Reading’s League One away campaign continued on a good trajectory with a point away at second-placed Peterborough on Boxing Day. It was a match where the Royals were dominated for the most part but held firm, coming from behind twice to rescue a draw from the jaws of defeat.
It adds to a growing list of encouraging signs for Reading, as we go three league games unbeaten on the road, but results not going our way elsewhere leaves us three points from Exeter City in 20th, while the Grecians have a game in hand. There is still plenty to play for, however, especially with a few easier fixtures on the horizon.
Let’s see how Reading held the Posh to their first league dropped points at home since October.
At 45 goals, Peterborough are the highest scorers in the division, so it was always going to be difficult to contain them to anything less than the two goals they scored. In the first half, the home side enjoyed 66% of the possession and registered 10 shots, getting most joy down the left-hand side with Ephron Mason-Clark.
The 24-year-old is the top player in League One in terms of attacking contribution, as well as third for open-play chances created, at 2.06 per game. The map below shows Peterborough’s average player positions in the first half. As seen, Mason-Clark is by far the most advanced on the pitch.
Amadou Mbengue was the right-back left to deal with that threat, standing in for the injured Andy Yiadom, and I think he did very well all things considered, winning all of his tackles and holding his own against an attack in top form. Femi Azeez was also called into action a lot in the first period, making 10 recoveries throughout the match, and was quoted in his post-match interview saying this:
“Today, our defensive skills were put to the test. As wingers, it’s crucial to be disciplined in our defensive duties, providing support and being willing to stay back more than what might feel comfortable.”
In build-up, Azeez - seen here on the far side of the pitch - was pinned back as Peterborough left-back Harrison Burrows pushed high up, and that left the attacking midfielders in Lewis Wing and Harvey Knibbs to support Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan in the press, which was generally on the two centre-backs and two holding players in the Posh’s 4-2-3-1 formation.
Michael Craig did a great job too patrolling the back line, making the joint most tackles of anyone on the pitch, never being dispossessed and making four passes into the final third. Yet again he performed for Reading.
The Ehibhatiomhan for Smith change
Ehibhatiomhan played the opening 55 minutes of the game, only managing 16 touches and nine passes, as opposed to Sam Smith, who had 18 touches and eight passes despite playing just 35 minutes. The only option to big Kelv up top really was a long ball, which generally came from Jeriel Dorsett when playing out.
An example of this is shown here, where the left-back pumps it down the line but Ehibhatiomhan can’t win the header, and even if he could, there’s no-one there to receive the second ball anyway.
This was the story of the first half really, with Dorsett completing and Ehibhatiomhan receiving the most progressive passes out of any Reading player, which is shown on the pass map below with the darker purple line.
However, what is also shown here is the massive disconnect between midfielders and forwards. Ruben Selles’ 4-1-4-1 in past games has looked like more of a 4-1-2-3, with the wingers up high, yet the intricate build-up down the wings that has been coming out of the woodwork recently was missing on Boxing Day.
However, once Smith came on, the attitude of the whole Reading team seemed to change, as we were given another outlet up top. In the second half, we virtually matched Peterborough in terms of expected goals and halved our deficit in terms of accurate passes completed, as well as just generally exerting a lot more control on the game.
The positional map once Smith came on looked very different, as shown here.
Goalscorer Azeez was given much more license to get forward, creating a strong partnership up front with Smith. Knibbs in the second half was in a sort of “box crasher” role, arriving late to pick up the scraps from the chances created between the former two.
This is especially prominent in counter-attacking situations, like in Smith’s goal, where despite Knibbs not being needed, he comes into the box late in lots of space.
It was a very solid away point leading up to a vital run of fixtures, starting with Cheltenham Town away on Friday night. If we win any away game this season, it really should be against a team that’s scored just 15 goals in 22 games, and are currently just below Reading on goal difference.
It’s a sold-out away end, and that away end, for the first time in a long time, will have real hope that we will come back to Berkshire with three points.
Come on you Royals.