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Reading 1 Watford 0 (03/10/2020) 04/10/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- In my day-job, I’m a statistician.

This involves making sense of data.  Drawing reliable conclusions, building models, quantifying variation.  Is there a relationship between this and that?  What are the consequences of changing this, this and this all at the same time?  What are the factors that influence this outcome?

There is a characteristic of this role, of roles like this, that may not be immediately obvious.  When the penny drops the cold reality smacks you in the face. It’s absolutely terrifying.  People expect you to know what you’re talking about.  Your judgments are treated as gospel. Careless words run away from you and develop a life of their own.

This risk breeds a certain carefulness.  Caveats, qualifications, fences to be sat on, “on the other hand” and so forth. An inherent caution.  Which goes out of the window completely outside work.  Don’t tell anyone.

I don’t know what it is.  If I was at work I’d be full of warnings not to draw conclusions from a small sample size, not to extrapolate from this to that. This morning?  Clearly we weren’t going to concede a goal or lose a game all season.  Difficult game?  Pah.

2- The team started as if they were just as convinced of their own invulnerability.  Vlad’s selection was ostensibly a little conservative, Cleverley and Sema’s niggles this week seeing them relegated to the bench in favour of Tom Dele-Bashiru and Kiko Femenía, but we were punchy and aggressive from the off.

Sarr squirmed out of a tackle , tripped from right to left across the face of the box and released Dele-Bashiru breaking down the left, his fierce ball across the face just missing a touch.  Kiko overlapped and forced a ball across, Ngakia was attacking the far post but shanked a shot wide.

Reading were positive also, but seemed to be pushing themselves further than they wanted to be pushed, to the ragged extremes of their capabilities. Balls quicker than they could be accurately directed.  We swung the ball from flank to flank, Nathaniel Chalobah the conductor in chief swooping first time passes to either side where the wing-backs were pushing on. We won a free kick on the edge of Reading’s area, James Garner made light of the traditionally treacherous “too close to get it up and down” dangerzone to crash his shot off the underside of the bar.

It was all going rather well.  Too well.  And then two things happened.  Firstly the hosts switched formation to drop an extra body into their increasingly ragged midfield.  Secondly, Tom Dele-Bashiru twisted his knee awkwardly in a fall.

It’s preposterous to suggest that the side was reliant on a midfielder thirty minutes into his full league debut, but such was his irrepressible dynamism and influence on proceedings that it’s difficult to conclude anything other than we suffered for his absence.  He lasted another five minutes, during which Nathaniel Chalobah wandered across the edge of the Reading box, was robbed by a fine tackle and as the home side tried to break out Garner hurtled in with a blocking tackle.  It was heroic, but signified a shift in the game.

3- We’d been warned, and not just today.  We’re still work in progress, the sands are still shifting, it’s not “finished” and there’s already plenty to like.  But right at the moment, right now, we’re not potent enough.  The return on all the impressive, often elegant use of the ball and composed possession is too little punch at the business end.  Ismaïla Sarr and João Pedro are both fabulous, Sarr’s will be the dominant thread of the many threads to be resolved over the next couple of weeks, but playing them up front together is like having two puddings and no main course.  A nice idea, but overly indulgent and ultimately unsatisfying.  You might get away with it on special occasions but on a regular basis it’s just not going to work.

We were better than Reading over the piece in the sense that we had more of the ball, more chances, and defended better but not so much better that we could get away with not having many shots or scoring any goals.  And as I said, we were warned…  Cathcart got away with a lucky deflection that saw him accidentally bypass Meite’s challenge on the edge of the area.  The same player got onto the end of a cross swung from right to left, thumping a volley at Foster who did well to block and then to repel a rebound.  Eventually Pușcaș, who did an endearingly belligerent job of charging around up front for the home side, attempted an unconvinced and unconvincing shot which took a deflection off Cathcart to wrong-foot Foster.

We were a bit unlucky with that incident.  If you manage to engineer shots and goals from possession when you have it you can afford such misfortunes when they come along.

4- The second half was a little bit miserable.  We were still trying most of the better things that had been going on in the first half but suddenly it looked a little bit deliberate, a little bit hard work.  Reading were playing with more confidence and did a good job of just getting in the way and threatened from set pieces, where we looked a little bit vulnerable. Much of the good stuff involved James Garner, whose set piece delivery is tremendous and who seemed keen to move the ball quickly which, in the absence of the physicality to threaten a large, solid defence was kinda essential.  Sema moved from an awkward looking spell in the centre to the left after another personnel switch and briefly looked like a get-out-of-jail card with his delivery from wide, but it didn’t happen… we ended the game looking quite forlorn, and quite unlike scoring an equaliser.

5- As was reflected in the post-match Hive discussion, a Troy Deeney in particular would have been useful for the other two to play off, to batter spaces for others to exploit.  To enable goals that weren’t entirely dependent on precision.  Or a Perica.  Or a Gray.  Glenn Murray had a brief cameo, but it’s fair to say that we haven’t worked out what to do with him yet.

Beyond that… an annoying defeat, but nothing to get overly stressed about.  There is still an awful lot more good than bad about this side which is extremely young, extremely fun and still being moulded.  The second of the two transfer windows, the domestic one, closes a couple of hours before we kick off against Derby and by then we’ll know who caught their plane, who was turned back at the gate and who never wanted to leave anyway, honest.

And then, finally, we’ll know where we’re at.  Probably.

Yoorns.

Foster 3, Ngakia 3, Femenía 3, Cathcart 3, Kabasele 4, Wilmot 3, Chalobah 3, Dele-Bashiru 4, *Garner 4*, Sarr 3, João Pedro 2
Subs:   Sema (for Dele-Bashiru, 37) 3, Cleverley (for Femenía, 69) 2, Murray (for Sarr, 82) NA, Troost-Ekong, Quina, Pussetto, Bachmann

Comments»

1. Ray Knight - 04/10/2020

Hi Matt – Another knowledgeable and proportionate write-up, often lacking elsewhere. Did Cleverley and Sema have niggles in the build-up? Such a pity for TDB (who was irrepresible) getting what looks like a bad injury. Ivic made a mistake IMO by letting him play on. The re-shuffle did not work and we lost traction in midfield. Sema could have come on later to stretch things but we lost control at a crucial stage. Chalobah and to a lesser extent Garner were then overworked and became more ragged and Reading sensed this. Sarr and Pedro then became frustrated, but the lesson is you can rarely be successful w/o a proper number 9. Still as you say we will have a better idea after Derby. COYHS!

Matt Rowson - 04/10/2020

Cleverley and Sema – yes, this was confirmed on the Hornet Hive broadcast. They’d missed a couple of days training. Agree about TDB, he looked tremendous.

2. Harefield Hornet - 04/10/2020

The first half I could stomach but the second was absolutely miserable. As you’ve said Playing 2 young wingers up would have probably worked today if we’d cashed in on the early chances. The fact we didn’t left us bankrupt of ideas after the break. Sarr in particular looked extremely unhappy towards the end. An extremely annoying defeat as you say. But probably not too damaging provided the obvious lessons are learned and Ivic is eventually given a full hand of cards to play with.

3. David - 04/10/2020

Lovely report Matt, Two puddings indeed.

4. John Smith - 04/10/2020

Excellent post that captures the game yesterday in my view. You continue to maintain a high standard, thank you

5. davejackson - 04/10/2020

Glenn Murray had a brief cameo, but it’s fair to say that we haven’t worked out what to do with him yet…..
Send him back to Brighton?

Harefield Hornet - 04/10/2020

Harsh but from what we’ve seen so far – fair!

6. Mark Scholfield - 04/10/2020

Its obvious that Sarr & Pedro cannot play together and that they need a target man to feed off.That then means a change of formation.So, that is a problem in itself as Ilic clearly loves playing with wing backs! Can Murray, who has looked ineffective and ponderous play for 90 minutes? Is Deeney staying or going? Perico is largely an unknown quantity & Gray cannot hold the ball up so I don’t think it will work with him playing alongside either of the two or with them!

Matt Rowson - 06/10/2020

I wouldn’t say that Sarr and Pedro can’t play together, they looked potent against Luton. In general though it’s a bit of a wonky pairing up front. Those two either side of a Perica/Deeney/Gray could be very effective though, and I wouldn’t take it as read that Ivic will stick with wing backs. With everything up in the air but the defence relatively stable it made sense to build from the back to start with. Doesn’t mean he’ll stick with the current formation when the squad is more settled and, as you imply, the attacking play isn’t quite clicking.

SteveG - 10/10/2020

If we still have this ‘problem’ next week I’ll be very happy – certainly much happier than if Sarr is playing for someone else! I agree that those two either side of a central striker would be a very strong combination. You could do that with wing backs in a 3-4-3, although then that would then give you a difficult choice on who to leave out of central midfield where, if Capoue does stay, we once again have plenty of choice if everyone is fit. Reasons to be cheerful…if it continues to stay quiet on the transfer front until next week!

7. Johnnie R - 04/10/2020

Great report Matt. We were and are a better team man for man than Reading who were without 4 of their normal starting eleven. I agree with all of your points but even more simply we were not bold enough. Eventually Readings stronger desire and team ethic prevented us getting any decent efforts on their goal and they profited from taking one chance in a game of very few chances

8. Reg Sport - 04/10/2020

I think that Murray needed longer yesterday, I have to wonder whether, in a game like that where we dominate possession and they have one up front, we really need 3 centre backs, when we were chasing the game in the second half we could have sacrificed a centre back and gone 3 up front, Sarr, Murray and Pedro, on the evidence of yesterday Pedro is not ready to lead the line at this level. If he stays I would like to see Troy Deeney, Watford’s number nine, back playing and back as captain, he can galvanise the club to mount a promotion challenge.

9. Rob Langham - 04/10/2020

It’s a while since I last left a comment on here – Watford have been just too good in the interim – but I’ve regularly checked in as your reports are always enjoyable. As an outsider, I am sympathetic to the pressures that face a relegated club, especially given the tight turnaround time between seasons. Certainly, as a Reading fan, had the likes of Deeney, Gary or Deulofeu been involved, then the dread going into the game would have been heightened. Having such large of staff members unavailable, whether for ‘wantaway’ reasons or because of injuries must make it difficult to maintain spirit and squad unity. On the day, I thought Garner was good and he’s just 19 to boot – he looks like a refugee from the mid-nineties and in a good way. I guess the issue for Ivic is to quickly settle on a best XI that wants to be at the club and this will be easier after the international break and transfer window has closed.


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