due to niggling injuries, we saw a bit more of the old GMac on Tuesday night, with the winger nearly nicking us a win late on. The Jamaican International recorded more dribbles than anyone else in the game, tied for second in shots and was third in number of tackles made. It was a welcome return to the thick of the action for the midfielder, who got on the ball 50 times on Tuesday, compared to just 54 touches in his previous two games combined.
Fingers crossed he can stay clear of injuries and continue his upward momentum.
You Don't Impress Me Mutch
So you've got the brains but have you, got the touch. Ahhh late 90's pop hits. Now that my knowledge of Shania Twain songs has been outed, I'll deflect attention by taking a look at just what Jordon Mutch is doing to get into the Reading side. The short and long answers both appear to be: not so much.
Here's where he ranks compared to his central midfield, per 90 minutes.
|Passing Comp %||Key Passes||Passes Blocked||Tackles||Dribbles||Ball Retention||Interceptions|
|Van den Berg||4th||4th||4th||2nd||5th||2nd||1st|
That's not an overwhelming set of rankings for the on-loan midfielder, who's so far failing to show what he's really strong at. His passing and ball retention are amongst the worst of the group, while his creativity has also been poor so far. Defensively he's been OK with a solid ranking in tackles and interceptions but again, lags behind the best.
Looking at the table, he seems a better overall option than George Evans but there seems no reason to start him now that Joey is back fit and firing. You almost get the feeling that Stam's got him in there simply because he can do a variety of roles, rather than because he's good at any of them.
Mutch isn't a bad player by any means, but I'm just not sure what he's actually adding to the side right now.
Stats taken from WhoScored.com and Squawka.com