It’s fair to say, Jaap Stam has never been described as ‘gung-ho’ in his tactics. He prefers control over flair, the safe pass over the Hollywood ball. It’s what made Reading so successful at home last season; if you have the ball for 60 percent of the match, then that’s 60 percent of the match that the opposition cannot score in. Furthermore, for the majority of that time, Reading would have the ball at least 40 yards from their goal, meaning counter attacks tend to start from deep and so will have a lesser chance of a goal. Now, clearly, these tactics aren’t faultless: players will misplace passes, take bad touches and mistakes will happen. Yet, the evidence is in the 3rd place finish, this tactic of controlling the play is effective in the Championship.
However, the problem with playing the safe pass lies in the diminishing attacking threat. By often choosing to keep possession instead of taking on a defender or playing a risky pass, Reading aren’t going to create chances at will. With respect to Dave Edwards and Liam Kelly, they’re both more comfortable sitting in a deeper role in midfield. This is where John Swift plays such a vital role. At his best he possesses the confidence and ability to turn on the ball and play the killer pass, much like he did in Sheffield last month and for Aluko’s goal at Derby. When he was injured Reading looked very poor in attack, with the home game to Hull the nadir of that. This is because without Swift, the wingers often have to drop deeper to get the ball, so receive the ball in less threatening positions. Sone Aluko and Modou Barrow are very effective players when given the ball in good positions: facing the goal and an isolated defender. They aren’t so effective when having to play centrally and deeper, with countless defenders barring their way to goal. Aluko had to play more centrally in games against Hull and Sheffield United and it’s no coincidence that Reading struggled to create any attacking rhythm in those games.
Reading have scored 13 goals in the 10 games where John Swift has featured compared to 7 goals in the 7 games he hasn’t featured. They’ve also collected points at a rate of 1.2 per game when he has started compared to just 1 point per game when he doesn’t start. Furthermore, the average league position of the opponents faced when Swift plays over 20 minutes varies dramatically from 7.9 versus 15.6 when he doesn’t play. Hence, as the stats say, Reading score more goals and win more points when Swift plays, despite them playing significantly harder opponents when he does play in comparison to when he was injured.
Moreover, Swift has the goal threat to boot. Only two players managed more goal contributions last season. Those players; Yann Kermorgant and Garath Mccleary, scored a combined 28 goals last season, but have played very little minutes this season. Liam Kelly is still Reading’s top scorer, despite having no goals since the 16th of September. Liam Moore is the joint second top scorer with 3 goals, despite being a centre back. Reading are in serious need of a forward to gain some form in front of goal, yet until that happens, Swift’s goals from midfield could be invaluable.
Not to mention, John Swift is just an exciting player to watch. With the way he glides around the pitch and skips past players with ease, fans get excited. He’s the guy that can ‘make things happen’ in a Reading team failing to recreate last season’s success. It is no coincidence that Reading’s best performances this season have come when Swift has been at his best.