A lot’s been made of the subject I’ve picked for this week’s Stats Corner already. Mainly because it’s hard to miss, but also as when a team is having a bad season with few wins it’s fairly easy to pick out the glaring statistics that are negatively impacting their season.
Ahead of the Ipswich Town game, the second match of what should be the easiest three-match run of Reading’s season, I’m going to take a look at the Royals’ record against the Championship’s bottom third this season – which as many of you will know is nothing short of poor at best.
In 2018/19, Reading have clocked up just six league wins, as if you all need reminding, though if you do need a reminder of who they were against, here’s a refresher;
Preston North End A
Hull City H
Bristol City H
Nottingham Forest H
Blackburn Rovers H
When our season’s success is boiled down to that meagre list, it really does illustrate just how poor we’ve been, although that’s nothing new. What’s interesting though is when you look at the position (at kick-off) of the sides we’ve beaten…
Preston A (18th) September 15th
Hull H (18th) September 29th
Millwall H (20th) October 20th
Bristol City H (11th) November 3rd
Nottingham Forest H (7th) January 12th
Blackburn H (13th) February 13th
When visualised like this, you see a clear 50/50 split between the sides we’ve been getting our wins against.
At the start of the season, in one of the club’s worst-ever starts to a league campaign, our wins were against teams also doing poorly. We were beating teams who were low on confidence and simply weren’t turning up against us. As a consequence, we beat them fairly comfortably and without having to really dig in and grind out a victory - the notable example being Hull City at home at the end of September.
However, you then move into November, and since then Reading have won just three times in nineteen attempts. Those three victories all came against teams outside of the play-offs but also outside of the relegation battle - your typical midtable sides. Those three wins came against teams with an average position of 10th but, in contrast, the three earlier in the season were against teams with an average position of 19th.
What’s the point here then?
Well it’s that, at the turning point in the season, when positions start to become a bit more cemented and thus games get a bit more crucial, Reading have clearly started to crack under the pressure of playing teams around us. Instead we’ve been picking up our points against midtable teams who have relatively little to play for, but also struggling against the top six, where we’re simply overpowered, and against the bottom six, where nerves have clearly got the best of us and we’ve cracked under the pressure of the situation.
Since November we’ve won 18 points, so where have our points come from then? Well take a look at the table below and I’ve handily organised it all for ya…
You can see from the (crude) graphic that, since the start of November, we’ve taken 0% of our points from teams in the playoffs, 22% of our points have come against teams in the bottom third of the table, while an overwhelming 78% have come against teams in a ‘midtable position’ between 7th and 16th.
Let’s put that another way: we’ve taken 0 points from a possible 15 available against teams in the playoff places, 14 points from 27 available against teams in midtable, and just 4 from 15 against teams 20th or lower.
It’s quite staggering just how inadequate we’ve been against the very best and very worst teams in the division since the start of November. And what’s most worrying is the latter of those two - it definitely seems a case of what we already know, that this Reading team cracks under pressure in crunch relegation six-pointers.
So, to sum up, Reading simply don’t have enough quality to win games against the very best teams in the Championship and are too mentally fragile to win against teams in and around us scrapping to avoid relegation like us. However, we’re more comfortable than a Sunday afternoon in bed in front of Netflix against teams in midtable - in other words, where the pressure is off.
Since November began, we’ve lost just once in the nine games where we’ve played teams between 7th and 16th. That’s really quite remarkable and it shows two things:
1) That we’re not psychologically strong enough to win the crunch games.
2) That in terms of quality, Reading are more than capable of mixing it in the glamorous heights of midtable.
So, what does this mean for the rest of the season? Well in our 12 remaining games Reading face two more teams in the bottom third - also in our next two games against Ipswich and Wigan Athletic, and five games against the top six. Most importantly, there are five more games against teams in midtable: Stoke City A, Preston North End H, Hull City A, Brentford H, Birmingham City H.
So actually, Reading’s run-in is better than you would have thought. Getting the ‘six-pointers’ out of the way before the end of March may actually do us the world of good, where we could end up facing teams with little to play for at the crunch end of the season. We’ll see how it all plays out in the end though, but hopefully our record against midtable will see us through.