While it may have not been the most exciting affair, Reading extended their unbeaten run on Tuesday evening with a 0-0 draw against Birmingham City. It was a positive, albeit underwhelming, display from the home side who continue to adapt to Jaap Stam’s style of play. The Royals maintained 71% possession and managed to limit a strong Birmingham side in the process.
Here are some of the things to come out of Tuesday’s game.
Williams Looked Lost
With the majority of play going through the defence and the build up often being slow, anyone from the midfield forward often find themselves running round in circles trying to create the necessary space to launch an attack. One player who seemed to be running around aimlessly, however, was Danny Williams.
More often than not the American international was seen in the centre of the pitch as the ball got played around him. When he was not stagnant, he was seen jogging around in circles and was rarely proactive in calling for the ball. Apart from his shot from distance in the first half, he struggled to get into the game and was robbed of the ball on several occasions. With limited options going forward through the centre, the defence often had no choice but to pass it amongst themselves.
Everyone knows what Williams is capable of on a good day and early on in the season he quickly became a key player for the Royals in the absence of Oliver Norwood. On Tuesday evening, however, he was the weakest player for Reading by a distance and fans will be hoping for more from him in the next game.
Corners Remain An Issue
Reading had a grand total of twelve corners in the duration of the game. Despite having a number of capable headers in the squad including Yann Kermorgant and Paul McShane, no one came anywhere near to converting. That is not surprising, however, considering the inconsistency of Garath McCleary’s crosses. It got to the point where I was hoping for a short corner (and I hate short corners!).
Set pieces have been a weak spot for the Royals for a while, both offensively and defensively, and are something that they definitely need to work on. While McCleary has shown that he is quite handy when it comes to penalties, his corners do still need some work.
Centre-Backs Being Pushed Out Of Their Comfort Zone
Paul McShane is your typical centre-back. It was therefore quite surprising to see him spending the majority of the game playing as a right-back, with Chris Gunter acting as an extra winger. With so much of the build up now going through the back line, the likes of McShane and Liam Moore are having the ball at their feet for large spells of the game.
Largely, you have to say that they looked somewhat comfortable. When Reading lost the ball, however, it was not overly reassuring to see the centre-backs having to scramble back from the wings to get back into position as they were countered at. It is clear that the centre-backs are playing a more adventurous role this season and are definitely still adjusting.
The Battle For Left-Back Spot Continues
The signing of Tyler Blackett looked ominous for Jordan Obita, but Stam opted with the latter against Birmingham. Whether the manager was influenced by Blackett’s error against Ipswich or not is up to interpretation, but Obita definitely staked his claim for the position against Birmingham.
Obita is arguably the more attacking minded of the two and subsequently he made himself an attacking option throughout the game. The only issue from the game is the tactics. Stam pushed Obita and Gunter all the way up the pitch to the point where they were playing as wingers. Obita is strong at taking on defenders and putting the cross in. When he received the ball out wide, however, instead of going on his usual run he opted to cut in nine times out of ten and play the ball back into the middle.
With the pair having different strengths, I would imagine that as the season goes on Stam will continue to alternate. After Tuesday’s game, however, it would appear that Obita is not giving up his position without a fight.
Attendances Still A Concern
Weekday evening fixtures will always have a lower attendance than those on the weekend, with the Birmingham fixture only drawing 14,602. The highest attendance of the season so far at the Madejski, however, is still only 16,781 against Brighton. The equivalent fixture last season drew 21,244. Both were on a Saturday, but yet the attendance this year was nearly five thousand fewer.
Whether it is the style of play that the team are playing, the drama surrounding a consistent striker, the woes of recent seasons or all of the above, the Royals are seemingly struggling to get the numbers of old through the turnstiles. Here’s hoping that the goals start flowing soon otherwise I hate to think how far numbers may plummet.
“FORWARD” Needs To Stop
If I had £1 for every time someone shouted “FORWARD” on Tuesday evening I would be far better off. It is clear that the new style of possession football is not to the liking of several people in attendance at matches. With many away teams coming to the Madejski Stadium happily sitting back with all their players behind the ball for the majority of the game, space is often at a minimum.
Reading have tried the hoof and hope approach before and that has never worked. Ever. Especially not with a sole striker. When it was adopted against Birmingham, Kermorgant often flicked it on to the invisible man beyond him and the away side got the ball back. If the Royals continued to keep launching the ball forward as demanded, then they would see a lot less of the ball without creating any more opportunities.
Goals are the most exciting part of a football game (as long as your side is the one scoring them) so the frustration about keeping the ball with the back four is somewhat justified. What needs to stop, however, are the people who feel the need to shout at the players that they should play the ball forward just because they say so. I like to think that the players know the game plan and how the sport works and doubt that they will suddenly launch the ball forwards because a fan shouts at them to do so.
So please stop. Please?