If, at the end of last season, you’d drawn up a list of Reading players for a summer clear-out, the name ‘Tyler Blackett’ would probably have been on it. The Manchester United academy graduate arrived in Reading with a reputation of being a pretty terrible defender after unsuccessful loan spells at Birmingham City, Blackpool and Celtic, and failing to break through at his own club. Indeed, his first two years in Berkshire did little to suggest that his fortunes had noticeably changed for the better.
That was felt particularly keenly last season when, on the team sheet’s announcement at 2pm every Saturday afternoon, you’d see an outburst of worry, frustration or outright anger that Tyler “Calamity” Blackett was in the XI. Whether at left back or centre back, the reaction was the same, and probably not unfairly.
The emergence of Omar Richards last season seemed to have decisively whacked another nail in the proverbial coffin of Blackett’s long-term chances... and yet Paul Clement has stuck by him. After missing the season opener at home to Derby County, the 24 year-old has started every match since, missing just seven minutes when subbed off for Richards in an attacking switch late on at Nottingham Forest.
Although the long-awaited return of fan favourite Jordan Obita at some point this season could signal the end for the lanky Mancunian , it’s clear that - for now at least - the left back spot is indeed Blackett’s to lose.
He’s bounced back from a rocky 2017/18
Blackett felt like a defensive liability for large spells last season, such was his lack of confidence in his own abilities. On so many occasions his bad positioning would be caught out, he’d be too weak in a one-on-one or an individual error would come into his game, whether it was in his defensive game or a moment of madness like the reckless red card at Hillsborough in April.
However, Clement’s faith in Blackett seems to have been repaid this season with more assured performances. Don’t get me wrong, there’s much more work to be done, but the upswing in Blackett’s confidence is encouraging to see in a player who’s struggled for that so badly in the past. Those improvements can be seen in his defensive stats which, despite coming from a small sample size, still indicate that he’s getting that little bit better.
He’s making more tackles than last season (2.7 to 1.6 per league game), interceptions (1 to 0.9) and clearances (3.3 to 2.8) whilst committing fewer fouls (0.7 to 1) and being dribbled past less often - that happened 0.4 times per match but hasn’t happened at all in 2018/19.
He was unlucky to come out of Wednesday night’s game at Blackburn Rovers without an assist - his vicious left-wing cross not quite converted by Yakou Meite before Jon Dadi Bodvarsson tapped in the rebound. The power and accuracy on this delivery are the hallmarks of a player who’s becoming more confident in his own ability.
Where does he go from here?
Blackett still has a lot to work on, particularly his individual attacking threat. Whereas Andy Yiadom on the opposite side is comfortable enough on the ball to run at the opposition, take a man on and get a cross in on his own, Blackett typically needs an orthodox left winger further forwards to help him out, as these tweets from @Photomattic and @PannasNutmegs aptly point out:
I would say that his attacking threat would be much greater in a side where there was more interplay between full back and winger. He plays some nice give and goes.— Matthew Williamson (@Photomattic) August 23, 2018
Looking for positives from last night, the second goal was a good example of the effect Meite has when on the wing. Looks to play high and come off the line, occupying the full back which bought Blackett the time and space to pick out a cross for Bod. #readingfc— PannasandNutmegs (@PannasNutmegs) August 23, 2018
That reliance on a winger ahead of him means Blackett has struggled when asked to attack down the left on his own. He looked unconvincing going forwards in play-off games against Fulham and Huddersfield Town, and more recently struggled to provide width in the 1-0 defeat to Bolton, despite improving in the second half. In the long run, that will probably open the door for the return of Jordan Obita, a left back who’s better all-round than Blackett. As the internet meme goes, get yourself a man who can do both.
However, Obita’s return looks like being some way off at this point, so Blackett may well end up having a few months to continue his development. I’m sure Omar Richards will have something to say about that and, given his relatively recent breakthrough, he’s taken to men’s football remarkably well. The 20 year-old should be hopeful of another opportunity to get back into the first team, whether it comes from Blackett being injured or suspended or Clement just prefers a more attacking presence at left back.
Should Tyler Blackett be kept in the first team, or would you prefer his spot in the side went to Omar Richards? Let us know in the comments.