|Five Talking Points from Reading|
Written by BlueBloke on Monday, 18th Dec 2017 10:15
They say Christmas is the season of love and understanding. As we arrive at the halfway point of the campaign, I'd say that sounds about right.
I love this cavalier 'we'll score more than you' approach that has become our mantra at Portman Road and understand (to an extent) why we can't play like that away from home; I love the fact the workmanlike spirit of 2014/15 is rearing its head and I understand our identity now a hell of a lot more than I did last season.
The 2-0 win against Reading on Saturday reinforced why we need to stick to our guns until May. An ethos is for a season, not just for Christmas. We executed the game plan perfectly against Jaap Stam's Reading, which left me thinking about the following.
You might have heard Soccer Saturday's Jeff Stelling voicing his bemusement at the Expected Goals statistic the other week. Expected Goals may be more complicated and concern a number of variables, but I feel like stats are there to give us the raw figures and that alone - it's up to us how we use them. As a result, we can draw a couple of conclusions from the stats from Saturday's game. The most striking one? That would have to be our possession. All 28% of it.
Quite simply we were more efficient, creating just as many chances (15) as Reading with a heck of a lot less of the ball. As Mick pointed out before the game, we're not bad at sitting back against the passing posses in the Championship. Against Brentford, we had just 35% possession and won 2-0. We conceded 71% of the ball to Forest earlier this month and came out 4-2 winners. Resigning your opposition to death by a thousand passes is fine, but no end product means no points. Our chosen formula hasn't always worked this season and can induce minor palpitations, but you'd be hard pressed to say that we need a rethink.
Stuck in the Middle with Skuse
I'll admit to feeling a little nonplussed when Callum Connolly arrived on loan from Everton. Instead of thinking of the previous Premier League loanee successes (Ryan Fraser, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Tom Lawrence) I thought of the head scratchers (Jordan Graham and Conor Grant). My reservations were diffused after Connolly's bright debut at QPR, though, even if he was caught out for their opening goal.
The Liverpudlian has brought some tenacity to the team, particularly in a move to holding midfield. McCarthy's deployment of Connolly has given us a midfield with a balance we've not seen in years. When Skuse drives on, not only do we no longer suffer nosebleeds, we know Connolly will be there to protect the back four.
Equally, when the roles are reversed, we can relax a little knowing Skuse is doing the exact same role. An added bonus of late is that when Connolly trots back from a marauding run forward it's normally with a goal to his name.
We Need to Talk About Kevin
I identify with Kevin Bru. We share a similar physique for a start - a little bit lightweight and a skinny frame that gives us the impression we're taller than we actually are. I, too, found playing opportunities hard to come by in my younger days. However, whereas I packed my fledgling career with Three Holes & Upwell U13s in after a season on the sidelines, our Mauritian has had a mini-resurgence.
His Town career looked finished in the summer and he almost departed Suffolk with Mick's blessing. A midfield crisis has put him back in the picture of late, even starting at Cardiff in October. He came off the bench again against Reading and I still believe he offers the occasional glimmer of class.
There's an inventive player there, but do you see him staying beyond the end of January? I think he could leave next month, even though Emyr Huws is out for the season. Flynn Downes and Tristan Nydam will surely act as long-term cover for Skuse, Connolly, Teddy Bishop and Tom Adeyemi, with Luke Hyam edging closer to a return. I wouldn't be against keeping him around, but if we need to free up wages for potential incoming transfers next month, it might be best for everyone if we say 'au revoir.'
Your bench is generally a good indicator of the strength of your squad. A few times this season I've felt there's been a real lack of options for Mick to turn to (partly through injury). Saturday's bench was more like it. With Tommy Smith and Dominic Iorfa offering defensive back-up and Bishop, Freddie Sears and David McGoldrick providing a creative spark, if one had been needed, it served as a reminder that this is a genuinely strong squad.
I'm not sure which positions you'd strengthen, if any, in January. We may only have three recognised centre-backs, but Spence and Knudsen have proved they can play there this season. Iorfa can also cover there, which makes me think Mick may just stick with what he has. I wouldn't be surprised if he moved for a loan keeper, given Dean Gerken's ongoing hip problem. I'd feel sorry for Michael Crowe if that were the case. It's five years since we saw him on the bench in an end-of-season dead rubber against Doncaster and his chances have been slim. That may change against Sheffield United in the FA Cup, but if Gerken is long-term, then a Premier League loanee might be inevitable.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
After such a positive result against Reading, I can't help but approach the trip to Wolves with a little apprehension. I'm looking forward to seeing the runaway leaders up close, but also fear what they might do to us if they find their groove. We can take heart that Birmingham and Sunderland have both looked reasonably tight against them, with the latter even keeping a clean sheet.
I wouldn't like to say it's a free pass. We have players to hurt them and should be a little more offensive than we might normally be against tough opposition away from home. Having said that, after watching Wolves beat Sheffield Wednesday on Friday, I think we might need to remember to be loving and understanding come Saturday at 5pm. Tis the season, after all.
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