Reading 3-0 Coventry City
City won previously 3-2. October 30th.
Coventry denied. Under two minutes played at the start of the game. Reading make a mistake and leave the ball short for O'Hare. The opportunity was saved.
Reading capitalize. Start of the second half. Ostigard tries to switch the ball, after a cycle of possession from kick off, but it deflects to Olise. The goalscorer, Rinomhota, is actually 30 yards behind the action, but still manages to arrive on top of the box and score.
This is the action that makes you think, it's 'unlucky'. If only O'Hare had scored, it would have been different. It certainly would have been, but the whole game could and should have been different.
Where did it go wrong?
I think it happened with the shape. Early on you could see the threat from Reading was controlling the game centrally. James and Hamer are over-ran centrally playing versus Olise and Swift. In this moment Rinomhota has stepped up with Ejaria wide on the left and behind the play. The Reading central three, behind Joao controlled the game and were good. Good with the ball, good with movement. A second later in this clip, Rinomhota is fouled by James, highlighting the frustration and desperation to get some control on the situation.
Three defensively did not work for Coventry in this game. Here is reason one. Why leave three attackers to control the game centrally? Ostigard could step into deep midfield onto Swift, allowing Hamer and James to overload the situation with Shipley and McCallum against Holmes (29), Rinomhota. and Olise. Or Hyam can step, and do the same thing, but leave Hamer to cover centrally, instead of being pulled all the way in.
10 minutes later and the same shape shows itself. Width hurts when you cannot react effectively. Above, Joao peeled away to occupy the defensive line. Below, Olise is at the bottom of the picture and has pinned McCallum deep. Joao has two player occupied centrally, giving Reading space to play.
How to combat this. Speculation, of course, but in just twenty minutes it was clear that Coventry were mismatched in shape. Change to a four at the back to not only occupy the threat from wide (I will show you how Reading did so), but to free a man to overload the midfield. Effectively match the Reading attack. We were previously playing hard to beat, and matching up is a good way to manage an imbalance in the game, at least to get a grip of the opponent.
Robins claimed to have played the box midfield to offer security against the central threat of Reading, but here is the average position map from whoscored.com and shows no box.
The shape also let Coventry down when trying to play forwards. Early in the second half, with three at the back, and two easily tracked defensive midfielders, Coventry had two options, dictated by Reading. Either play wide, predictably, into Dabo or let Hyam go back and give it away for McFadzean to get a second yellow.
This kind of build requires precise passing. It also requires overloads in the right areas to allow for a break in the press and to create forward playing opportunities.
Here you can see Coventry with possession, from the moment above. the front four of Reading were able to dictate the Coventry build consistently. The circles indicate the areas the players were able to influence. Note the the overlaps and vastness they cover. Coventry were often too compact and preditable ahead of the back three.
However, in this image, Coventry were able to break out. James dropped to pick up the ball, and after combining, was able to find Ostigard who had been able to push higher:
Yet, in the 20 seconds it took to build, Reading had 10 men behind the ball again and any forward play was into traps and Reading overloads. Reading completely controlled the game in moments like this, though Coventry had 55% possession. Their 1-4-2-3-1 shape was obvious throughout, and they worked hard to prevent any real opportunities coming for Coventry.
So, what did Coventry do with that possession?
Coventry crossed, or attempted to cross the ball 20 times in this game. The intended target was Gyokeres, yet he took only two touches inside the Reading box. Shipley and O'Hare also combined for three total touches inside the Reading area. McCallum and Dabo often found themselves wide with the ball, and not much ahead of them.
Dabo was influential again as a constant outlet, but it becomes too preditable. With no real central threat, Reading could afford to let him cross, but Coventry used this crutch to the point that it was too much. The same for McCallum:
The shape of Reading meant that the outward wing play could be handled by full backs. McCallum and Dabo, whilst they had much of the ball and produced a lot of crosses, neither impacted the game beyond a flick of excitement and potential.
Hamer has not come in for much criticism and deservedly so, but today he was not as almighty as he has been. Now, he has been, and will likely continue to be the best player on the field, but even he will have off games like today. He often will recycle possession and find another way, but there was a lot of forcing from him today. Here he received the ball from Dabo, and instead of breaking the pressure to exploit space and numbers elesewhere, he often forced the ball back into tight spaces. Just another trend from the game that compounds the overall frustration.
The set up was wrong for Coventry to have any impact in the game. Much of the game play felt off. A higher percentage of possession, but it rarely went anywhere. I noted that building left us with two choices, and the second that put McFadzean in the position for a second yellow summed up the game and Hyam's performances as of late. Could Hyam have also defended better versus Joao for the first goal? I think so, but what about pressing higher, instead of allowing a ball like that to be floated over the top. Joao is a pretty special player and swept Hyam aside easily, which sums up the gulf in performance between Reading and Coventry in this game.
I could go on with the way Reading pulled Coventry apart with deep midfield runs, interchanging play with the forward three that played behind Joao, or the crosses to a single striker who might be wondering what he was actually doing on the field. Could I also isolate other Coventry players and their poor performance, I also think so. However, there are lots of emotions in this one, and it can't just be "on to the next" as the optimist says. It also cannot be "we're shit" and "XXX player needs to go". The inquest should go deep into why this approach was taken and how it can be avoided, or why it wasn't changed sooner. Individuals struggled, but collectively this was a dangerous performance to just sweep under the rug and move on because this cannot happen again.