Tim Dellor's Royals Watching: Positions change as Reading earn more points
What an unfathomable season this has been! We may only be ten games in, but unpredictability and chaos is everywhere you look.
Injuries, inept performances, great goals, outstanding individual contributions, financial meltdown, rumours and speculation. It is dream content for a reporter following the club closely, but it must be a bit tiring for the manager.
Having won only twice in the previous 17 games, the win against Middlesbrough last weekend made it three in a row, and means they have shot up the table. This season promises to be a game of Snakes and Ladders for Reading. Some weeks they will be unstoppable, flying across the board, and then on other weeks they will land on the wrong square and slither back down.
The square Reading really want to avoid leads to a nine point deduction as a punishment for overspending. The club is frantically trying to convince the EFL they are now financially more responsible, are doing their utmost to get the finances back on an even keel, and should not be too severely punished. Unfortunately the dice has already been rolled, they will definitely land on this square, but to stretch the metaphor, they are now trying to reduce the length of the snake.
Enough of Snakes and Ladders. Let’s talk footy. The last couple of games Reading have played have been cracking entertainment. Ovie Ejaria, John Swift and Alen Halilovic have skills that get fans out their seats, torment defenders and will win games for Reading. Naturally they do not all come to the party every game, but invariably one does. Most teams would be pleased to have one of the trio to craft chances, weave through defences, and score goals. By having three on the pitch at the same time you are hedging your bets.
At the other end of the pitch we have had a great example of creative solutions often being better than the tried and tested. I have long believed managers think too rigidly and players are too pigeon-holed. Often a club’s second striker may be a better central defender than the fourth option specialist in that position. It works both ways, as well. Why only send defenders up to play as strikers when you are losing a game with a couple of minutes remaining in a game?
Last weekend we had a central midfielder winning a man of the match award playing at right back. Dejan Tetek celebrated his 19th birthday the previous day. We had Andy Yiadom, who usually plays as a right back, recording his best performance in central defence. He was alongside arguably Reading’s best player, in Josh Laurant, who usually plays in central midfield. Wideman Junior Hoilett was preferred as a loan front man in place of the out of form specialist George Puscas. The goalkeeper was the usual Number 1s understudy.
In other sports coaches think more flexibly. Cricketers move up and down batting orders, coaches draft in makeshift keepers and often part time bowlers make crucial contributions. In football, it seems, you are born to play a specific position. Until there is a serious injury crisis, that is, when it turns out good players can play well anywhere.