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Sheffield Wednesday 0-3 Reading

Reading managed a first win since New Year's Day, but the scoreline flattered The Royals.

We kept the 4-1-4-1, but with Pelé and Obita injured personnel were rotated. Ejaria found himself back on the left-wing, with Swift as the man between the two banks of four. Olise and Rinomhota were partnered together in central midfield for the first time. At times it resembled a 4-2-3-1, or even a 4-3-3, with the two wide players in particular getting forward to support

The first thing that springs out at you when looking over the stats for the match is just how even it seemed to be. Sheffield Wednesday shaded possession (50.5 - 49.5) and shots (10-9); meanwhile Reading were victors in terms of touches (572-549), and were just ahead in terms of total passes (375-372). It's only when you delve deeper into that stat twitter loves so much - expected goals - that the story becomes clearer. Sheffield Wednesday managing just 0.49, whereas Reading blazed ahead with 1.87.

That still doesn't tell the whole tale, however. You may deduce from that that the away team created better opportunities, and while it's true we did have the better chances, it doesn't mean that we were better at creating them. We had three major chances:
  1. Meite's opening goal
  2. A Sheffield Wednesday clearance straight to Ejaria
  3. The penalty for the third goal
Meite's goal came against the run of play, at the end of a beautiful move. Sheffield Wednesday had been controlling the game until Swift found Ejaria, whose touch set him running toward the box. A sublime through ball meant Meite only had to poke it past Dawson, and we were one-nil up in the blink of an eye. Sure, allowing Ejaria so much space has to be seen as a massive defensive lapse, but we capitalised on it well. There's not much point in me unpacking any further when Sim has already covered it perfectly for TTE.

Ejaria must score

Our two other big chances were fortuitous at best. Ejaria's miss is a glaring example of where he still needs to improve. A dreadful Sheffield Wednesday clearance found him effectively one-on-one, but he failed to beat the keeper. It's a chance that has to be taken; you won't always be bailed out.

Then there's the penalty. Rinomhota nicks in front of Iorfa, who brings him down. It wasn't a beautiful piece of trickery or a last-ditch attempt as Reading were breaking, it was a complete gift. In fact, Meite seemed to have thrown away the opportunity when he attempted to slide in Baldock rather than go wide to Adam or Timbe. On top of that, Baldock's penalty is poor and really should have been saved. 

Ejaria's chance accounts for 0.34 xG, the penalty 0.77. Without chances gifted to them it's more reflective of the overall stats - 0.49-0.76. There's obviously a positive spin you can put on this - Reading capitalised on chances that Sheffield Wednesday gave them, but that won't happen every match, and Wednesday were a man down for forty-five minutes.

The other goal - Yiadom's strike from outside the box which Puscas deflected in - is also an incredibly soft goal to concede. Adam's corner is actually close to finding Puscas initially, although it looks poor as it doesn't beat the first man. The ball came out for Yiadom's first-time shot, and Puscas' touch actually takes it back in toward the keeper - luckily the man between the posts was screened completely and didn't even react until it's already past him.

So, in summary, there's still work to be done creating our own chances.

Don't get me wrong, I thought that we were deserved winners. All of this is with an asterisk that they were playing a team who now haven't scored at home in four games, and conceded five against Blackburn in January. Sheffield Wednesday were poor in midfield, with nobody able to break up play. Rinomhota's energy capitalised on that lack of presence, and Jovie both had their best games in a while.

Swift finds Meite with a sumptuous long ball. Wednesday gave him far too much time and space to pull the strings, and he did just that. From all the videos I've been watching I'm almost confident to say he was playing a textbook regista role.

The main change in our own system was John Swift dropping back into Pelé's normal position, though he was looking to start attacks much more - he didn't just play the 'holding midfielder' that Pelé has been so accomplished at. Swift looked good on the whole, but there's a huge caveat to that, he didn't make a tackle during the match. Wednesday's focus down the wings meant that he was never really challenged defensively. Nuhiu didn't drop between the lines, and Forestieri drifted around the pitch. That doesn't mean he can't do it, just that he hasn't been tested yet.

Going forward he played a role very similar to that at The City Ground in January. Dropping between the centre backs to pick up the ball, and looking to start attacks. Be that playing long toward Meite, picking out a pass into midfield, or running the ball out if there was the option. Against better opposition I fully expect Pelé to come back in, and I'm not sure that Swift is good enough defensively to consistently play the role by himself. The prevailing wisdom of playing someone as a regista (which I believe Swift is tending toward) is that the other two in midfield actually have to pick up the slack defensively. A midfield trio of Swift, Rinomhota, and Pelé fits that bill almost too well.

Delving deeper Swift is the only player on the pitch where his numbers really changed - as you would expect given the change in role. He played more passes than normal (his sixth most in a game this season), more long balls (second most), alongside his second best pass accuracy of the campaign so far. He tied with Richards for most touches, 82, and controlled the game.

With Richards and Yiadom on the pitch you may have expected the full backs to be an attacking threat, but they instead looked to retain the side's defensive shape, even when in possession. They only managed a key pass each - Yiadom's was his shot for Puscas' goal, and Richards' was a short touch back to Charlie Adam on the edge of the final third, who then hit row z from twenty yards. That's not to say they never got forward, but it tended to be one or the other, with the other tucking in, rather than both bombing down the wings as we've seen recently.

In fact it was almost exclusively Richards who looked to go forward. In a system where Meite moves up top in possession to form a two with Puscas it's inevitable that most of our build up play will then come down the left. You can see that in the number of touches - Swift, Richards, and Ejaria (although he was significantly less at 'just' 55) were the top three on the team.

On the other side of the story, you have to feel sorry for Wednesday's 19-year-old right back, Osaze Urhoghide. Playing in just his fourth professional match he was tasked with marshalling Ejaria, who was far too good for him. An early yellow card when he tap-tackled the left winger was followed up with a badly mistimed scythe just a couple of minutes into the second half. The youngster looked broken as he was dismissed.

Olise was the only real disappointment. He didn't attempt a dribble, had no key passes, and his pass success was the worst on the team bar Meite. He had a stonewall penalty rejected though, so his impact on the game should have been greater. It was no real surprise that he was replaced by Adam - the only other midfielder on the bench. Potentially had we been more than one goal to the good then we could have persisted with the youngster, but he'll have more game time.

A ball from the SW left causes problems, but thankfully nobody gets a touch at the back post. Richards communicates to Moore to pick up Nuhiu, as he picks up the man in front, but the captain completely loses the striker. Thankfully, the big man isn't agile enough.

A clean sheet is always positive, but we were lucky that Fletcher was out, because they had some decent set-up with nobody to get on the end of it. They too focused down their left, and had some dangerous balls into the back post from the edge of the box. Thankfully the runner was always a step behind where he should have been and failed to punish, and there was some good work by Richards at one point to clear the danger.

In many ways the match was a good confidence builder, but not a result to read too much into. Leeds are obviously far superior, and I expect Pelé to come back into the team to counter that if he's fit.  Rinomhota must surely stay in central midfield, presumably with Swift moving alongside him. If Pelé is injured then it's up for debate whether Olise retains his place or Araruna comes in. The latter looked lost against WBA, but is the only other option - Adam doesn't have the athleticism to be effective for ninety minutes.

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