Yesterday I looked at two important games from Steve Clarke's time in charge of Reading this season: Ipswich Town and QPR, both at home. Today I turn my attention to Brian McDermott, and look ahead to what 2016/17 might bring.
Reading 0-0 Burnley 13th February 2016
One of the most common phrases heard in football is that when a new manager comes in mid season he'll look to shore up the defence first. This is exactly what McDermott looked to do by February, with the fixture list chucking out some tough games. Burnley arrived at the Madejski in third place and in rich goalscoring form. Something had to be changed to stop them so McDermott decided to deploy Michael Hector just in front of the back four to shield the space between midfield and defence.
This gave Quinn and Norwood more space in the middle and allowed Norwood to rediscover his passing range. The formation saw Reading grind out results against Burnley, Wolves and Rotherham in the league and also saw a stunning team performance against West Brom, as Reading barely gave Berahino or Rondon a sight of goal.
Against stronger opposition this can begin to frustrate them, as seen against Burnley and West Brom they just couldn't break Reading down as there wasn't the space to exploit. McDermott drilled it into his wingers that they were to help with the defensive work so often Robson Kanu would be seen helping Gunter and even Piazon would come to Obita's aid on the left.
Against some of the weaker opponents Reading's wingers were able to play higher up the pitch and get up to support Kermorgant who would often cut a lonely figure through the middle. Robson Kanu was the main benefactor against weaker opponents with goals against Fulham, Walsall and Rotherham when cutting onto his stronger left foot.
It was a bit dull wasn't it? Quite often we'd see prolonged periods of games where Reading were unable to create many chances as the midfielders would not be able to push up the pitch quick enough to support Kermorgant. While we now had a striker capable of winning aerial duals his headers on goal just never seemed to have the power to beat the keeper, a marked improvement is needed next season.
Against weaker opposition Reading couldn't kill a game off quite often a lack of focus would result in a painful score draw as shown in the final appearance of this formation at home against Cardiff in a game where Reading could've been three or four up before the equaliser.
Reading 1-2 Preston 30th April 2016
I don't know if I mentioned this but it took me a lot of effort getting to this game, I kayaked 60 miles for charity and was hoping as it was the final match of the season and Preston had nothing to play for that Reading would end the season on a high. How wrong was I? The diamond was used as the curtain closed on a poor season and playing the diamond resulted in just one victory against Nottingham Forest.
However it cannot be said that we did not create chances in games and it is possible to point to bad luck in some defeats. This just appeared to be an endeavour that didn't suit Reading, but something had to be done in McDermott's eyes to drop the loan players to allow preparation to begin for next season.
In theory this formation should have been a success, Evans and Quinn putting in the leg work couldn't be faulted and whoever played the holding role out of Hector and Norwood performed well. Also we began to see signs that Kermorgant and Rakels could be a strong partnership for next season it'll be interesting to see how they develop in pre-season. In attack McCleary would get forwards well accompanied by Taylor or Gunter on the opposite flank Reading looked to float balls into the box with Rakels in particular benefitting against QPR with Reading playing the diamond.
The key cog in a diamond formation is the number 10, the attacking midfielder has to act as a pivot between midfield and attack. Unfortunately three players were tried in this position and none of them were convincing in the role. Piazon performed exactly as he had all season; flashes of brilliance but lightweight and looked like he couldn't be bothered. Cox was the exact opposite, the effort couldn't be faulted but the execution was poor, an indicator as to why McDermott has decided he is surplus to requirements.
In the case of Williams he seemed to hear attacking midfielder and immediately think this meant he could take more shots on goal. Furthermore be it a mentality issue or a flaw in the formation I am still unsure but Reading began to make more errors defensively. Against Hull, Leeds and Preston; Reading could have come away with at least a point but contrived to lose all three games, the defence is something that will need addressing this summer if we are to persist with the diamond.
Looking ahead to 2016/17
Reading have always been a team to flourish through exciting wing play however for this to happen next season signings will have to be made. McCleary is now the only experienced winger Reading have, fans will point to Fosu, Stacey and Barrett but none of them are yet ready to be fully depended upon.
With Tshibola returning the midfield should be shored up and the 4-1-4-1 tactic could come in handy particularly as next season's Championship will contain strong Newcastle and Norwich sides as well as Brighton and Derby yet again ready to push on. As fans we'll have to accept we no longer expect to be at the top of the table.
Personally I would like to see us re-employ the 4-3-3 used at the start of the season but I cannot see McDermott signing the players necessary for it. One could foresee that McDermott will likely return to a 4-4-2 meaning that the key factors to pre season will be; new signings of wingers, developing a strike partnership between two of Samuel, Rakels and Kermorgant and deciding upon a central midfield and defensive pairing. One thing is for sure, we're in for a bumpy ride but onwards and upwards, URZZ!