September 11th will always go down in history as a pivotal date for far more serious matters than mere kicking a ball about on a neatly trimmed pitch, but for us Royals it will be remembered as one of those occasions that we will look back on and recant "I WAS THERE."
For anyone who has seen Reading play in the last few years in the vague hope of seeing anything remotely like the performance of last night, believe me, we have not played anything like this, not in Steve Clarke's tenure and certainly not during Nigel Adkins' ill-fated reign. Arguably even during the Championship winning season of Brian McDermott's battle hardened charges did we play with such verve, pace and actually some skill. Nowhere close.
For those poor unfortunates who had to miss or chose to miss it, you really did miss a thing of beauty. This was the Reading that we've longed to see for oh so long. The Reading that we've seen the tiniest of glimpses previously. The hope was there, but the execution was lacking - it's not lacking any longer.
Looking back, it's difficult not to get over excited and to treat this game in isolation. It's just one match, just three points, it's a long season etc. But when you knit everything altogether that the club has risen from; this one moment is worth getting the tingles for!
The metamorphosis from a club in turmoil to one that, suddenly, has an ultra-bright future with one result is a testament to what has come to pass since the Thai consortium took over. There are just too many factors to attribute to it all coming together but let's skip to the good bits.
In their very circumspect manner, the Thai team played down their power in the transfer market, stating that they were always looking for players all over the world. We took that as mere platitudes, but over the summer the 11 signings have changed the team markedly. Last night, we saw the main 'fruit of their labour' in Matej Vydra take to the Madejski Statium pitch for the first time. We had dreamed of seeing a proven striker like Vydra in the Hoops, but it was our other new striker signing, Orlando Sa steal a whole sky of thunder with an imperious hat-trick. Like a jigsaw puzzle that looked like it had all the pieces, suddenly a picture began to form.
Steve Clarke had, like us, bemoaned the lack of firepower, guile, luck, you name it - we didn't have it. If we hark back to the dark depths of last season when we were at our bluntest (pick any 0-0 you dare to fancy), the lack of confidence was tangible. There was a gloomy edge to any attack; doomed to fail before it started, heads down and bleak. Whatever squad improvement conversations took place, he must have been so insistent that this squad was just not up to the task.
Lest we forget, we didn't see Hector, Fernandez, Hurtado, Williams or McCleary even kick a ball last night. Clarke is now like a giddy child in a sweet shop.
Our local media outlets tried to promote this fanciful thought that we already did have one of the strongest squads in the division. Frankly, that was bobbins. We were nowhere close, with all due respect.
The new central defensive partnership (minus Hector.) The reformed midfield with newcomer Tshibola, the industrious Quinn and resurgence of Oli Norwood (scorer of one of the finest goals you're ever likely to see at the Madejski.) The totally revamped forward line - it's all of the managers making. It wasn't just required, it was absolutely necessary and we will feel mightily vindicated for him that this result backs up those decisions.
If we can sum up last night in one player, it's not even the golden Sa with the first hat-trick for a Reading player since Adam Le Fondre a few seasons back; it's simply...Nick Blackman. A much maligned player that Brian McDermott signed, almost on a whim. For the longest time, we didn't know what he was. Was he a winger? Was he a striker? Would the real Nick Blackman please stand up?!
After a conversation with Clarke (as to why he couldn't score 15+ goals in a season) we are now seeing what confidence does to a player. Blackman played with purpose, poise, power and backed all of that up with two assists and an exquisite effort that had most ardent Royals with their jaws a dropped. If you could label him as the new signing that never was, then this was just that. Such a transformation from a bit-part bench warmer to one that excites with almost every touch. Yes, Nick Blackman, really.
Blackman epitomises the whole team in itself; the resurgence, the quality, the confidence - it's now all there to be witnessed and finally, believed.
Whilst we can marvel in the fluidity of the formation - it could have been any one of three system you could care to mention - the sheer application of the masterplan undid a very potent Mick McCarthy side. None of us would ever dare dream of scoring not only five goals, but all of them were from open play and with no shortage of quality. If we can be allowed to get carried away just a smidgen, then this one performance alone was justification enough.
Hello, sexy. We've missed you.