What a strike and so far, what a Christmas for Reading. Unbeaten in the last four, three clean sheets in a row, it is all beginning to come together for Mark Bowen.
QPR were the visitors to the Madejski on Boxing Day and went home with nothing due to a simply sensational John Swift strike after half-time. Rafael also made an incredible save to keep the three points in Berkshire.
Bowen on the victory
“I might be biased, but I thought we deserved it; I thought we had some really good passages of play. In spells I thought they came into the game and really caused us problems. And it was a little bit too end-to-end for my liking, I wanted us to have more control. If my hair was falling out before tonight, I don’t know what I’ve got left now.
“But my players were brave in possession, especially in the opening half an hour. Lucas Joao might be a target man who needs bodies around him but he didn’t half put a shift of work in tonight – if you haven’t got someone up there who can retain the ball then it keeps coming back, but he worked really hard and helped link the play up really well.
“Chris Gunter has come into the team and done really well. Charlie Adam’s range of passing is as good as there is. He is no spring chicken now but he’s worked hard at his game and the more he is playing the more he is getting his match fitness and that’s really telling in his game.
“And Rafael - the save he pulled off at the end was really special. I was about to tear a strip off him because he took a kick early to Lucas Joao and gave the ball straight back to them when we were trying to kill the game. And then just as I’m filling my lungs to have a go at him, he pulls off a couple of magnificent saves.
“And it’s another clean sheet; we’ve done a lot of work with the defensive back four, they know their jobs well, and we got the win. That’s back-to-back wins which take you up the table.
“This bunch of lads, they’re hungry for work – they want to learn. And there is a really good team spirit in the dressing room as well which carries you through periods in games when you’re under pressure.”
Bowen on Swift’s goal
“I always felt if we could get a clean sheet tonight, we would nick a goal to win it. But I didn’t think we’d nick it with a goal like that. It was a tremendous strike. No back lift and he’s just hit it with the outside of his boot – what a goal! But John Swift is a talented player so you expect that from him.”
Bowen on being fourth in the form guide since he took over
“It’s nice to hear. We have to try and get points on the board in every game. Back-to-back wins are special. It’s been a strange week - I gave them yesterday off and I was beginning to wonder if I had done the right thing.
“We had prepared a lot on Christmas Eve so they could spend some time with their families on Christmas Day. We came in this morning and did some tactical work which we don’t usually for a night game then they stayed here this afternoon.
“I tweaked the system with Baldock being out and put five in midfield, trying to control possession. It’s easier said than done but when you have players like Adam, Swift and Ejaria we encourage them to get on the ball and control it.
“They threatened us at times but we had to show braveness on the ball and you could see the confidence growing in the team which is a good thing.”
Bowen on seeing the game out
“We were in control but then there were times we could have run the ball into the corner and killed it more. There was a massive panic which happens though.”
Bowen on a potential Swift injury
“I’m hoping it was just a little bit of cramp. It was the first game he had started in a while. We had missed him in the games he was out. The players feel a lot more secure when Swift’s in there as he’s able to keep the ball and dictate the play. Ejaria loves playing with him and for me we have to wrap him in cotton wool and chuck him on the pitch when we can.”
Bowen on Charlie Adam’s impact
“He’s a veteran but he’s getting fitter and fitter every game. I only took him off because I am trying to protect him for the next three games. I’m delighted for him. He’s waited for his chance and I don’t think he felt at home before. In the last four or five weeks he’s starting to feel at home and starting to enjoy his football.”
Bowen on confidence
“We’ve got players in our team who, when they are on the ball, you feel comfortable with. We’ve got to get these players on the ball more. That’s why I was pleased tonight. I’ve come in full circle because we started with building a platform and playing in the opposition half because we were less confident two months ago, but now confidence is growing.
“The tempo doesn’t come with players on the ball, it’s those who are off it. It’s up to them to move quickly and show themselves. If they’re hiding then it all stutters. But now they are more confident it will help us play a lot better at team.”
Bowen on Baldock’s injury
“He had a groin injury and he signalled it up straight away at the weekend. He’s had a scan and there was a bit of inflammation. He wasn’t fit for today but we’re hoping he’ll be available for Fulham game.”
Bowen on the league table
“I’m not looking at it too much because I know if we carry on putting points on the board, I thought if we could get to the FA Cup weekend and be within touching distance of the top 10 then who knows what could happen.”
Bowen on turning the side’s form around
“I’ve always been an optimistic person. It’ll be a rollercoaster and we’re a team that’s growing. We have two difficult away games now though and we’ll have bumps along the way, but if we focus and do the right things we’ll be a match for any team.”
Bowen on the fans
“I’d like to thank the fans who came out tonight - what this place would be like when it’s full I don’t know - because those who were here tonight really made some noise for us. All in all, it’s been a good start to the Christmas period, but we’ve got some difficult games coming up.”