Home is where the points are...
Despite being almost two-thirds of the way through the season, this weekend marked the first time where we have achieved back-to-back wins on home soil in the Championship.
We might have left it late, but Patrick Roberts’ strike meant we followed up a convincing win over Middlesbrough with collecting three points against an unambitious Reading side, which increases optimism around a push for a top six finish.
Our form on the road has been solid this season, as we boast the fifth best record in the division on our travels, so our fortunes seem to hinge on whether or not we can increase the point accumulation at the Stadium of Light.
The game against Reading however is a perfect example of just some of the potential reasons why we haven’t picked up as many points as we’d have liked on our own patch, with the first being a consequence of how teams setup to approach their trip to Wearside.
Paul Ince, with input from his assistant Alex Rae no doubt, set their side up to frustrate and keep things tight, which considering their recent form that has seen them slide down the table, was no surprise. Personally, I have absolutely no issue with that, they had a plan to get something out of the game and were pretty close to achieving those goals.
It’s down to us to work these games out and to meet the challenge that these sides put down for us by unpicking the lock without allowing frustrating to take hold. There’s shades of our time in League One in all of this where we are still seen as a bit of a scalp and a side that needs a game plan that revolves around stopping us from playing.
It’s not going to be the last time sides approach their trip to the Stadium of Light in this way and we should potentially use the first half on Saturday as a blue print of how not to deal with that. Things like the effort, the patience, the composure, the way way kept possession of the football were all there as usual, but we lacked the tempo in the final third to create a clear cut chance.
This type of game could well be a regular occurrence in the run-in and fair play to sides who organise them well enough to pull it off, but it’s down to us to be good enough to break them down and take maximum points.
Are we knackered?
Tony Mowbray’s comments after the final whistle seemed to discuss the topic of our players being fatigued and the question of whether or not they are in need of a rest.
It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if there were one or two who did need a break physically, especially the players who are carrying knocks into games or on the comeback trail after a number of weeks out, but the first half on Saturday followed by the improvement after half-time hints at one or two players being mentally tired.
Reading might have lacked ambition going forward but they set up their stall and if half-time had not have come we could have played all day and we wouldn’t scored. It required Mowbray to get his side in at half-time and refocus on the job of increasing the tempo to really test the away side.
We seemed to expect a goal to come at some point because we have the talent in those forward areas, but we needed to step it up a gear in terms of energy and having an end product to our dominance in possession.
With recent performances from the bench by the likes of Alex Pritchard, it will be interesting to see how much Mowbray switches things out ahead of our trip to Queens Park Rangers considering the quick turnaround time between fixtures.
Andy Carroll is a good example of how we’re on the right track...
Looking at the Reading side we faced at the weekend came a further realisation that I love the way we’re doing things at our football club. Staring at the starting XI’s ahead of kick-off, I caught myself grinning looking at the strike force of Shane Long, who is 36 years young and Andy Carroll, who lags slightly behind at the ripe old age of 34.
Both very good strikers in their day and on their day this season will no doubt pull defences apart and do the business for Reading, but it just made me glad we’re not that team anymore who looked at these sorts of players as solutions to a problem.
This is true to an extent that we’d rather go without than to bring a player in of this type and that has to be something we celebrate in some respects.
We play a certain way and we have a certain feel about this group of players where a Shane Long or Andy Carroll would stick out like a sore thumb when it came to what they would want out of their time at the club.
Our squad is about ambition and bettering themselves which in turn improves the club with that drive, players who arrive for one last pay day and run out at a big stadium are the antithesis of what we currently have on our books - and long may it continue.