Tuesday night brought a first home win since August for Reading, as John Swift’s brace and an own goal helped the Royals to a 3-1 victory over Nottingham Forest. With most of the talk in the lead up to the game surrounding the position of Jaap Stam, the Dutchman would likely have been glad to see his side come out on top and edge away from the Championship relegation zone. And so he was (despite claiming “It’s not about being relieved”), telling GetReading that “we’re very happy with the result”. Yet it was another comment that caught the eye of myself, and many other fans, after the full-time whistle. That comment was this:
"But I need to be honest, the football against Middlesbrough [last Saturday] was even better but we didn’t win. If you win then people think you are playing better football, which is not the case in my opinion."
Now, due to being over 100 miles at university, I wasn’t at Tuesday’s game, but I am reliably informed that it was one of, if not the best, performance by the team this season and this is backed by up BucksRoyals’ player ratings that give a season high average of 7.4. I was, however, at Saturday’s defeat to Boro, which for the large part was a characteristically frustrating and tedious match. I fail to see how “better football” was played then than on a night where fans were actually left feeling entertained for once at the Madejski Stadium.
It appears to me what Stam really meant to say was that at the weekend Reading stuck rigidly to his possession-based philosophy, whilst on Tuesday they strayed from it. Judging by his reaction, straying from it wasn’t Jaap’s instruction.
But here’s the thing. It got the three points. Similarly, when the Royals travelled up to Leeds in mid-October, there was once again little focus on the possession aspect of the game, and once again, we won the game. Here are two stats tables ranking Reading’s share of possession and number of passes in each of their league games this season.*
As you can see, our only two wins in the last two months have been the games where we have had the least possession (44% against Leeds and 43% against Nottingham Forest) and the fewest passes (317 against Leeds and 388 against Nottingham Forest).
That’s no coincidence. By ditching a philosophy that sends fans to sleep and that teams have worked out how to combat, we’re picking up the wins. Furthermore, instead of attempting to basically ‘outpass’ the opposition with slow build up play and an unnecessary amount of one-twos, Reading actually adopted the tactic of counter attacking yesterday and guess what? It worked.
For the first goal, it took only 13 seconds for the ball to go from here...
To here. [cue Zombie Nation]
Then for the second goal, once again just 13 seconds separated the ball being here...
And here. [cue Zombie Nation]
So there you go. If you didn’t know already after the recent sackings of Frank de Boer and Ronald Koeman along with the failure of the Netherlands to qualify for the World Cup, ‘Total Football’ is dead.
Whether Stam realises that is another matter, and that’s where his naivety creeps in. By commenting that his team played “better football” in a defeat than in a win simply because they played a style he prefers (yet one that doesn’t get results) smacks of stubbornness. It also slightly worryingly suggests that the decision to switch to a faster and more direct system wasn’t a conscious one, certainly not against Nottingham Forest. It also doesn’t seem as though this ‘new’ game plan targets specific teams, as an away fixture at fifth place Leeds contrasts massively to a home fixture against 11th place Nottingham Forest.
With a trip to Derby County on Saturday, one can only hope that Stam learns his lessons from these two recent victories and doesn’t revert to type once more. For the sake of not only results, but for his job too.
All match images taken as screenshots from the official highlights video on the Reading FC YouTube channel.
*The opening day defeat against QPR is quiet clearly an anomaly in these tables, not because Stam changed tact for the trip to Loftus Road, but simply due to the fact that it was a massively out of sorts Royals team that day in the midst of an injury crisis. The win over Aston Villa is also an anomaly at the other end, but the possession based system only worked against Steve Bruce’s side as they were yet to click and clearly hadn’t done their homework on how to break us down.