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Reading FC 0-0 Birmingham City: Match Report

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Possession: positive purposeful or pathetic? The debate goes on after a less than thrilling goalless midweek draw.

Martin Willetts/Getty Images

During Brendan Rodgers's ill-fated reign at Reading I bumped into a long-term fan in a local pub and sought his views on the progress of the team. 'Oh, I've stopped going', he replied, 'I can't stand watching them play. All they do is pass the ball'.

This is a story that always gets a laugh. Stupid, lower-league supporter can't get his head around the fact that professional footballers pass the ball to each other instead of lumping it down the field and running after it.

Yet, in reality, it reveals a basic truth. Fans want to see excitement, thrills and entertainment. If they are bored rigid they will stop attending. And that's a worrying trend for the club.

While that tale may have some relevance for those watching Jaap Stam's new-look Royals, the chances of the Dutchman making his masterplan actually work is undermined by a comment attributed to Ruud Gullit during Friday night's televised victory over Ipswich. The former Chelsea and Holland star is supposed to have said that for 4-3-3 to be successful you need 'very, very, very good players'. By extension he could also have been referring to possession football.

Watching Reading play it's obvious that Gullit has a point.  If you have loads of the ball and can't find a way through a packed defence that's down to the skill of the players, particularly in attack and midfield. Nobody is asking for a Lionel Messi or David Silva to emerge from the Reading ranks, but surely they need more technical players than Danny Williams and Stephen Quinn, for example, to turn their possession into chances and goals.

Could it be that Stam is simply asking too much of his players? While they are not bad professionals, do they fit Gullit 's demands of 'very, very, very good players'? Or are they like a third-rate tribute band who want to emulate their heroes but just can't hit the right notes?

First half

The shock was first to see George Evans on the pitch and secondly lining up in the middle of a back three, where he was the man to start Reading's slow predictable build-ups. It turned out that Joey van den Berg had suffered a tight hamstring and couldn't be risked. To be fair to Evans he gave a solid competent display.

Neither goalkeeper had much to do , which in Ali Al-Habsi's case was probably just as well. During the opening 45 minutes two memories of the dangers of over-playing stood out.

Williams was caught in possession on a couple of occasions to set up dangerous counter-attacks for the visitors, which they failed to capitalise on. When Paul McShane tried an over-ambitious back-pass to Al Habsi from the half-way line the captain succeeded only in slicing the ball for a corner, from which the goalkeeper made a horrible hash of  dealing with the cross and Lukas Jutkiewicz stabbed the loose ball inches over a gaping goal.

On the attacking front Williams had a powerful, low shot from 20 yards, which Adam Legzdins held, while Yann Kermorgant could get no power in a header which looped into the goalkeeper's hands.

Second half

Birmingham upped the pace immediately after the interval leading to a few hairy moments around the Reading goal. But although they still looked shaky when defending set pieces Stam's men held out. Al-Habsi fumbled a deflected shot, which eventually led to a Birmingham player lifting his shot over the bar with the goal gaping.

At the other end, despite relentless pressure Reading barely created a chance. McShane had one from a Garath McCleary corner, but his header was blocked in the six yard box. The Jamaican winger appeared to be the Royals best hope but he had a mixed night. While he had the beating of his marker and frequently reached dangerous crossing positions he rarely found a colleague with his centre. Although it has to be said this was partly because Kermorgant was often his only target and the Frenchman was surrounded by opposing defenders.

On the other flank Roy Beerens had a night to forget, rarely getting down the outside and failing to get his crosses past the first defender. The introduction of John Swift and Callum Harriott (two of Reading's more technically gifted players) offered some hope. But their arrival was too late to make a difference. The less said of Joseph Mendes the better.

Closing thoughts

It's another point, a clean sheet and a rise up the table to tenth, only five points behind the leaders. One part of the possession game (71 per cent this time) that seems to be working is keeping the ball at the back. There weren't any horrendous cock-ups that could have lead to goals. It's just the midfield and the forward play that needs working on.

Playing the ball around in acres of room around the half-way line, though, is (or should be) the easy part. It's finding space and having the cleverness, quick-thinking and technique to make things happen in the tight, congested areas high up the pitch against a packed defence (like Birmingham's which often consisted of all ten outfield players) which is what really counts.

Do Reading have the players who can do this ? Not sure. But you'd hope for more game time for the likes of Swift and Harriott to give them a batter chance.