Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve only gone and bloody well done it. This team is capable of winning away from home, who would have thought it? And it came in the form of a scrappy but deserved win that put the Wanderers to the sword in front of a packed away end on a chilly day in Buckinghamshire.
Anyone who even remembers our last three points on the road deserves kudos it was that long ago, let alone any of the 300 or so brave fans who made the long trip up to Hull City last November. This time it wasn’t quite the Hollywood finish as it was in the north east, but a second-half performance full of grit, desire and finally some decent game management to send the Chairboys packing.
It’s hard to claim it as a comprehensive win, but it was a massive step in the right direction, so let’s see what went right this time for the Royals.
Formation and pressing
Ruben Selles adopted more of a 4-3-3 shape on Saturday, with Harvey Knibbs (7) in the 10 role, Michael Craig (36) as a sitting midfielder and Lewis Wing (29) drifting from box to box, as shown in the average player positions graphic below.
This gave us much more creativity in terms of passing options up top, especially with Sam Smith (10) acting like more of a false nine than an out-and-out centre-forward, dropping in deeper than wingers Femi Azeez (11) and Dominic Ballard (9).
I think in this game he was used much less as a target man to hoof the ball to, and was more involved in build-up, as is shown in his passing statistics. Against Wycombe he attempted 22 passes and took 38 touches - compared to, say, the Bristol Rovers match where he attempted just 11 passes and 28 touches. It’s clear to see Selles wants him more involved.
For the first goal, Smith was the one to press Max Stryjek and force an error from the Polish ‘keeper, meaning Femi Azeez could drive with the ball and give it back to the Grammy winner to clip it in. This screenshot also shows our effective 4-2-3-1 shape out of possession, with Knibbs pushing up, leaving Wing and Craig deeper in midfield.
Wycombe are among the less likely sides in League One in terms of attempting to play out, with the sixth-lowest passes per sequence in the division - basically meaning they like to go direct. So I found it surprising that they opted to go short as much as they did, which cost them here for the goal.
Another thing I was impressed by in this game was how Selles used his two centre-backs in different ways to play to their strengths, as Tyler Bindon can be seen being considerably more advanced than his defensive partner Nelson Abbey.
One of the Kiwi’s biggest attributes is his cultured heading of the ball. This season he has often been the one to step up to win headers on opponents’ goal-kicks, and has usually been able to not just clear the ball but also find a teammate in doing so, while Abbey covers. This is shown by Bindon having nine aerial duels to contend with against Wycombe, while Abbey had only three.
It was refreshing to see evidence of good work on the training ground with some of Reading’s silky link-up play on Saturday. I was especially happy with it on the right wing, with Andy Yiadom, Wing and Azeez showing their technical skills. Throughout the game the trio seemed to have great chemistry in terms of knowing where each other were and threading passes through to one another, an example of which is shown below.
Here Bindon can be seen pushing up again to win a battle, and he stays up to continue with the attack, filling into a right-back role to give Yiadom the freedom to push up. The new formation is also very effective in terms of getting players wide, as seen with Azeez here, which pulls the Wycombe defence wider, allowing for more space in the middle. On the opposite flank however, Paul Mukairu, Knibbs and Smith can crowd the box, providing an option at the back post.
From corners it was Bindon and Jeriel Dorsett to go up, and they often stayed up for the resulting attack, as seen here, leading to a situation where the man-to-man ratio was 1:1 in Wycombe’s third, which can lead to great scoring chances.
The 4-3-3 shape and the increased width that came with it meant we had more opportunities to cross the ball, with Wing and Azeez gaining the opportunity to do that in seven and eight situations respectively.
However, only one from each was actually accurate, with the corner deliveries being particularly poor in my opinion. That’s why I believe Charlie Savage is such a valuable asset to this team with his quality from set-pieces - but admittedly he has weaknesses in ball retention and sometimes struggles getting involved in games.
It seems a fairly common phenomenon across all levels of football for corners to hit the first man, despite the same players showing immense ability across other areas of the pitch, but nevertheless frustrating fans.
This game presented plenty of signs that many players are really coming into their own in League One, with Azeez having his best performance for years, Wing excelling against his old club and of course Smith doing what Smith does. And of course, the away win.
To quote William Shakespeare, “absence doth sharpen love, presence strengthens it”, and judging by the post-match scenes in the “WhiffAway Stand” in Wycombe on Saturday, the Reading away contingent have certainly had plenty of time to sharpen their love until now, so let’s hope a few more points on the road this season might strengthen it.
Carlisle United at home this Tuesday is the six-pointer of all relegation six-pointers, so we simply must win really. They sit five points above us in 22nd place, and as another of the most direct teams in the league, it should prove another interesting test.
Up the away-day Royals.