Reading not only took three points off Leeds on Saturday evening, but they also thoroughly deserved to do so. In the first half, the Royals moved the ball about with ease to create some entertaining attacking play and, in the second, they showed defensive steel to grind out the win.
In fact, despite the visitors' marked improvement after the break, I'd argue that they never really looked like scoring - which is testament to the performances of Ali Al-Habsi, Chris Gunter, Liam Moore, Tyler Blackett, Jordan Obita and Reece Oxford.
So why didn't we get the same back in December? As many Leeds fans will delight in reminding you, Reading played a possession masterclass but couldn't put the ball in the net. I'd put it down to several reasons:
Reading changed their game
Jaap Stam's men had a lower share of the ball on Saturday, with 58% possession rather than 77% in December's game. They also had fewer touches of the ball (687 rather than 876) and made fewer passes (482 to 705). However, they weren't afraid to play more direct football to open up the Leeds defence. Exhibit A:
Similarly, exhibit B:
Neither are exactly what you'd call 'classic Jaap Stam football', are they?
This Reading side has grown a lot since December
It's worth remembering how new Jaap Stam is to management, and how new Reading are to Jaap Stam. Although the players have taken to his leadership very well, they (and Stam) have still had to learn on the job this season. The game at Elland Road was a perfect lesson: you can keep the ball till kingdom come, but that's irrelevant if you can't score.
Since then, Reading have had a few more footballing lessons (the 3-0 loss at Brighton springs to mind), but their resolute mentality (inspired by Stam) has kept them going, and maintained hopes of Playoff glory on May 29.
Now, as opposed to when Reading lost 2-0 in the reverse fixture, Stam's players seem even more comfortable with the system, and more effective at using it against the better sides in the league.
The team has changed
This isn't simply a case of 'Stam picked better players', so bear with me. Here's the lineup for the Elland Road game:
And from Saturday's match:
There isn't much between the two sides - only four changes in fact, but the differences matter.
To say that Reading's midfield was unbalanced is an understatement: Reading have three specialist holding midfielders in their squad, and in December's game they played all of them at once. George Evans has been inconsistent throughout this season, Joey van den Berg is ineffective playing further forward, and the same can also be said of Liam Kelly - who was playing for more than 80 minutes in a single game for Reading for only the second time.
In the game at the Mad Stad, out went Evans and van den Berg, and in came Williams and Swift. As a result, Reading had a midfield three where everyone was in their best positions.
Liam Kelly, playing in front of the back four, was free to dictate the play from deep - which he did excellently in the first half. Further forward, John Swift provided the cutting edge that Reading sorely lacked in the away fixture, making more passes (55) than any other midfielder or forward except Liam Kelly (63), and setting up Garath McCleary and Roy Beerens for glorious first half chances.
Elsewhere, Danny Williams quietly but effectively went about his business of breaking up the play and generally adding muscle to the midfield. It sounds basic, but we do miss it when the American isn't in the side.
Up top, Yann Kermorgant is a far superior target man than Dominic Samuel, which he showed by leading the line expertly and winning the game with a venomous strike in the first half. In truth, he was unlucky not to make it a brace when his shot crashed against the outside of the post at the end of the first half, and a glanced header was palmed away by Green in the second.
It was a great afternoon for the Frenchman, who's become more and more important to this team as the season's gone on.
Stray thoughts about the game
Reece Oxford comes of age
The West Ham loanee has had a tough start to life at Reading, barely picking up any game time - much to the annoyance of Slaven Bilic. However, all in all, he had a productive evening for the Royals against Leeds, putting in an assured display at the back.
Added to that, he sure did put his body on the line for the team (well, his head).
Same old. pic.twitter.com/Od3QBbpJi4— Thomas Johan (@rfctom) April 1, 2017
Our home form, particularly against the best sides in the division, is excellent
In fact, we've only lost once at home this season to any team currently in the top half - Aston Villa. In the other ten games, our record reads as follows: seven wins, three draws, 15 goals for, 7 against.
That's impressive stuff, and goes to show how important our home form has been this season.
The gifs were made from official Youtube highlights which you can find here, and the stats quoted come from WhoScored.