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Barnsley 1-1 Reading

When does a side deserve to win a match? Is it when they outshoot their opponents? Or dominate possession? Or is it, quite simply, when they score more goals than they concede?

Lots of old school football folk would lean toward the last point, but it's obvious that the scoreline isn't always wholly reflective of the match it represents. It can feel like a team controlling possession is controlling the game, but the Stam Era shows how that is a fallacy. Instead, as with everything in life, it depends. And while the play may have been in the Reading third almost twice as much as it was in The Tykes', and while Barnsley had 2.5 times more shots than the away side, Reading should have won the game.

Reading may not have created a lot of chances, but created big chances. I strongly believe xG displayed here is undervalued on all three big chances.

Unbelievable chances fell first to Meite, then Ovie, and finally Joao. Blazed over, converted, wide. Throw a completely avoidable penalty into the mix, and you have to ask yourself, even if Reading deserved to win the game were they the better team? Outplaying the other side is only half the battle, it is only the scoreline that matters at the end of the day. Moral victories mean little, especially during the cliché-filled run in. The manager may be able to come out and say that we're on the right track with performances, but performances mean nothing without points on the board.

Conversely, outside of Reading gifting them a penalty, Barnsley didn't create much. Their biggest open play chance (coming from xG we have admittedly already classed as flawed) was Andersen on the deck, hooking the ball toward goal. On another day that definitely goes in, and Reading can't be upset about it given another individual error - this time from Rafael - allowed the chance in the first place, but it was hardly of the same calibre as Reading's misses.

It feels like folly to analyse the match too much. Barnsley were exactly what you expect. Direct from every opportunity, with big physical forwards to disrupt Reading's backline. Moore, alongside Morrison and Holmes, dealt with everything. Not showing the same tendency to be bullied as in matches before the break, and making some big blocks that have been his trademark in a Reading shirt. But it was a true team performance, with even Ovie winning defensive headers from long throws against Andersen.

Reading  Longest Avg Passes

MatchAvg Pass Length
Barnsley (A)23.2
Blackburn (A)21.9
Rotherham (H)21.1
QPR (A)20.5
Bournemouth (A)20.3

Reading Deepest Matches

MatchTeam Avg Position
Swansea (A)37.0
QPR (A)38.3
Rotherham (H)39.2
Watford (H)39.4
Barnsley (A)39.9

Reading fought fire with fire and looked to play over the top of Barnsley's high line. That worked to perfection as Rino managed to turn under no pressure and pick out Ejaria making a Meite-esque run in off the wing. It was noticeable that it wasn't completely off the cuff. Laurent, often under pressure, tried similar passes but with less success, and Gibson's match at left-back was largely predicated on playing long rather than trying to play his way out of trouble like the man he replaced.

That clearly can suit Joao and Meite, but it left Olise behind them almost surplus to requirements. It was the ninth time this season he had failed to register so much as a key pass, and in three of those games, he actually scored. Obviously, the decision to play direct, or over the top, bypasses Olise - and given that I can see the logic for bringing on someone with more 'presence', especially someone with a penchant for winning second balls - someone like Alfa Semedo. 

I have two issues with that sub - 

  1. Olise had started to have a bit more room and time on the ball. In the ten minutes before he was withdrawn, he twice played through balls to Meite that were only fractionally overhit, and that pass only has to work once. If I were Olise I'd be asking why Joao gets a free pass, while I wasn't trusted in big moments. That's not to say that Olise had a good game, he clearly wasn't at his best, but he alone on this team feels like he has the potential to create something out of nothing from midfield.
  2. It's not a change to go to try to win the game. Alfa's On-Off (i.e. goal difference while Alfa is on the pitch subtract when he's not) is one of the worst in the team, on a par with Sam Baldock. The goal difference when he's been on the pitch is one of only three players below 0 (alongside Baldock and Gibson). In isolation, a draw in this game is not the end of the world, but Reading will likely have to pick up points in games where settling for a draw seemed sensible earlier in the season. I appreciate that's largely personal preference given that giving Barnsley three points would also be less than ideal.
Rafael takes the ball but loses it on the way down

Final point, Rafael had an inauspicious game. It's unsurprising in the context of who he was up against that he was more error-prone when coming for the ball than normal. That Andersen chance came from Raf dropping the ball from a free-kick with Yiadom backing into his own keeper. Then there was Dike fouling for their disallowed goal - which is a foul and would have been handball regardless, so the point is a little moot. Usually claiming the ball is one of his best assets, but when consistently crowded out it's obviously a more difficult task and one that shouldn't be an issue going forward. He also almost saved the pen, so we'll allow him a bit of leeway.

Side note, that free-kick was given in the Reading half because it's where the offside player ends up touching the ball (or starts to attempt to play the ball or something). Offside is hard but commentators should probably know the rules before they start getting at the ref.

Anyway, four points from the bank holiday weekend is probably not a terrible return - so we're on our way toward that and we can worry about the last six after that.

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