Putting individual or team performances into some kind of objective context is never easy, but I’m going to at least try to do that for you. As you’ll know, after each match we rate Reading players’ performances out of 10 and then post them for you to chew over (and often disagree with).
However, we also make a point of trying to approach them with some level of consistency. For example, 6/10 is our base ‘good showing, did his job properly without adding anything’ mark, while 7/10 is a noticeably better performance, 5/10 is poor but not awful.. and so on.
We also try to be harsh so that performance that are actually really good get noticed. As Dan Wimbush wrote in our ratings guide next to 10/10 - the outright perfect score: “Only use in case of Kebe”. We’ve had a few 9/10s in the last few seasons but, unsurprisingly, not that many. Think Jon Dadi Bodvarsson getting a hat-trick or Emiliano Martinez’s one-man wonder show at Ipswich Town last season. The bar is deliberately high.
So why not whack all the average team performances into one big line chart and see what it tells us? Well, here we are:
That line chart shows, according to our own ratings, how Reading’s performances changed over the course of the 2018/19 season. Most of it is self-explanatory, but the red line is a rolling five-match average to give a better indication of the overall trend rather than just how displays have jumped around from week to week.
I’ll mainly work off the red five-match rolling average line as that is, on the whole, more useful than the individual scores. First up is the point that the average doesn’t seem to change a huge amount until the end of the season, so it’s important to note the more subtle rises and falls.
Secondly, I’ll use 6/10 as the standard for a ‘good’ performance - not an amazing display, but satisfactory. That’s indicated by a thin grey line around which most of the scores are clustered, with 4/10, 8/10 and 10/10 also shown.
What can we tell about Reading’s performances last season?
The graph suggests that our displays didn’t change a huge amount overall under Paul Clement until around 13 matches into the season - the 3-1 win over Millwall which also followed the second international break. Before that point we’d been fairly consistent in how poor we were, and there was even a slight upturn after the 3-0 victory against Hull City - our first home win of the season.
Interestingly, that game was also the debut of Saeid Ezatolahi, who would play the next handful of matches until getting injured after a 4-1 defeat to West Bromwich Albion. He ended his Reading career (at time of writing) with a record of one comfortable win (Hull), a plucky draw (Brentford away), a narrow loss (QPR at home) and a heavier one (West Brom).
I’m loathe to go so far as to say that we’d have done noticeably better under Paul Clement if Ezatolahi had stayed fit, but the drop-off in average team performances soon after his injury is still intriguing (I’m counting out the Millwall average rating due to it largely being distorted by Yakou Meite’s brace and Anssi Jaakkola’s individual heroics). I’ll let you decide that question over Ezatolahi for yourselves - thoughts in the comments and on our social media pages please.
Whatever the case, performances drop from there on in and don’t properly recover until the New Year. That’s a period I highlighted in a recent tactics review of the 2018/19 campaign as being largely defined by Paul Clement’s inability to settle on a coherent approach, with Reading lurching from formation to formation without a clear idea on what the best way forward was.
His successor didn’t have immediate success in completely turning around our performances, with Reading’s displays instead gradually trending upwards under Jose Gomes. However, as a few things started to go our way - players leaving in January, a first league win for Gomes coming against Nottingham Forest, and new signings arriving, momentum began to build. Reading’s rolling average breaches 6/10 for the first time all season. Finally, we’re showing the right kind of consistency.
That ended with Blackburn Rovers at home, a point in Reading’s season which bears striking resemblance to the win over Millwall - another game in which the Royals didn’t put in a particularly great team performance but still came away with the victory. Like the Millwall match, it also followed injury to a key defensive midfielder - in this case Andy Rinomhota.
The influence of both Rinomhota and Ezatolahi had been key in different stages of the season, with the whole team benefitting from the balance that such convincing holding midfielders gave the side. The defence has an easier job when there’s someone sticking in tackles in the midfield, and attacking players enjoy the freedom that defensive security behind them provides.
It’s therefore little surprise that Reading’s worst period under Jose Gomes - at least in terms of overall team performances - came during the absence of Andy Rinomhota. As discussed in the second part of that tactical review I mentioned above, the manager tried various replacements for the academy graduate but none convinced.
This point of the season also saw an uncharacteristically gutless display at Sheffield United, who provided Gomes with the heaviest margin of defeat in his Reading career so far, a 4-0 rout, and wins against Ipswich Town and Wigan Athletic in spite of unconvincing performances. Again, that’s largely down to Rinomhota’s absence.
It’ll come as little surprise then that the team improved as soon as he came back, with TTE giving Reading an average of 6.92 in the 2-1 win against Preston North End - the best mark of the season until that point. With the exception of another uncharacteristically lifeless defeat in Yorkshire - this time at Hull City - Reading didn’t look back. For the first time, the Royals’ rolling average decisively clears the 6/10 marker.
Indeed, it’s no surprise that Reading’s best form of the season by quite some way tied in perfectly with Bowen’s time at the club as a ‘technical assistant’. After all, team performances against Preston, Brentford, Norwich City and Bristol City were notable for how well-rounded and mature they were. We held onto two vital leads at home and restricted dangerous opposition defensively on the road - not to forget the creditable stalemate against West Brom.
On the whole, that strong end to the season shows real development under Jose Gomes. He took a side that had been going backwards from an already-poor start under Paul Clement, gradually improved it and eventually demonstrated that it was capable of consistently impressive performances.
How much of that you put down to the manager himself, the players, Mark Bowen and other factors is of course another matter. With one of key factors likely to be significantly weaker next season due to transfer difficulties - the players - it’s tough to see us replicating the performances we saw in the final period of the season on a consistent basis from the off.