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Stats Corner: Royals On The Brink

Why is it that Reading switch off just before the break? Tom Harrow-Smith explores the conundrum.

Reading v Sheffield United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

The Stat: Five goals conceded ten minutes or fewer before half-time in Reading’s last six matches

Saturday followed a very similar pattern as far as many fans were concerned. Changes to the starting line-up, defensive frailty intruding on an improvement in front of goal and yet again another Saturday spent leaving the Madejski Stadium without three points. Yet from my point of view, the most infuriating case of déjà vu was how once more we conceded on the brink of half-time, which I believe has become all too much of a common occurrence over the last few weeks.

In five of the last six matches, Reading have conceded within ten minutes of the half time whistle, and it looks something like this;

  • Middlesbrough, 1-0 (Traore - 44 mins)
  • Derby, 2-2 (Keogh – 35 mins)
  • Sheffield United, 0-2 (Duffy – 44 mins)
  • Bolton, 1-1 (Le Fondre – 45+3 mins)
  • Leeds, 1-1 (Jansson – 43 mins)

This is particularly worrying, because, with the exception of that 3-1 home defeat by Sheffield United, those were all matches we were within a chance of winning, I mean against Derby, Bolton and Leeds we were winning and were playing well enough to believe we’d be able to hang on to claim a priceless victory. Yet we conceded in probably the worst part of the match to do so, in that uncertain corridor of time just before the break.

There’s a reason why conceding then is a manager’s worst nightmare, you have to tear up your team talk notes as Football Manager commentary normally likes to say, but most importantly it’s a real momentum killer. It sucks the wind out of the team’s sails, and as a result our second half performances have been noticeably poor in comparison. This is backed up by the fact that against Middlesbrough, Derby and Leeds we conceded in the immediate ten minutes after the re-start, in the 49th, 46th and 55th*minutes respectively, and against Bolton we had to weather a storm in the early stages of the second half.

A lot of fans commented after the 2-2 draw with Leeds on Saturday saying we were gutless and afraid to win, and I’d have to agree, in recent games we never look like seizing the match by the scruff of the neck at key times. On Saturday that time was immediately after we pegged them back to 2-2, against Bolton it was in the last half an hour when the opposition started to hold off and looked to be content with a point, and the game before it was when Bacuna missed the penalty, which would have brought us back level after being two goals down at half-time.

This can help explain the lack of confidence Reading have been showing in their second half performances, though it doesn’t explain what’s making us concede the goals on the brink of half-time. In the latter stages of the first half we seem to, as I call it, ‘spiral out’, normally triggered by a mistake across our backline. Whilst that mistake often leads to a missed chance from the opposition, I’ve seen it instead create a sort of vacuum of negativity and panic that sucks in the whole team and leads to an inevitability that we are going to concede.

Despite playing with free flowing confidence and creating chances on Saturday, we seem destined to concede at this stage, which the team seems to believe too, it’s a hideous cycle of depression that can only really be solved by getting in at half-time in front to prove to the team that they can be resilient.

And they can be resilient, this is a characteristic that has only really evolved in the last few matches, probably helped by the deepening of our current bad form. One win in sixteen now isn’t it? This is proved by the fact that in our previous thirty league matches, Reading had conceded just three times in the ten minutes before half-time, that’s an increase of 730%! When you’re in a run like we’re in at the moment, confidence is a precious material, and unfortunately we’re blowing it in key areas of matches, and if we survive in these areas then I believe we’ll be better equipped to get the three points.

How can it be fixed? Well honestly I think it comes down to game management, players shouldn’t be switching off before half-time and Stam needs to realise this is an issue that needs sorting quick. It’s up to him and the leaders on the pitch.

(*I know the goal time vs Leeds was technically 56mins, but really it was 10 secs over so I’m choosing to include it with these figures)