How do you even begin to describe what happened at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday afternoon? Reading were unimaginably poor, but came away with their most important win of the season. Jose Gomes is god.
This is, however, a Match Report. Sadly it is not a ‘final ten minutes of the’ Match Report, so we are going to have to dissect the truly atrocious first 88 minutes. I’ll try to be brief, but won’t take any offence if you decide to skip to the bottom and start reading again when Reece James fakes injury. I’d do the same.
There was just the one (enforced) change to starting XI from last week, Nelson Oliveira ruled out through injury and replaced by the match-winner at Portman Road, Mo Barrow. 17-year-old midfielder Michael Olise was named on the bench for the first time, alongside fellow academy players Ryan East and Danny Loader.
In a word - painful. Well the first 20 minutes weren’t too bad I suppose, but Wigan’s opening goal, slid in by Nick Powell at the far post, clearly shook Reading. Their previously assured passing became erratic, and frustrations began to grow as they failed to get a hold on the game. Wigan on the other hand took confidence from their lead and had clearly worked out how to annoy Reading. Aggression.
Only Nottingham Forest have received more yellow cards in the Championship this season than the Latics, and it was easy to see why. Helped by a lenient referee, Paul Cook’s side clattered into Reading at every opportunity, unsettling the Royals with their physicality. John Swift and co weren’t quite sure how to react in midfield, their every touch being pounced upon by a yellow shirt.
The frontline were having problems too. Mo Barrow had surprisingly started as the central striker, flanked by Garath McCleary and Yakou Meite, but this tactic failed miserably. Meite then moved inwards, but that didn’t work either. By the time McCleary tried his luck in the role after 35 minutes, it was clear that Reading were severely missing the injured Oliveira. Just one shot on target was registered in the opening 45 minutes - a tame effort from McCleary that Jamie Jones in the Wigan goal could probably have saved with his eyes closed.
In first half stoppage time though came a lifeline. Reading won a free-kick. John Swift and Lewis Baker, who regularly competed with each other for set piece duty at Chelsea, stood over it and it was Swift who took on the responsibility by expertly firing past Jones. The Royals would go into the break undeservedly level.
If you thought that goal would give Reading some momentum going into the second 45, you would sadly have been wrong. Danny Loader, who had replaced the injured Ovie Ejaria towards the end of the first half, was next to be trialled as the central striker, but he struggled as much as those before him.
Wigan would retake the lead following an error from the usually reliable Emiliano Martinez. The Arsenal loanee, perhaps somewhat encouragingly, had been looking to distribute the ball early throughout the game, but on this occasion it was a little too early. His throw found not a teammate but Wigan’s Gavin Massey, who drove towards goal and, via a few Reading blocks and a Powell overhead kick, found Garner waiting at the far post to volley home.
Martinez certainly made amends though as he returned to his shot-stopping best to prevent Wigan’s advantage being increased. He first made what appeared to be an impossible save to deny Powell from point blank range, before flying into action 15 minutes later to prevent Sam Morsy’s effort soaring into the top corner. Yet it did little to inspire Reading going forward, the Royals as sluggish as ever despite trailing.
That was until Reece James decided to fake an injury (hello if you’ve just joined the report) just inside his own half, presumably in order to waste time for his team who were on the verge of their first away win since August. Wigan fans may tell you that James is ‘destined to play for England’, but the 19-year-old seemingly still has a lot to learn, as his play acting would end up costing his side the match. When play restarted, Reading took the initiative and showed urgency for the first time all game, moving the ball forward quickly. It ended up at the feet of Mo Barrow, and with few other options, the Gambian decided to try his luck from 25 yards. His shot was perfect, dipping past Jones into the bottom corner to send the home crowd crazy. How on earth had we managed to rescue a point?!
But the best was yet to come, and we were to get more than a point. Seven minutes had been added on thanks to James’ time wasting, and Reading failed to make to make the most of the first six before being awarded a corner. Still, what chance was there of a third goal here? We hadn’t scored a goal from a corner since October. We hadn’t won back to back games for 15 months. Heck, we hadn’t come from behind to win a game for nearly two years. It would be a miracle if we could pull it off.
But a miracle it was, as Yakou Meite popped up to power home a header and spark scenes not seen in RG2 for a very long time. The French forward was away, shirt off, beaming smile, heading for our lord and saviour Jose Gomes. Gomes had similar ideas, sprinting down the touchline to meet the match winner.
In the stands, it was hard to comprehend what had just happened. It was euphoric. Sitting here now I know I’m not doing it justice, but where do you even start with trying to sum that feeling up?
We had done it. Ten minutes earlier, Reading were set to be booed off with their survival chances hanging by a thread. Now, everyone had a belief again.
Taking an objective view, the two late goals masked what was a largely disappointing performance for Reading. Had they not gone in, we would be beginning to plan for trips to Accrington and Fleetwood next season.
But the point is they did go in. They went in on an afternoon when Reading so desperately needed the points. That, ultimately, is all that matters in this relegation battle. Points. It doesn’t really matter how we get them, but it will be points that keep us up, not performances. At some stage we’ll need to start worrying about playing well, but now is not that time.
It’s moments like these that remind us why we love football. Why we travel however many miles, why we pay however much money, why we go through so much agony. This is why it’s called the beautiful game.
I love you, Reading FC.