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Reading 1-1 Bristol Rovers: Tactical Analysis

Tom chews over a midweek draw with Rovers.

Reading v Stevenage - Sky Bet League One - Select Car Leasing Stadium Photo by Kieran Cleeves/PA Images via Getty Images

Reading were held to their second draw of the season on Tuesday night by Bristol Rovers, as a lacklustre 90 minutes of football seemed to only add to the misery surrounding the club, yet it will also serve as an end to the losing run we’ve been on.

If we’re looking for momentum, this game was hardly a springboard for matches going forward, but it’s importantly another point on the board in the League One relegation battle.

Our players will surely be ruing their many missed opportunities to put the game to bed as that bloke from Coldplay hit home the leveller following Sam Smith’s opener, sparking fireworks (quite literally) in the away end, and securing a well deserved point to take back to the West Country.

This has been a season full of performances which would have warranted a more favourable scoreline on another day, but we were so poor on Tuesday I would have had few qualms if Reading went home with nothing.

Let’s analyse a game which served as a real advert for English football binning your season ticket and taking up trainspotting.

Defensive performance

Overall, I don’t think our defending on Tuesday was as bad as we’ve seen before, but we certainly still managed to have our moments, the obvious one being Chris Martin’s goal, as shown here.

I’m as much of a Tyler Bindon fan as the next man, but allowing this situation to develop into one where the Rovers striker has the time to slow down and lift it over David Button, while the New Zealand international jogs back, is poor.

It certainly doesn’t help his case that, when the ball is played through, Martin would be in an offside position if not for Nelson Abbey keeping him on, possibly to attempt to neutralise the threat of Aaron Collins in the middle, but that sacrifice cost the Royals their lead.

Again, I’m hesitant to criticise Bindon and Abbey too much as they have both been largely outstanding this season, particularly the latter, not to mention the incredible fact that they were born in 2005 and 2003 respectively, which is unreal really.

Another thing that disadvantaged the pair of young centre-backs was the ease with which Harvey Vale got down the righthand side, with Femi Azeez and Andy Yiadom between them providing an almost comedic combination of bounces and deflections, setting the Chelsea loanee free down the wing.

The Bristol Rovers domination down our right is shown in the average player positions in the graphic below.

Azeez was pushed back even further than Lewis Wing, and adversely, the Rovers left-back and left-winger were the highest of their respective defensive and midfield lines. In my opinion Yiadom was nothing special but did a decent job on Tuesday aside from the goal, which tempts me to continue to back him as our first-choice right-back, but I can’t say the same for Azeez unfortunately.

It is good however to see the outlines of the 4-1-4-1 formation coming through, and the width of the centre-backs shows our increasing confidence in playing out.

Set pieces

When Ruben Selles was appointed all the way back in July, a heavy emphasis was placed on his set-piece expertise, particularly in defensive scenarios, with Ralph Hasenhuttl citing:

“Ruben is responsible for the set-pieces. I must say that in the last games, especially our defensive set-pieces, we have made progress”.

Well, I can tell you now that Reading have the worst set-play expected goals against in the whole league, at 6.25, and despite conceding just four of those in real terms, that reflects more on the opponent’s poor finishing from promising chances that Reading have allowed them to have.

Bristol Rovers had four corners on Tuesday, of which one is shown here. The Gas hardly overloaded the box on set plays, as shown where they instead had three on the edge of the box, meaning after Button punches clear, Sam Finley - shown in the bottom right of the picture - has the time and space to ready himself and shoot.

His shot ends up sailing over the bar but, considering this moment is deep into the first half, it shows a massive lack of awareness from Reading to practically double up on each Rovers player in the box while leaving those outside unmarked.

But it gets worse. In attacking set plays, Reading have registered just 2.59 xG from those scenarios so far this season, scoring just one goal from them. Both stats are dead last among League One clubs.

I’m definitely not saying that we should place a focus on set pieces, as our passing play looks to be coming into fruition, but as a team bottom of the league, we have to make the most of every opportunity to attack, including corners and free-kicks.

With Shrewsbury Town away coming up fast, the message now is fairly obvious, as everyone has been saying it for near on a year. Just win. Three points away from home is all we ask for.

Personally, I’d be happy with just one point and no post-match red cards, but beggars can’t be choosers, and I’ll probably find myself praying for a narrow loss and no catastrophic injuries by the time gameday comes around.

These expectations, unfortunately, are the sad reality that Reading FC have reduced me to.

To end, conversely to what I said earlier, Reading fans: put the trainspotting guide down, fish your ticket out the bin, back the boys and make some noise this Saturday.

Up the Royals.