Reading struck five on Tuesday night for the first time in a league game since Yakou Meite’s destruction of Luton Town all the way back in 2020, giving the Royals a much-needed three points in the League One relegation battle.
This was exactly the kind of performance we have been crying out for: free-flowing, high-scoring, attacking football, showing great skill to get a score of that magnitude, but also fantastic attitude to pull the team back into the lead.
This game was less resemblant of the league performances we’re used to, and more of the EFL Bristol Bears Trophy ones: great showings yes, but the quality on show very below par, and I think Carlisle United were the worst visitors to the SCL in League One this season, possibly beside Cheltenham Town.
Still, you can only play who’s in front of you, and Reading certainly made the most of the opportunities they had.
Let’s dissect how the Royals won on Tuesday night.
Goalscoring and prevention
Prior to the game, if someone had told me we’d hit five, you’d have bet the family dog that Sam Smith, with his form, would have got at least one. But it was slightly less likely goalscorers against Carlisle, the big story being Femi Azeez opening his account for the season.
Who knows what this change in confidence could do for the 22-year-old. Up to this point he has played nearly 1,300 minutes, the third most in the team, but only registering on average a 0.03 goals per shot ratio. This could however be indicative of poor finishing across the board in the league, with the team average at only 0.08.
With Harvey Knibbs moving more centrally recently and Lewis Wing and Ben Elliott popping up with key passes too, chance creation for me is not the issue a lot of the time, as we average the fifth-most shots and fourth-best xG in the league, but it’s simply a case of putting it in the back of the net.
At the other end, our opponents average 0.12 goals per shot, 50% higher than our own, and David Button finds himself preventing -3.9 goals across the season, essentially meaning nearly four goals we have conceded shouldn’t have happened, and this is the second worse prevention record in the league.
To be fair, only nine League One keeper have a positive record, so it is maybe more indicative of the standard of the league as well as the standard of the player.
I only say this because, in a game where we had so much potential to run riot, it’s easy to see in an alternative world how the sloppy goal we conceded sets us back mentally as well as in the score line, and the match ending in a very different result. Cutting down on errors, as shown below, will be crucial when we come up against defences that don’t let us score quite so many.
It’s as simple as saying Button should have come and there’s no way that Luke Plange can be allowed the space to gracefully leap and turn it in. Tyler Bindon, who was exemplary the rest of the game, is presumably hanging back to cover any knockbacks to Jon Mellish, who was arriving in the box, but by that time Nelson Abbey has been wrong-sided and can’t get a touch.
But hey, enough of the negativity from me, let’s move onto the five we scored as opposed to the one we conceded.
Creation and control
I touched on him earlier, but Azeez really has decided to turn it up since the international break. Before the Carlisle game, he averaged 33 touches per game, placing himself in the 65th percentile among League One players in the same position, but on Tuesday managed 59, and the heat map speaks for itself for what side the action has been down.
WhoScored’s positional report surprised me too. The formation has been anything but set over the past few weeks, and judging by this the 4-2-2-2 is still not dead and buried, as it fuses with the 4-1-4-1, leaving Knibbs in the second-striker hybrid role, that was highlighted as his best position in this in-depth article from Sim about him from a few weeks ago.
Its also been interesting to see the maiden game of the Jeriel Dorsett/Paul Mukairu partnership. With Dom Ballard out injured long-term I’d expect it will be between Mukairu and Mamadi Camara, when he returns, for that position. As for Dorsett, it’s surely up to the young defender to keep his place in the starting XI now, as he seems Ruben Selles’ favoured option as of late.
Dorsett offers a very different set of qualities to our other options, not possessing the crossing ability of Matty Carson or the technical skill and dribbling ability of Nesta Guinness-Walker, but defensively he’s probably the best of the lot, and seems very composed in playing out too.
His ball-progression style is less of an agile motorbike weaving through traffic, it’s more of a snow plough surpassing all that may be in his path. They’re both just a means to an end though and his overlapping runs, particularly for our first goal, have been relatively effective.
As shown on the positional graphic though, he has played more defensively than Andy Yiadom on the opposite side, meaning Mukairu is deeper too, and I think he has been brilliant recently in just picking up the ball and running with it, as shown on the screenshot below.
This is in the build-up to Knibbs’ goal. Mukairu receives the ball deep and drives up, showing great perseverance to carry it that far, as well as winning it back when further up. Also, the industry of Knibbs to get over to the touchline and win back the ball, from a fairly right-sided position, can’t be underestimated.
I have good faith in Mukairu to be brilliant going forward. So far in League One he’s in the 74th and 88th percentile for chances created and touches in the opposition box respectively among others in his position, and defensively is fantastic too registering 2.38 tackles per 90, as well as 7.1 recoveries placing him very high among his peers too.
The league goals are yet to come for the Nigerian, but if his Pizza Cup performances are anything to go by, he will do very well.
Now the away curse has been lifted, I am slightly more at ease for Eastleigh than I would have been, and against such calibre of opposition as fans all we can ask for is maybe some fringe players getting a chance and a “routine” win, although we don’t seem to get too many of those.
Two good performances recently haven’t yet fully convinced me that Selles, and some of the players, are 100% up for the job, but fingers crossed we’re taking some big steps towards safety. Let’s keep momentum and grind out a few results, and if we’re lucky, we could spend Christmas in 20th position in League One.