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Stats Insight: Reading FC 1-1 Sheffield Wednesday

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With an in-depth look at the weekend's game, we talk slow starts, Danny Williams on the wing and how the penalty changed the match.

Slow Start

To say Reading started the game slowly is an understatement. They were all over the pitch and not playing as a team.

Their two strikers, Lucas Piazon and Matej Vydra, took till the 11th minute to have their first touches of the ball. They then went a further five minutes without touching the ball from the 17th minute meaning that up to the penalty they had only had 10 touches between them.

By contrast, Sheffield Wednesday's front two, Fernando Forestieri and Gary Hooper, had touched the ball 31 times in that same period. That stat becomes even more pronounced when you add both teams' "wingers".

Piazon, Hal Robson-Kanu, Vydra and Danny Williams managed 30 touches of the ball in the opening 23 minutes and, as the graphic below shows, few of those were in the middle of the pitch. The Owls' Barry Bannan, Forestieri, Hooper and Ross Wallace had 69 touches (in blue).

The effect was that George Evans and Oliver Norwood were at times taking on six players on their own. This gave Wednesday complete control of the all important central midfield.

Danny Williams Out Wide

I thought at that stage of the game that Brian McDermott had got his tactics all wrong. Reading's strikers were so isolated they were almost not playing, Williams looked unsure what he was supposed to be doing on the wing, meaning poor Evans looked overwhelmed on his first appearance at Championship level.

Certainly moving Williams out wide seemed an odd move but when you see how Wednesday started the game it actually made sense. We were up against a team with wide players who cut inside and strikers who like to drop deep.

When playing a team who often overload the centre of the pitch it would seem wise to pick players out wide who should feel comfortable to the dirty work and play narrow. Robson-Kanu often did this job under Steve Clarke and it was probably not a coincidence that he had more touches of the ball than Reading's three other attacking players.

Whilst Williams deserves some slack for not being in his natural position we should remember that he spent most of August playing right midfield and, as McDermott himself said after the game, had played there for Hoffenheim. Surely an experienced American international should be able to cope better being played out of position and in a job that would seem to involve him covering his normal territory.

Ola John might be a natural wide player but I'm not sure he would feel comfortable playing narrow and being asked to help out defensively. Starting Williams out wide didn't really work but that can't be entirely down to McDermott. Similarly Piazon has to take some responsibility for his struggles to get into the game and the lack of help he gave to Evans and Norwood.

Negative Wednesday

It may seem an odd thing for a Reading fan to say but I was disappointed by Wednesday. They arrived as one of the form teams in the Championship and, as bad as the Royals were, the visitors started the game very impressively.

They looked conformable and dangerous in possession with their four attacking players being given the freedom to roam all over the pitch. However, when Reading had the ball they quickly lined up in a compact 4-4-2 with often even their strikers behind the ball.

Until Reading's penalty it seemed a question of how much Wednesday would win by not whether they would win. The penalty itself came from nowhere and, even though Vydra missed, it changed the game.

Having started so confidently, Wednesday seemed to see the penalty as a warning. They started to slow the game down and take their time with goal kicks and throw ins.

This actually hindered the Owls as it allowed Reading time to regroup. In the opening 20 minutes Carlos Carvalhal's side had nearly 60% of possession. After the penalty, so for 70+ minutes, Reading had 68.2% of possession and attempted more than double the number of passes as their opponents.

Now I can understand a team sitting deep and slowing the game down in the final 20 minutes but I don't know why Wednesday did it so early against Reading. The graphics below show how deep Wednesday dropped after the penalty.

The top one shows how Reading, on the left shooting upwards, barely touched the ball in Wednesday's half before the penalty whilst the away side were getting on the ball in central areas.

The bottom graphic shows how after the penalty Wednesday, on the right, struggled to get into Reading's final third. They went from the dominant team to being dominated. Reading deserve credit for the turn around but they were definitely helped by Wednesday's negative approach.

Allowing Reading to dominate possession meant they had to hold their positions defensively and were unable to give their attacking players opportunities to roam. As a Reading fan I can't complain but as a football fan you would have wanted to see more from a team with promotion ambitions.

From Reading's perspective, slowing the game down allowed them to get a foothold in the game. Fans often complain about negative sideways passing but sometimes teams need to calm themselves down, get control of the game and players across the team involved.

Wednesday's negativity and Reading's dominance of possession took the sting out of the game. With Wednesday no longer offering such a threat on the counter Reading were able to control the game.

That could not have looked less likely in the first quarter of the match for which the home side deserve credit and Wednesday may ask whether they should have been more ambitious.

All stats and graphics are taken from Squawka and WhoScored.