Now some of the dust has finally settled on the 2018/19 Championship season, to distract yourselves from all the turbulent off-field changes that will be coming in the next few days and weeks, why not digest the five main stats that defined Reading’s season?
Strikers back on form
With the exception of our playoff final season two years ago, Reading’s main criticism has been the lack of goals up top. Being able to rely on a striker to do the business is something most of us grew up depending on and somewhat taking for granted. However, in 2017/18, just 11 of Reading’s league goals came from our forwards - that’s less than a quarter overall.
It was clear that something needed to change this season and it did, thanks to five different players. Reading’s forwards scored over half of all Reading’s league goals this season - 27 overall, or 55% of our total strikes. In fact that’s the best return for the strikers’ contribution to our overall goal tally since the 2014/15 season when Reading’s attackers scored 75% of all our league goals.
There are both positives and negatives that can be taken from this stat though. The obvious positive is that we’ve finally got strikers who have confidence again. Furthermore, it’s great that we’re not dependent on one player to get our goals. Jon Dadi Bodvarsson started off as our main man up top, Sam Baldock filled in well when he got injured back in October and, when he picked up a knock of his own, there was Yakou Meite to hit a purple patch of his own.
In addition, Marc McNulty found the net once - at home to Stoke City in a 2-2 draw, and January loan signing Nelson Oliveira scored three times.
That being said, the statistic does illustrate our lack of goals from other areas of the pitch this season. A particular worry, which may seem like an oxymoron, is the number of goals coming from the defence. Just the three were scored by defenders all season (Liam Moore, Tiago Ilori and Andy Yiadom) - each before October - highlights a poor return from corners and other set pieces - unlike the Reading of old.
Turning the corner at the Madejski
With the 2017/18 season seeing the club’s worst ever at the Madejski Stadium, I suppose that it wouldn’t have taken too much to beat just the 23 points won at home. However, by the halfway stage of the season, Reading were on course to not even get that, having accrued just 11 points in their first 12 home games in the aftermath of the 4-1 demolition at the hands of Swansea City on New Year’s Day.
However, we now know that all changed and Reading managed to not only beat their worst ever Madejski Stadium record in a Championship season, but also their second worst (see 2014/15). OK, it’s not much to shout about, but considering that we were on course for our worst ever home campaign in the second tier, to actually turn that into one of the strongest home records in the league across 2019 is quite something - and testament to the turnaround achieved by Jose Gomes et al.
Still, the average attendance of 14,990 was the lowest at Championship level at the Madejski Stadium; evidence of just how far the disconnect between the club and fans had reached prior to Gomes’ appointment. Since that point, on only one occasion the the attendance at the Madejski dipped below 15,000 - versus Blackburn Rovers on February 13.
That’s further proof that this club is heading in the right direction.
Still work to do away from home…
While Reading’s home record became a source of pride by the end of the season - just two defeats in 11 matches in 2019, our away form still leaves a lot to be desired.
The only other times in the 21st century that Reading have managed to win just twice away from home in a campaign have been the only two times we’ve been relegated - from the Premier League in 2007/08 and 2012/13. The hard truth is that dire away form, such as the Royals’ throughout 2018/19, cannot provide anything more than a lower mid-table finish.
In fact, we can consider ourselves lucky that we managed to stay up with such a lousy record on our travels. This is ultimately one of the most urgent things that Gomes still needs to fix for next season and, while some encouraging displays away at Bristol City and Norwich City in April show we have grown in this regard, there’s still plenty of work to do.
Draws, draws, draws
Only two teams drew more games in the Championship this season. In fact, Reading’s total of 17 was the joint-fourth highest in the entire Football League this season. Only Stoke City (22), Birmingham City and Sunderland (both 19) drew more league games in 2018/19, while Blackpool were the only team to match Reading’s 17.
Again, you can analyse this in both positive and negative ways. The negative clearly is that, in over half of those games (eight overall), Reading were winning at some stage of the game, therefore equalling a total of 16 points dropped (stay tuned for further analysis on lost leads).
However, the positive was that we were able to grind out results where otherwise we might have lost. Under Jose Gomes, Reading drew 10 times, and points in games such as QPR, Norwich and Bristol away, Aston Villa and West Brom at home arguably proved vital in gradually racking up the required amount of points to achieve survival.
It was a case of If we were unable to find a way of winning, make sure we didn’t lose which meant the Royals were able to increase their game management and tenacity under the new manager. That was crucial in a relegation dogfight, but here’s hoping that the Royals will be able to turn these into wins next season.
Staying in front
There was a total of 12 games in which Reading failed to hold onto winning positions, and in 11 of those we scored the first goal. Four defeats and eight draws occurred when Reading just couldn’t see out a game having gone in front - a total of 28 points lost.
Now, had Reading seen these games out and won, we would have finished on 75 points and snuck into the last playoff place. Obviously this isn’t 100% a realistic thing to ask for any team of any stature, as every team will ultimately concede points from winning position at some point.
However, to happen in over a quarter of all our games this season, and to have occurred in 11 out of 20 matches when we scored the first goal, it’s still a worrying pattern - one of the few that crept in from the Paul Clement era and stuck with the team under Jose Gomes. Had Reading kept hold of 14 points of the 28 we lost, the club would have been well out of the relegation battle and in fact finished in a much more palatable 14th with 61 points.
In order to push on next season, this is another issue that needs to be addressed, especially away from home, where nine of Reading’s 12 lost leads occurred. This in turn helped contribute to our miserable away form this season and certainly seems as if the two issues go hand in hand. Reading led at half time on eight occasions on the road this season, but won just one of them.