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Northampton Town 3-1 Reading: Tactical Analysis

A poor game from a tactical perspective for Reading, who lost comfortably at Sixfields in midweek.

Northampton Town v Reading - Sky Bet League One Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images

How many more times am I going to have to write “the wait for the elusive league away win goes on, as the Royals fell to defeat at *insert name of club* yet again”? At this point, I think it’s as much a mental block as it is to do with their footballing ability, with each passing game adding to the absolute absurdity and embarrassment that, by the time our next chance comes about to change this fact, it will be 329 days with no league away win.

I think this game also started a seed of doubt for most supporters regarding Ruben Selles, particularly his team selection and formation. Our team are hardly world-beaters, but consistently getting poor results against this calibre of opposition is very disappointing.

Let’s try find some things to takeaway from a difficult night in Northampton.

Passing and physicality

As a team, considering we have a young Spanish manager from whom you’d expect a clear, progressive style of play, we look consistently devoid of ideas and so reverted to long balls, yet again. We attempted 77 long passes on Tuesday, four fewer than Northampton Town.

The difference here was that we punted it up to our strikers, who were up against Sherring and Guthrie, the Cobblers’ centre-backs who are 6”2 and 6”3 respectively. They easily won most battles, while Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan and Caylan Vickers would just sort of back into them and stumble over, rather in the style of a certain Lucas Joao.

I’m not trying to suggest they’re lazy whatsoever, but when trained to play a system personified by passing and dribbles, it’s difficult to adjust to being a target man when under the cosh in a physical game.

Combined, our two starting front men won just two out of 11 aerial duels, and as a team collectively that number only rose to 13 out of 31. We are letting teams bully us, and easily force a play style on us. Have teams already figured out how to stop Selles’ play style? Possibly it’s just players still adapting, but his extended “pre-season” with his group of players is soon coming to an end, with little fruits born so far.

Defensive positioning

As this Northampton free-kick is floated into the box, as shown in the screenshot here, the positioning, for me, is baffling. There are two men at the back post, one unmarked, Lewis Wing designated to the other. He’s a great player, but hardly the man you’d choose to out-battle two on a free-kick.

You’ve then got five Reading players crowded around one another in the centre of the box, defending only two Town players. At the front post, there’s another two Northampton players, being marked by Femi Azeez and Charlie Savage - again, hardly the best players in the air. To add insult to injury there’s one on the edge of the box with miles of space and all the time in the world to line up a shot if they so chose to.

This set-piece didn’t result in a goal but did end in a Louis Appere header going worryingly wide. Of course, David Button didn’t exactly cover himself in glory on Tuesday. However, allowing these sorts of chances from frankly awful defensive organisation certainly doesn’t help.

While watching the game, it displayed a stat around 25 minutes in that Northampton had registered six shots to Reading’s zero in that period. With Button, Coniah Boyce-Clarke or prime Gordon Banks in goal, we aren’t keeping a clean sheet with that sort of defending.


Well, you know what they say: the faster the ball goes forwards, the faster it comes back, and someone could have done with telling Button that a couple of times with his kicks on Tuesday.

From this picture, you wouldn’t think this is three seconds after a goal-kick, after a simple header sets Bowie off down the right, leading to a good chance for the Cobblers.

The same thing happens again minutes after. Watching as a fan, the ease at which Northampton gained control from every second ball is soul-destroying. The lack of fight shown on Tuesday was incredibly disappointing.

At this stage, I feel like I’m sometimes repeating the same points week after week, but that’s because we make the same mistakes week after week. This division is proving brutal, and if we don’t learn from our mistakes, we will be punished.

We simply have to beat Orient this Saturday to gain any semblance of a team that can compete in League One. Well, I suppose a draw could do. And please Ruben, either change the 4-2-2-2 or work something out that doesn’t leave us so open.

Up the Royals. Bring on the Os.