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Reading 1-2 Fleetwood Town: Tactical Analysis

Tom delves into another defeat that exposed tactical problems with this Reading side.

Cambridge United v Reading - Sky Bet League One - Abbey Stadium Photo by Simon Marper/PA Images via Getty Images

For me, it’s been impossible to understand Ruben Selles’ persistence with these tactics and team selection, but perhaps this quote, fittingly, from Fleetwood Mac, could shed some light on the Spaniard’s problems:

“Oh, thunder only happens when it’s raining, Players only love you when they’re playing.”

As Josh Vela, the Fleetwood midfielder, stroked home the winning goal in front of the Cod Army massive in the away end, I can well imagine players like Ben Elliott, Tivonge Rushesha, Paul Mukairu, Caylan Vickers and even guys like Tom Holmes and Sam Hutchinson getting increasingly unsettled and frustrated under Selles’ management.

I wouldn’t be surprised if players such as Charlie Savage and Nesta Guinness-Walker held that feeling too - hauling two defensive-minded players off with limited minutes remaining on the clock in favour of more inexperienced academy players hardly shows an intent to go and win the game.

Even if Selles’ plan was to play for the draw, is it the best idea to get on Michael Craig and Matty Carson, who have less than 600 minutes of professional league football combined under their belt, talented as they may be?

The thunder and rain certainly fell in torrents onto the SCL Stadium on Tuesday night, so let’s try make sense of what went wrong in the Royals’ fourth consecutive league defeat.

Defensive mistakes

It’s all well and good pressing a team and being on the front foot to try to win the ball back, but I think certainly for the first goal, our over-zealousness in trying to win the ball back in the Fleetwood half definitely afforded them a lot more space than they should have had on the ball. And this is certainly not the first time this has happened this season.

Here, seven of our players are in an advanced position, with Tyler Bindon up especially high, leaving Mamadi Camara with essentially no job to do after he was beaten by a simple touch by the Fleetwood fullback when they were playing out.

As much as we fans somewhat have a right to expect to beat teams such as this, regardless of circumstances, Fleetwood are as deserving to be a League One club as us at the moment. They are certainly capable of outsmarting a press that consists of everyone ball-chasing at all times with seemingly little regard to limiting their chance-creation or passing options.

I’ve said it so many times about this team this season, but again we leave ourselves with few men behind the ball, thus meaning when the rest of the team backtracks, we have more accentuated weaknesses in positioning due to the situation that this panic creates, therefore allowing the space for Bosun Lawal to hit home a lovely goal from 30 yards out.

For Fleetwood’s second goal too, it’s a combination of a lack of concentration late into the game and positional confusion that cost the Royals. Fleetwood employed a lone striker with an attacking midfielder in behind him, and presumably Craig - the more defensive of the midfield pair who finished the game - was instructed to mark him.

Vela, the Fleetwood number eight, bursts through the defensive line, getting onto the wrong side of Craig, and Nelson Abbey is already out of position following him, having to move across to mark the winger, Tshimanga, while Carson is further up the field.

Playing out

When trying to progress the ball, we were consistently faced with problems too. Abbey is looking forward on the ball here, but realistically has little option for passes. Guinness-Walker is out wide, but Harvey Knibbs is inside, with the Fleetwood wideman cutting off the passing option already.

This leaves him with the option to either pass back to Harlee Dean or a long ball up to the strikers, for the midfield is congested too, with Savage surrounded by five opposition players and Lewis Wing almost in the position of a fullback while Bindon is on the right wing.

The compactness of Camara and Knibbs here also means that, if the ball does eventually reach the strikers, they’ll find it very hard to hold it up as they’ve got the whole of the Fleetwood back four to deal with, not just the centre-backs.

Again, it’s our width - or lack of it - that costs us in both defensive and attacking scenarios.

Next up, it’s Portsmouth at home, which could prove to be a historic day in the story of our football club for all the wrong reasons. They have conceded the least goals in League One so far, while Reading have scored the third least, and at the other end of the field, Pompey can boast Colby Bishop, who’s struck eight goals in 14 games to date.

Make no mistake about it, this game is absolutely massive, both on the field and off it. We need not just a change in tactics, but a rejuvenation of the spirit and mentality of this team to have any chance of competing in this game. Reading may have hit rock bottom, but that is a strong foundation to build up off.

Up the Royals.