clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Reading 1-1 Oxford United: Tactical Analysis

Some positives and some negatives emerged from a 1-1 draw with promotion-chasing Oxford.

Reading v Oxford United - Sky Bet League One Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images

The Thames Valley Derby came spluttering to a rather anticlimactic end in a game where neither team really seemed to exit second gear and both were forced to settle for a point.

Of course, when welcoming a team like Oxford United who are undoubtedly having a far better season than us, I would have taken a point before the game. But, when given the quality - or lack of it - that we were playing, it’s very frustrating to not see Reading give that little bit more against a team who were there for the taking.

I feel it was like Ruben Selles putting on a 20-fold acca but cashing out 15 minutes into the early kick-off because Manchester City were beating Dog and Duck FC: yeah, you won 10p, but risk a bit more, go more attacking and back yourself, as it’s not at all like Oxford dominated the match overall. Before you know it, you’re a millionaire.

Let’s see how Reading held Oxford to their fourth league game without a win.

Defending crosses

Death, taxes and Reading conceding from crosses, eh? It happened again, but let’s look at the bigger picture. On Tuesday, Oxford attempted an absolutely absurd 30 crosses, an incredible number really, but the stats say that only five of those were successful. It’s a minor miracle we only conceded one from them really, but the Yellows did come close on other occasions.

Here, they swing a corner into the back post, at first looking like a poor ball as it heads straight towards Nelson Abbey and Jeriel Dorsett, neither of whom opt to jump to win it, instead waiting for the ball to find their heads. In the meantime, Elliott Moore makes a marauding run from deep into the box, wins it uncontested, and a great chance goes begging for Oxford.

It’s hard to see what the fix is for these sorts of situations in my opinion. The duo of Dorsett and Abbey have really come into their own these past few weeks, and throughout the season the latter has been particularly good, so it’s definitely not a case of replacing them in favour of a more experienced defence, therefore I think improvement will only really come with time.

The pair of them only have a combined age of 41 - just for reference, only two years over Martin Keown when he played for us - and both had very uncharacteristically poor games. Playing so many matches after being first names on the teamsheet all of a sudden is bound to have a fallout at some point.


This is only the third time Reading have been outdone in terms of possession this season, the others being against Portsmouth and Bristol Rovers at home, with us seeing only 39% of the ball. A lot of that will be down to just the sheer number of times we gave the ball away; our passing statistics were sloppy, with Oxford registering almost double the amount of accurate passes we managed.

A lot of that could have been down to the way we played though, often opting for long balls out to wide areas, mostly from Tom Holmes and Lewis Wing, an example of which is shown here.

Wing had the ability throughout the game to find the half space and then spray a pass out, which in this case was to Femi Azeez. A great strength of his is receiving on the half turn under pressure, but he was almost allowed too much time on the ball by the Oxford attackers.

While Reading have the joint-second-highest pressing-intensity stats in the League, Oxford have the fourth-lowest, with the interesting thing about that being that both sides have scored exactly 19 goals from open play. Des Buckingham seems to be playing a system that does not revolve around pressing, but recognises an opponent nervous and tentative on the ball, as players such as Abbey were on Tuesday, who got caught in possession multiple times, but the U’s often lacked the finishing touch to make that count.

In this screenshot, Andy Yiadom’s positioning seems new too, as he fills into Wing’s right-sided central-midfielder spot, but this leaves Azeez quite isolated when he receives the ball on the touchline.

A Wing pass was key for Sam Smith’s goal too, as he dropped into the right-back position to support Yiadom, and when the ball falls, he plays a pinpoint first-time pass to the striker, as shown here.

It’s great vision from the midfielder to spot Oxford’s back-pedalling defence and Smith’s run in the counter-attacking situation.

Generally though, Wing stuck to a more advanced 10 position (shown below), like we saw against Barnsley at the weekend too.

Despite some bright moments in possession, eight out of the 10 players with the most touches on the pitch were in yellow shirts on Tuesday. This definitely won’t happen in most games, purely due to the nature of the playstyle of most League One opponents, but against the better teams I think we have to exert our playstyle onto them more.

This was especially the case in the second half, as Reading created just 0.04 xG in that period, as well as gaining just 34% possession of the ball, a sizeable drop-off from the first half.

There was lots of speculation post-match about the changes Selles could have made to revive our performances later in games, such as bringing on Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan, but realistically Smith was feeding off scraps for most of the game, let alone the second half. The formation slightly changed late on to a 4-2-2-2, with Harvey Knibbs up top, although that didn’t change a huge amount either.

Next up are Lincoln City, who will be coming in fresh off a 1-0 loss in the EFL Trophy to Accrington Stanley midweek, and for Reading it’s our first league away trip since that win at Wycombe Wanderers.

The Imps sit ninth in the table and should prove a very difficult test for Ruben’s Royals. We could see another “Carlisle at home esque” performance or, equally, a Charlton Athletic away, but at least the team selection seems more set in stone nowadays.

With festive fixtures coming thick and fast, the three points have to come soon - might as well make it now Reading!