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Port Vale 1-0 Reading: Tactical Analysis

A closer look at what went wrong for the Royals at Vale Park.

Manchester United v Reading: Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Photo by James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images

New manager, new league, same old Reading.

When considering the so-called size of the two clubs in Saturday’s match-up, it would be easy to write it off as a David vs Goliath, and I’d say it turned out to be that way, but only provided that Goliath had necked about 20 pints at the Purple Turtle, eaten a dodgy curry and spent the night sleeping on a park bench before turning out for the Royals.

Paul Ince’s influence seemed to still traumatise the squad as they fell to yet another 1-0 defeat at the hands of the Valiants, as a combination of schoolboy mistakes and bad fortune prolonged Ruben Selles’ wait for points.

Let’s try to unpack the dismal display that will hopefully be the final chapter in Reading’s league winless run.


This was the very definition of a game of two halves. In the first half, Port Vale were limited to just five shots, all of which were from outside of the box, with four of them taking place in stoppage time, and with a combined xG of just 0.09.

Now compare that to the second half when they had 12 shots, of which nine were inside the box, and they had an xG of 0.87.

Blame the manager all you want about team selection, but for me those stats demonstrate a group perfectly capable of performing to Selles’ expectations. Yet, late into the first half, a defeatist, negative attitude set in on the players, and almost a position of “Well we’ve tried hard enough to score now, we might as well give up at this point.”

Obviously, the less said about the goal the better. After that went in, the defence, particularly Tom Holmes, were visibly shaken, and he looked nervous every time he had the ball. This probably wasn’t helped by the crowd booing his every touch, but I can’t say he didn’t deserve it to be honest.

To me the defensive disaster-class seemed a bit of a foregone conclusion after Tyler Bindon’s and Nelson Abbey’s incredible showing on Tuesday. So logically, when the teams were announced, with Holmes and Tom McIntyre starting, the news went down like a lead balloon with the fans in the concourse. I can’t help but feel slightly sorry for the pair trying to transition from Ince’s to Selles’ style, but still, there is a certain benchmark needed that is rarely met by them.


Yet again, the final pass let us down again. In the first half, all the ingredients that could resemble a coordinated, modern team fell apart like when the baker forgets the eggs (Andy Carroll forgets how to score), and you’re left with all promise and no end product.

The Port Vale low block limited passing options in the final third, and one thing that constantly frustrated me during the game was a seeming insistence to get rid of the ball. So many times were Reading players under no pressure whatsoever and had plenty of room to drive into, yet opted to pass sideways or even backwards.

Here’s a perfect example of that, early into the match, when a bit more vision could have resulted into a lofted ball to Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan.

Even a bit more desire and Holmes could have exploited the space, but no, a sideways pass to Andy Yiadom – which resulted in the ball being pushed back to the goalkeeper – was chosen instead.

In my opinion, McIntyre was a little braver in terms of attacking involvement, which shows as 39% of Reading attacks were down his left side, compared to 30% on the right, but there’s still work to be done regarding his attacking output too.

Generally, in transition, we were far too slow and showed little intent to score. In situations like this, we should see Ehibhatiomhan and Harvey Knibbs busting a gut to get among it in the box, but after an awful Guinness-Walker cross, Port Vale easily won back possession.

Reading’s attack can probably be summed up by Carroll’s world-beating stats of 0 successful tackles, yet three fouls, and one shot on target – yet it was a missed penalty. Give him the Ballon D’or.

Again, it was a game that showed promise and signs of some development from the pre-season performances, but if we want to have a chance to achieve anything in this league, things must improve. The pressing structures are emerging, particularly from Knibbs, but his efforts are often fruitless when the rest of the team don’t press with him, or when the chances created after the turnover of possession fizzle out to nothing.

Time is ticking for this Reading team to click into place. For me, the jury is still out on Selles. When his tactics worked against Millwall they were incredible, yes, but let’s not go heralding this man as a footballing genius quite yet.

Onto Cheltenham Town.