That win felt important. I know Norwich are struggling and it's only December, but those 3 points and the nature of the result felt important. Reading showed good character and some quality against a very strong (on paper at least) Norwich side to continue our excellent season at home.
In Reading's 4-3-3 formation, the deepest midfielder is used more for his positional and passing reliability, than for his destructive defensive ability. This can be seen by Stam's willingness to play the diminutive Liam Kelly as that deepest midfielder through pre-season and in the cup games this year. Players like Evans and particularly JVDB do a good job tackling as well, but the way in which they position themselves to always be a passing option for CB's or fullbacks is key to our playing out from the back.
Norwich had done their research and for the first 20 minutes I thought they had got it tactically spot on. They played a 4-4-2 with Steven Naismith man marking JVDB and the two wide men pressing very high to cut of the fullbacks. This left Reading very few options to play out from the back, and with JVDB out of the game they lost their ability to move it quickly from one side of the pitch to the other. In short, they spent the first 20 minutes hoofing it out of play and onto Norwich defenders' heads.
That is what I found so impressive about this win, they had a horrible first 20 mins and their tactics were not working so they had to change, find a way to win and they did just that. When the short goal kick was on they went for it, but taking no risks they often went long out wide for the returning Yann Kermorgant to flick on.
As Reading started to get a little joy from bypassing Norwich's high press, naturally their players dropped off a little towards the end of the half which was the opportunity Reading were waiting for. Good direct running from Beerens to win a free kick, a lovely delivery from Kelly, and Kermorgant showing he can win headers in both boxes - it all meant Reading went into the break ahead.
Beerens had a strange game, particularly that first half. He gets a lot stick from some of the crowd around me for his poor defensive work, some of which seems a little harsh (screaming at him for not challenging 6"2 Ryan Bennett in the air?), but his lack of tracking back against Norwich seemed a Stam tactical decision.
When out of possession Kermorgant would close down the CB on the ball and Beerens would close down the other to cut off a passing lane. This let the attacking Ivo Pinto have free reign to fly downfield and leave Blackett 2-on-1, where Norwich got a lot of joy in that first 20 mins. Whether this decision was meant to leave Beerens down field to get close to Kermorgant or was meant to stop Norwich playing out from the back, it didn't quite work as intended. But it soon got rectified, a little reminder that Stam is only new to management.
Norwich again stepped it up to start the second half and got a deserved equalizer when Jacob Murphy broke the offside trap and found Nelson Oliveira who finished smartly. They could even have gone ahead with a fierce snapshot from Oliveira and a Bennett header at the back post.
However, this year's Reading team is made of sterner stuff and has shown time and time again that they can weather a storm and get themselves back into a game. The second goal came from another Kelly delivery and another Kermorgant header which was blocked (twice?) on the line by Jonny Howson who was subsequently sent off and a penalty given.
Reading's penalty record this year is just silly. I believe it stands at 10 given, 5 scored, 5 missed with 4 rebounds put home. I mirror Jaap Stam's thoughts: "it's easier for everyone if the one who is taking the penalty scores first time!".
After the sending off Reading played the game comfortably, counter attacking when the opportunity came and could have scored more than just Callum Harriott's thunderbolt. Harriott's cameo showed the real team spirit building in the camp at the moment and I'm not even talking about his ridiculous goal.
Here is a guy who hasn't played much in the last 6 weeks due to Stam's preference for Beerens, and the switch to a 3-4-3 in which he doesn't have a natural role... and yet he came off the bench today and worked very hard defensively, tracked his opposite fullback and got forward well on the counter. Squad players buying into the team's success is a great sign.
I'm not getting carried away yet and the revenge Fulham match in three days could crash us back down to reality, but that win had the hallmarks of a team that is going to be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.
I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and has a Happy New Year!