The general consensus floating around amongst Reading fans is that Tuesday night’s display was fairly positive, despite the result and last-minute penalty miss. However, there was still something severely lacking from the performance. That something was the lack of a potent threat in the final third.
For all the nice, neat passages of possession, and the surging runs of Andy Rinomhota, Leandro Bacuna and Garath McCleary, there wasn’t really much to show for it. What really cried out to me was our toothlessness in the final third. Good possession and good moves were wasted, and our one clear-cut chance came from a set piece – Marc McNulty’s saved penalty.
Going on a run
It was our dribbling ability which really stood out to me - our willingness to run at Leeds United’s defence to make something happen. This is backed up by WhoScored’s stats which show Reading attempted 21 dribbles with a 62% success rate, higher than Leeds’ 55%. We also had three of the top five dribblers in the match overall, including Andy Rinhomota (six) and Andy Yiadom (four).
However, for all the promise in this area, on only 11 occasions did a Reading player dribble past their opposition defenders with an end product to show for it – compared to 13 for Leeds even though they attempted fewer dribbles over the course of the game. The top five players for successful dribble are made up of three Reading men (McCleary, Bacuna and Swift) and two Leeds players (Douglas and Roofe).
But it’s the players in white who make up the top two of that list with five and three respectively - two more than McCleary, Bacuna and Swift managed between them. Yiadom and Rinomhota - who remember were the top two players on the pitch for attempted dribbles - don’t even make the top five, or the top ten in fact. By WhoScored’s definition of a successful dribble they managed zero from ten attempts!
What does this all tell us?
Well it tells us that, despite an awful lot of attempts at making chances, the Royals aren’t creating enough, and this pattern didn’t just appear in the Leeds game. Reading have the seventh highest dribbles per game record in the league this season (7.3), but the third worst shots per game ratio (11.1).
We also have the fifth worst record for crosses per game – an average of 17 per match. Rather worryingly, only two other teams this season, Swansea and Sheffield Wednesday, have spent less game time in the opponent’s third. Reading, on average, spend just 24% of matches in this part of the pitch.
The fact we’re attempting so many dribbles - and are still spending so little time in the final third - tells us another thing about the way Reading are being set up this season: to try and break teams down on the counter. And that certainly appeared to be Paul Clement’s choice of tactic on Tuesday night.
Yet, rather damningly if this is the way things are being planned, Reading have actually scored a grand total of NO counter attacking goals this season (again according to WhoScored). That stat isn’t worrying in itself, as we’re not the only team to have not scored on the counter this season. But when you look at the company we’re in on that list – Leeds, Norwich City, Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough – you realise those are teams not set up to win games counter attacking. They’re teams in the top eight who control their games rather than nicking it on the break. So, what are we doing? Really?
I’m a big believer in giving Clement more time (shields from oncoming missiles) but for all those fans who criticise his lack of a game plan, perhaps they’re right? The stats show we’re trying to play on the counter, but don’t match up with any sort of success rate. It clearly doesn’t appear to be a game plan that’s working, which for me is just ever so slightly worrying.