For 16 of Reading's first 19 matches this season, Brian McDermott fielded the system which has embodied the club's DNA since the Steve Coppell era: high-tempo attacking style with two wide players and a pair of front-runners. It created football where 73 goals were scored, but since 44 were in the Reading net, and only two matches were won (one of them in the Capital One Cup) it was clearly not working.
So McDermott changed tack, deploying a withdrawn striker in a five-man midfield. In three matches since, Reading have conceded once – Gareth Barry's contentious late winner for Manchester City, and the Royals have increased their points tally from nine points to 13. However, they have only scored once and that was due to the generosity of West Ham's James Collins whose slack back-pass handed Pavel Pogrebnyak a chance to create Saturday's 1-0 lead at the Madejski which Reading never relinquished.
Attempts to find the balance between defence and attack often results in what is known as "short blanket syndrome" (either your feet are cold, or your shoulders) but McDermott believes his team's greater solidity provides a platform to become more expansive as self-belief grows.
"We try to play a style of football which entertains the fans, but scores of 4-3, 7-5 and 5-2 are no good if results go against you. The fans don't want to see that and they start shouting at me," said McDermott. "These games give us something to build on. The players will get more confident. We won a lot of games 1-0 last season."
Sam Allardyce, meanwhile, knows injuries have begun to bite at a time when the fixture list has been at its most demanding and the West Ham manager admitted: "We are beginning to look down [the table] now for the first time this season. Injured players not being able to play has cost us a lot."Reuse content