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Stats Corner: Early Damage

Tom looks into how Reading are setting themselves up for failure under Jose Gomes with slow starts.

Sheffield United v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by George Wood/Getty Images

The 4-0 thrashing inflicted on Reading by Sheffield United was alarming for a lot of reasons, but there was one noticeable trend that reared its ugly head again, and is something that’s gone under the radar somewhat. That trend is that, for the fourth time under Jose Gomes, Reading have lost a league game - and in every one of those games, Reading have conceded the first goal inside the first 10 minutes.

This is worrying for a number of reasons, especially when you combine it with the fact that in no other league game in Jose Gomes’ short tenure have Reading conceded in the game's infancy. In other words, Reading under Gomes either concede inside the first 10 minutes and lose, or they see out that small period and avoid defeat altogether. It’s as black and white as that.

Below is a list of our four league defeats under Gomes and the minutes that the first goal went in:

  • Millwall 1-0 (8 minutes)
  • Swansea 1-4 (2 minutes)
  • Derby 2-1 (3 minutes)
  • Sheffield Utd 4-0 (1 minute)

What’s most striking when looking at the goal times is how early they are in that 10-minute period. On three out of four occasions the opposition have struck inside three minutes, and the average goal time in which Reading have conceded the first goal is three and a half minutes.

So why do Jose Gomes’ Reading have such an issue in the opening minutes? To know the exact reason why you’d need to be a lot closer to the inner workings of the club, the players and management, as beyond all it’s a mentality issue, not a tactical one. Otherwise it would be happening every game. However, what it highlights above anything else is a clear concentration issue that has happened too often now.

And what makes this stat worse is that, once Reading have conceded this early, they have absolutely no answer. Just two goals have come in reply from the Royals across those four games, both coming once they’d already conceded at least a second goal.

Callum Harriott netted a consolation when Swansea City were 4-0 up, while Sone Aluko halved the deficit in Reading's 2-0 defeat at Derby County.

So Reading can’t come from behind under Jose Gomes? What’s new? While the first stat regarding conceding early is a new one invented by this new-look Reading team, the ability (or lack of ability) to win a game after conceding the first goal is one that has become a mainstay of Reading teams – be they managed by Gomes, Paul Clement or Jaap Stam.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Reading - Sky Bet Championship
Reading also struggled to turn around games under Jaap Stam
Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

In one of my first ever Stats Corner articles, over 12 months ago on 1 February 2018, I wrote an article about this very issue, that Reading hadn’t won a game after conceding first for almost a year. Well, over a year later and nothing has changed.

Reading still haven’t won a game after going behind, and haven’t won many games at all since then that in truth - but how do you expect to win many matches if you have to rely on scoring the first goal Every. Single. Time? You might as well have another read of that article, because most of it reads for easy copy for the current season Reading fans are experiencing.

Forget conceding goals in the first ten minutes - that stat wouldn’t matter if the Royals had the tenacity to come from behind. But the fact is that Reading’s confidence has taken such a beating over the past two years that the game is over for the players after just one setback. And if that happens early in the 90 minutes, as it has four times under Gomes, then the rest of the match is going to be a long one to endure.

The last time Reading won a game after conceding the first goal? The last time Rotherham visited the Madejski Stadium in April 2017. Coincidence?