Statistics can prove any point if you know how to manipulate them in the right way. On the one hand, things do not look good for Reading.
Sat 21st in the table, having played 11 home games this season and only scored eight times in picking up one Madejski Stadium victory. On the other hand, the Royals managed more than 15 efforts on goal against Scunthorpe on Saturday which suggests they are a misfiring team rather than a team on the back foot. Perhaps it is not yet time to worry, even if the side sit just above the relegation zone two weeks before the halfway point of the campaign.
There is an old maxim popular with football managers that it is better to be missing chances than to not be creating them in the first place. The Royals have been missing more than their fair share of late, but it will be easier to rectify this than it would be to get them manufacturing chances. The former England striker Andrew Cole was criticised for taking five chances to score a goal, but he would generally get those five chances and get his goal. If Reading can keep creating the number of chances they have been, then sooner or later a higher percentage will begin to fly in. After all, Cole once managed five in a game for Manchester United and he didn’t need 25 shots to reach that tally.
Kevin Doyle, Dave Kitson and Leroy Lita, as well as the useful midfield sharpshooters Stephen Hunt, Steve Sidwell and James Harper, may be absent friends, but looking at the current squad before the January transfer window arrives offers at least some hope. Grzegorz Rasiak is not the kind of striker who is going to spring the offside trap and sprint clear through on goal. What he does offer is excellent aerial ability, a handy attribute with the re-introduction of genuine wing play in to the Royals’ game.
Since Glen Little’s long-limbed charms succumbed to injury problems, the team have been lacking a wide man who wants to beat his man and put a cross in. Stephen Hunt’s game was just as much about industry and endeavour as it was getting to the byline and Jimmy Kebe is far too inconsistent to be taken seriously as an effective winger. Now that Jobi McAnuff is establishing himself as a major attacking option, Rasiak’s importance will continue to grow as he gets his head on his former Watford team-mate’s crosses.
Gylfi Sigurdsson was not one of the higher profile names expected to break through from the youth team this season but he has leapt up the queue with his performances in recent weeks. Handy from a set piece, he has also proved versatile. He has found himself in a central role in midfield, out on the flank or in support of a lone striker and has impressed in the majority of games. Although he is not as naturally combative as Sidwell, it is promising to see a player with the similar willingness to arrive in the penalty area once again. Too often at the start of the current campaign, Reading would have the ball in the area and only a lone striker in the penalty box to get on the end of the cross. Time and again cut backs were running loose and promising opportunities were going to waste. Whilst Sigurdsson was guilty of failing to take his chances against Scunthorpe, he had at least brought his shooting boots.
Scott Davies is currently out on loan at Wycombe, something of a surprise after his excellent pre-season form, but he is at least playing first team football somewhere. His goalscoring exploits in League Two on loan at Aldershot last season may have come at a lower level than Reading face but they show a natural instinct that will hold him in good stead when he gets an extended run in the Championship. With Brendan Rodgers favouring a three man midfield, there is the long term potential to field Davies and Sigurdsson in front of a holding player.
If Hal Robson-Kanu can show more consistency when given a chance, then he too has the potential to be regularly on the scoresheet. In pre-season he showed a penchant for cutting in off the right flank to shoot with his left foot and he just needs games to get used to more competitive defenders. Playing Robson-Kanu on the right as a winger-cum-second striker and McAnuff as a more traditional wide man on the left would be one way for Rodgers to make the most of his squad in his preferred system. The young players need time to settle in which is something Reading’s current position does not fully allow, but if the balance can be found between youth and experience, there are goals to be found.