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Lincoln City 1-1 Reading: Tactical Analysis

A deep dive into Saturday’s 1-1 in Lincolnshire.

Lincoln City v Reading - Sky Bet League One Photo by Andrew Vaughan - CameraSport via Getty Images

Reading obtained a second away draw in the last 12 months on Saturday, following 1-1s at Norwich City and Bristol City. This year, to save me from tears, I’ll... watch Harvey Knibbs slot a lovely finish past the Lincoln City ‘keeper to salvage a point. It was a frustrating trip on the road for the Royals, where, if it weren’t for the linesman leaving his specs in the changing room, it could have been a very different scoreline.

There was a lot to be positive about for Reading though, allowing our opponent zero shots on target, and dominating play in most departments, with Selles-ball finally seeming to be working both at home and away.

Let’s see what secured the Royals the points in Lincolnshire.

Has the 4-2-2-2 returned? Well, sort of - with Selles playing Knibbs in a hybrid striker/left-centre-midfielder role, it often looks like that.

The positional report below demonstrates that. The size of each circle indicates the number of each player’s actions, line thickness shows the number of passes between each player, and the darker lines are the passing routes with the highest threat.

There’s a lot to unpack there, so let’s start with the obvious point: that little purple line between Lewis Wing and Paul Mukairu on the left. That diagonal switch has constantly proved to be a problem for opposition, especially with a pacy winger who likes to run in behind like the Nigerian, and Dom Ballard too when we had him.

Wing is incredible at turning defence into attack, as shown here, when Andy Yiadom tackles and drives forward, and looks for the midfielder with a back pass. He plays a beautiful first-time ball over the top straight to the feet of Mukairu.

The left-winger had six opportunities to dribble at his opponent on Saturday, the joint most of any player, and Wing had the most ‘expected assists’ (a stat which works by assigning value to each chance created) of any player on the pitch at 0.21, by far and away in front of second, who is Yiadom with 0.07. Wing also made 13 passes into the final third, the most of any Reading player, as well as the most touches and passes of any midfield or attacking players.

Although it was the left-hand side where we found the most joy over the top, it was on the right where the silkiest link-up play was. When playing out, Reading tended to build up down the right-hand side more when the pitch was more congested, as opposed to in counter-attacking situations.

A great example of this can be seen in the screenshot here.

Yiadom feeds Femi Azeez tight to the touchline, and he drives inside before playing a brilliant visionary through ball to Sam Smith, catching the Lincoln back-three defence sleeping. Smith delivers a cross to his “strike partner” Knibbs and the subsequent header comes to nothing, but again we are creating so much better than we have previously.

We also committed more players forward to provide more passing options, meaning we had more outlets to attack through, but also had to be very careful and composed when knocking it about the back. I was particularly impressed with Tom Holmes in a right-back role in possession, as shown here.

As we now only play with Sam Smith up top, we need players like Femi Azeez to be tucking inside, providing an option to cross to, so Yiadom pushes up and Wing goes out wide too, leaving space in the middle yes, but Michael Craig was fantastic at drifting from side to side to sweep up or relieve pressure with some intricate short passes.

The top five players with the most accurate passes on Saturday were all in a blue and white shirt, a testament to the clear hard work in link-up and teamwork from the training ground, as is backed up by us having two-thirds of the possession too.

In the 64th minute, Charlie Savage and Ben Elliott entered the fray in place of Craig and Mukairu, offering a very different profile of players, and the positional report from this point onwards is shown below.

Savage coming on certainly introduced a more creative and forward-thinking aspect to the game, completing 34 passes during the time he was on, as well as attempting six progressive passes. Him pushing higher to play beside Wing - as opposed to behind him as Craig was - enabled Jeriel Dorsett to get higher and attack more too, as well as Elliott, who played as the furthest forward on the pitch from the 64th minute onwards.

Elliott and Azeez, the two wingers, are shown to be much narrower, with the former especially licensed to go inside, with Knibbs, who’s played out wide before, moving out to the left to compensate. Elliott possesses top-class close control and dribbling skills, and actually created three big chances too, the most of any player for the whole game.

Below, he receives the ball off the throw-in, spins his man and picks a pass on the right wing. Knibbs can be seen drifting left too, as well as Savage more advanced.

I somewhat feel sorry for Elliott. Limited game time and being played out of position have not helped his case at all, but on the flip side he is yet to fully show us what he can do in a Reading shirt.

This was a solid point for Reading, and it’s hard to have many qualms about the performance we put in, despite the scoreline not suggesting such a dominant game. The chance-creation stats are improving game on game.

Anyway, onto Wigan Athletic next, a side we have historically struggled against, but this season the Latics are quite defensively weak, with the third-highest xG against in League One, so hopefully we can bag a few this weekend.

Let’s hope we get a big three points this Christmas!