I think it's fair to say that every Reading player and supporter was feeling pretty good about themselves following the 3-1 win at Aston Villa on Saturday, in which we dispatched Steve Bruce's side with relative ease despite the claret and blues having not lost or conceded in their previous five home games. The play-offs were all but secured and up next was an easy home game against already relegated Rotherham who had picked up just one point on their travels all season.
A lazy start
Then came the first half of said easy home game against already relegated Rotherham who had picked up just one point on their travels all season. It's difficult to put into words how poor it was. You wouldn't have known that the visitors had already gone down as they began the game the much better side, deservedly taking the lead with just 19 minutes gone. Reading's defence were far too lazy in letting the cross come in, and then stood like statues to allow Tom Adeyemi tap home after seeing a header only parried by Ali Al-Habsi.
Rotherham haven't had much to cheer about this season, so it must have left their 80 odd fans delighted, and the team certainly revelled in a rare lead. Keeper Richard O'Donnell was the main culprit of excessive time-wasting and most of the players in front of him followed suit, whilst defender Darnell Fisher seemed to particularly enjoy being called a w***er by the increasingly frustrated home fans. They actually looked like they were enjoying it, and played with a freedom they can't have had that often in the last eight months.
As for Reading, the goal did little to wake them up and there was no urgency about the Royals' play. Indeed, Danny Williams seemed the only man in blue and white hoops to give a jot, and that may only have been down to a pair of feisty tackles on him earlier in the half. Yakou Meite came the closest for Jaap Stam's team but in general no one made the run, no one provided an option for a pass and no one looked up for it. This game had been dubbed a 'walk in the park' for Reading, and at times it looked like some players literally were just walking in a park. I don't buy the argument that they were tired after playing just 48 hours earlier. These are professional athletes we're talking about, four of which didn't even start at Villa Park.
An attacking impetus
Liam Kelly was brought on for Yakou Meite at half-time and certainly added some liveliness to Reading's attacks. The Royals had slowly grown into the game towards the end of the first half and this continued in to the second as it became clear that Paul Warne had told his Rotherham team to sit and defend the lead that they had earned, and who could blame him in the situation that the Millers are in? Headers from Jordan Obita and Yann Kermorgant forced saves from the time-wasting O'Donnell as an equaliser beckoned.
Lewis Grabban replaced Roy Beerens just after the hour mark and made more of an impact in his first two minutes on the pitch than Beerens had in the previous 65, as the Bournemouth loanee met Garath McCleary's cross with a cracking pinpoint volley that will surely find it's way onto the club's goal of the season shortlist. The fact that it took a strike of that quality to beat the Championship's worst defence sums up how poor Reading had been up until that point.
That seemed to give both the players and the crowd a lift, and the team finally did what we had been crying out for for the entire game as they really took the game to Rotherham. As expected, the Millers didn't put up much of a fight, and it became clear that they weren't a half-decent side like Reading had made them seem in the first half. The final 20 minutes or so showed exactly why they are one of the worst teams in this division's history.
Jaap Stam's composed, possession style of play could be seen in all it's glory as the Royals passed the ball around with ease. The winning goal epitomised this, as Danny Williams played a pin-point through ball to Chris Gunter who capped off a superb game by getting an assist as his perfect cross was met by John Swift who swept the ball home. Phew.
So yes, it wasn't as easy as we thought it would be. For the majority of the game, Reading were pretty poor and showed little desire to really take the game to Rotherham. But they got there in the end through two really well worked goals and secured the three points. Especially with Leeds losing to Wolves today, it puts us in a strong position and means that we only need one more win from our final three games to confirm a top six place.
Play in the play-offs like we did in the first half today and we'll get well beaten. But play like we did against Villa or Leeds in recent weeks and we'll give ourselves every chance. That's the thing. I've not loved a team this much since 2011-12, but my god are they hard to predict. I'm loving the ride though, and maybe, just maybe this might be our year.