Draws are funny things really. While there’s not really any such thing as a good loss or a bad win, there’s plenty of room for nuance when you pick up a solitary point. In the case of Tuesday’s 1-1 at Bournemouth though, for me it was unequivocally a good point: Reading had been widely expected to get a pasting from the promotion-chasing Cherries, so securing anything more than that has to go down as a positive.
‘Good draws’ have been hard to come by this season though. In fact, Tuesday was only the second time Reading have come from behind to earn a point: the other time being the 1-1 at home to Nottingham Forest when Andy Carroll’s debut inspired the Royals to a fightback. In the context of how those games were playing out, securing a draw can be said to have been Reading gaining a point.
Otherwise, the draws column doesn’t make for happy reading. You don’t need to look far to find ‘bad draws’. The two most obvious examples were capitulations at home to QPR (3-3) and Derby County (2-2) which left us frustrated at what we should have got, had we just been able to hold on a little longer. The 0-0 at Peterborough United may not have featured a late collapse, but playing poorly and being unable to sneak a goal against direct relegation rivals was frustrating in a different way. Contrary to the Bournemouth and Forest games, in these three matches Reading essentially dropped points each time.
The only other draw has been Reading’s 1-1 with Hull City at home in December. While we’ll look back on it as a missed opportunity in the context of the relegation battle, the dull nature of the game means it’s hard for me to feel strongly about it. It was certainly a bad draw much more than a good one, with the Royals blowing a one-goal lead, but it feels most like a ‘meh’ draw.
And that’s it. Tuesday’s 1-1 was just the Royals’ sixth stalemate of the season, along with 10 wins and 21 defeats. For context, the Championship-wide average is 9.41 draws per team, while other sides at the bottom have all picked up at least two more than Reading. Hull City and Peterborough United are on 8 (each getting one against Reading), Barnsley 10, Birmingham City 11 and Derby 12.
It’s a little misleading to add too much weight to draws without adding context - after all, Fulham (1st) and Peterborough United (24th) both have eight, Preston North End are on more draws than anyone else (15) yet find themselves in mid-table (14th), while you can also find joint-second-highest drawers Derby County in 23rd and Huddersfield Town in 3rd. In other words, looking across the whole Championship, there’s no correlation between number of draws and team quality.
Let’s zero in on Reading though, as there has been a pattern behind our draws - or, rather, the lack thereof. The Royals have gotten really, really good at performing broadly equally to the opposition but still getting nothing. Time and again, Reading have been edged out by a goal or two, whether due to a defensive error, general fatigue, missed chances or anything else.
I’d put the following seven losses in the category of ‘a draw would have been a fair result if we’d got it’:
- Derby County (A): 1-0
- Millwall (A): 1-0
- Sheffield United (H): 0-1
- Huddersfield Town (H): 3-4
- Bristol City (A): 2-1
- Coventry City (H): 2-3
- Millwall (H): 0-1
This certainly isn’t to say that Reading were unlucky to lose these matches or outright deserved a point - more that, on the whole, they weren’t so bad as to outright deserve a loss. Still, when two teams are pretty evenly matched, games end up getting decided by a defensive lapse, that extra bit of fatigue or moment of quality.
And at the end of the day, it’s any given team’s responsibility to do what it takes to get a result. If it consistently doesn’t do that, even when matches are settled over fine margins, it’s a trend you can’t ignore. Good teams consistently win tightly contested matches, while bad teams consistently lose them.
Hence Reading consistently losing games this season and being this close to the bottom three. Turn six of those seven above defeats into draws and we’d have an invaluable extra half-dozen points.
All of this reminds me of how Reading avoided relegation in 2018/19 under Jose Gomes. The Royals weren’t particularly good at winning matches in the back half of that campaign (6/23), but were much better at picking up draws (10/23). Plus, four of the seven defeats were against top-seven sides, with the other three against 10th, 21st (in the early weeks of the Gomes era) and 13th.
In essence, Reading edged their way to safety, solitary point by solitary point. There were better draws (2-2 at Norwich City) and worse ones (1-1 at home to Rotherham United), but collectively those 10 points proved crucial. The Royals stayed up by seven.
While it’s wins that Reading really need in the final nine games of this season, draws still shouldn’t be undervalued. Tuesday’s 1-1 at Bournemouth was a good start.