Hull had their worst fears confirmed this week with the news that Michael Dawson will be sidelined for at least a month with medial ligament damage sustained late on in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Bolton. It’s a huge blow to their automatic promotion hopes with such a hectic period looming, and managerless Reading can underline the fact by recording a surprise win at the KC Stadium.
With Dawson in their starting 11, the Tigers are probably the strongest team in the division. No other contender has yet come close to matching the standards set by Steve Bruce’s men prior to the November international break, when they recorded five straight league wins (aggregate 13-0) and knocked Premier League leaders Leicester out of the Capital One Cup.
Unfortunately, the former Tottenham defender lasted just 37 minutes of their next game at Bristol City before suffering a hamstring injury. Just two minutes later, Hull conceded their first league goal in over nine hours, dropping two points at Ashton Gate before losing the next three games without him.
Not only is Dawson arguably the Championship’s most accomplished defender but his absence as the bedrock of the team creates a butterfly effect that potentially weakens the Tigers all over the pitch, putting a conscious responsibility on others to compensate by covering areas they normally take for granted.
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With Alex Bruce also injured, the option to play 3-5-2 isn’t available, so Hull are suddenly more predictable and much easier to prepare for. Curtis Davies and Harry Maguire might be decent players individually, but there’s an evident lack of understanding judging by the room that allowed Derby and Leeds to rack up 2-0 interval leads on the last two occasions they were paired together.
Right now, Hull could probably do with someone like Paul McShane. The Republic of Ireland centre back was released by Bruce in the summer, even though he kept both Davies and Maguire out of the team for much of last season, and his return to the KC with the Royals could turn into a cruel irony if the visitors iron out recent defensive inconsistencies. He will certainly be determined to prove a point.
Reading’s results are way below the expectations set by their shot data and it’s not easy to pinpoint exactly what the issue is. By normal averages, you could easily add another 15 points on to their current total of 27 and it wouldn’t look out of place against their 59.9 per cent ratio. Yet often there’s no rhyme or reason to when the victories come.
If the Royals catch a break or two, or suddenly rediscover a level of cohesion or incision that has been lacking in recent weeks, we can hardly say we weren’t warned. Based on the evidence of this season to date, my ratings make the Reading 2-0 correct score no bigger than 20/1 by standard conversions, so the 28/1 currently being offered by BetVictor is well worth adding to the portfolio.
For more information about Mike Holden’s shot-based ratings system, follow this link.