Reading extended their run of good performances with a draw against an in-form Leyton Orient team at the SCL, in a tightly fought affair that could have gone either way. However, both sides will have to settle for a frustrating but overall fair point.
Let’s look at how the Royals sealed another point closer to survival.
In terms of team selection, we haven’t really had many debates around it as of late, until Derby County in midweek when Ruben Selles switched out defensive-midfield stalwart Michael Craig for a very different profile of player in Charlie Savage, a very surprising move considering the four games following that are all against teams in the top seven, but it certainly seems to be paying off for now.
Savage has played around 50% more minutes than his Scottish counterpart, and in certain metrics is outperforming him, as shown by the radar diagram below, which works off each action per 90 and ranked percentile among League One players who play in the same position.
It’s clear in viewing and in the stats that Craig is considerably better at defending and stopping attacks, yet if you want chance creation or long balls, Savage is the one to make things happen. So, the question is: why do we opt to make this change ahead of a very difficult run of games?
The answer lies in Lewis Wing. Since we moved in October to one holding midfielder in the 4-1-4-1, instead of the 4-2-2-2, the 28-year-old hasn’t gone more than two games without a goal contribution, but has gone four games without one as of late as we move towards the 4-2-3-1.
While Savage was on the pitch up until the 56th minute on Saturday, the positional report looked like this:
As seen, the new formation is really coming into fruition here, and Wing dropping deeper allows for an increased passing network down that right-hand side, with Sam Smith moving across to cover and Harvey Knibbs in that attacking midfield role.
In build-up, we adopted an especially modular shape, as Wing was the one to drop into the back line, sometimes at right-back, but also at centre back, as shown in the screenshot below.
Reading play to provide an overload in the attacking line with the opposite winger in Paul Mukairu, as well as Smith and Knibbs up top, while Femi Azeez gives an option down the line and Andy Yiadom inverts, filling in the defensive-midfield spot.
Savage can be seen at the top right of the picture, making a 3-3-4 formation in build-up, the back line of that being Jeriel Dorsett, Tom Holmes and Tyler Bindon.
After the 56th minute when Craig comes on, the shape changes massively, as seen below.
At this point, Clinton Mola also comes on at left-back, so it’s possibly worth considering that Craig is somewhat making up for the full-back’s defensive deficiencies through his heavily left-sided position, but that was also the side where Orient allowed the most space and the side where we have previously opted to progress the ball down when we had Nelson Abbey as left-sided centre-back.
Could Craig replace him as the ball carrier on the left-hand side? Possibly, and he’d have to develop further in that role to cement it, but an example of this happening on Saturday is shown here, where he intercepts the ball on the edge of the 18-yard box and drives down the wing.
Craig finds a pass to Caylan Vickers and eventually the attack comes to nothing, but it shows an intent and the confidence to play that role, be progressive and forward-thinking when receiving the ball.
Another positive on Craig playing and therefore Wing further forward is that it enables Azeez, one of Reading’s brightest sparks this season, to play high in his natural position, allowing Smith to go more centrally, which isn’t the case when we play Savage.
Without Wing assisting in build-up play high on the right, our whole team moves into a completely different system, meaning our entire XI is dragged over to that side.
This doesn’t mean Savage playing is a bad thing though. He can take up that role deep on the left, similar to when Wing fills in at right-back, spraying passes out to the opposite flank, but this time to the stronger side for players such as Azeez and Yiadom, with Smith drifting over too.
Going into the clash in the car park on Saturday, it’d be hard to ask for a much better game to warm the team up. Putting a first goal past Orient for a month, as well as plenty of chance creation, must be a huge confidence booster for Reading, despite remaining three from safety in League One.
I’d be surprised to see any changes being made, particularly in defence, where the team will need everything they have defending the west sta- sorry, I mean wall. On the fans’ side, we can be glad for the extra parking spaces the club have allowed after recognising seats for more spectators would be no use on your average Oxford United matchday.
Into ‘em on Saturday you Royals.