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Reading 1-3 Barnsley: Tactical Analysis

A closer look at Saturday’s home defeat.

Shrewsbury Town v Reading - Sky Bet League One Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

Barnsley ran out 3-1 winners at Reading after a comprehensive second-half performance in a match that, going into it, we were far from expecting to win as our opponents have the third-best away record in League One, but it still felt like we should have got more.

For me this was quite like the Portsmouth match, with high-flying opposition going behind early, only for Reading to lose momentum and let the lead fade away.

It’s not like we have a huge amount more to be worried about in our relegation battle, as thankfully no-one else picked up any points, but this will go down as a game we didn’t really deserve to win, but was still an opportunity missed.

Let’s see how Reading recorded their first league loss for nearly a month.

Control-wise, as is usual with Ruben Selles’ Reading team, we did well, registering 59% of possession and generally imposing ourselves that little bit more. There were some standout performers, including yet again Femi Azeez and Andy Yiadom down the right, the latter of whom recording far and away the most touches of anyone on the pitch at 98, and Azeez with 58, the most of any attacker.

This is shown on the heatmap below, with Reading attacking from left to right.

But hold on, what’s that big, strange midfielder-shaped hole there? It could be explained by the player positional report here, where the gap is also evident.

Lewis Wing is seen to be pushing up into almost a 10 position, playing very close to Sam Smith, but he was effective here, creating the most chances and second-most passes into the final third of any Reading player. However, this more attacking outlook from the 28-year-old certainly compromises space in behind the midfield line, leaving Michael Craig with a lot of ground to cover.

The young midfielder moving slightly left, as well as Harvey Knibbs, Paul Mukairu and Clinton Mola being further back than their teammates on the opposite side, is very demonstrative of the strength of Barnsley’s right-hand side. Down that flank were Herbie Kane and Devante Cole, who have recorded the best chances created and highest attacking contribution respectively out of anyone in the Tykes team this season. The three-at-the-back formation that manager Neill Collins plays especially enables the former to get forward.

44% of the visitors’ attacks went down that side on Saturday, a good example of which is shown in their third goal. With a hooked throughball reaching Cole, Tyler Bindon sprints across, putting in a rash challenge that fails to stop the man or the ball, thus leaving a lot of space in the middle for the newly substituted Max Watters to run in and easily tap in the cross, as seen here.

As shown on the positional report, Bindon received far less cover on his side, but also had less to deal with. The New Zealand international had one of his less impressive games, as a lack of experience and a fair slice of bad luck led to the penalty being given away. Throughout the game, and possibly the whole season too, I feel like he always tries to do what is ideal - i.e. a perfectly placed header or a perfectly timed challenge - when sometimes it’s less risky to simply hit it as far away from our goal as you can.

Expecting any footballer, let alone an 18-year-old, to make no errors is vastly unrealistic. If Bindon can largely iron out these few defensive deficiencies, I have no doubt he could become one of the best centre-backs in the EFL in a few years.

He remaiend a threat from set pieces attacking-wise though, with his 6”2’ figure contending with, and beating, two Barnsley players from this Wing free-kick, and he gets a great amount of power on the ball considering the lofted nature of the delivery.

Bindon seems incredibly effective when he does get on the ball, but getting to it in the first place is sometimes a problem. He is also a level head in an otherwise slightly volatile defensive setup, having only received one yellow card this whole season, which is exemplary when compared to players like Sam Hutchinson, Amadou Mbengue, Matty Carson and Yiadom.

It’s the big one up next, as we welcome Oxf*rd to town, in terms of rivalry and the League One table, with the opposition looking to keep their place in the playoffs, while a win for Reading would edge us ever closer to safety. Following Tuesday, we have tough matches against Lincoln City, Wigan Athletic and Peterborough United. It’s hard to see where three points is going to come from there, so let’s hope we can start a good run of form this week.

If we can’t, then it might be looking like the beginning of the end for Selles. It’s safe to say it’s a big few weeks coming up for the whole club.

Bring on the Us. Up the Royals.