As I sit down to write this match report on Sunday afternoon, well after the full-time whistle blew at Portman Road, I still haven’t quite calmed down yet. What we saw yesterday was, simply, amazing - a shock last-minute triumph that rarely happens at this club. On too many occasions in recent years, Reading have been on the wrong end of a last-minute goal, but Saturday’s crunch match at Ipswich Town was our turn to rip up the script.
It felt like the return of an old friend you’ve not seen in too many years. Last-minute winners in dramatic circumstances were par for the course in the good times under Brian McDermott, but have been few and far between since. The fact that Reading have now managed it twice in the last couple of weeks - the other coming from Nelson Oliveira against Blackburn Rovers - suggests the Royals’ attitude of never say die, never know when you’re beaten is coming back.
That it happened in front of a sizeable travelling support only makes a magical moment that bit sweeter. Reading take a fair bit of stick from our peers around the division for a relatively timid support, but there was no sign of that on Saturday; the 1,500 Loyal Royals packed into the away end at Portman Road made one hell of a din.
In the continued absence of Andy Rinomhota, Jose Gomes decided against making a single change for the trip to Ipswich, meaning another start for midfield duo Lewis Baker and Ovie Ejaria, with Garath McCleary and Yakou Meite keeping their places out wide.
Consistency was maintained in the other positions: Emi Martinez in goal again protected by a back four of Andy Yiadom, Matt Miazga, Liam Moore and Tyler Blackett, while John Swift played off lone frontman Nelson Oliveira.
The game started off pretty scrappily; Ipswich making it difficult for Reading with a particularly physical approach, not letting us get into a passing rhythm and dictate the flow of the game. The only real events of note were Meite firing wide of the far post after cutting inside, and Oliveira seeing yellow for apparently diving - that card coming from Geoff Eltringham who infamously ‘saw’ Tyrone Mings’ stamp on the Portuguese striker but took no action.
However, in a poetic turn of fortunes, it was Oliviera who got the day’s opening goal. Blackett’s chipped through ball allowed McCleary to get in behind down the left before cutting back for Oliviera. He had time to control, pick his spot, and goad a home support that had chanted Tyrone Mings, he stamped on your face.
Reading would go on to boss the rest of the half, albeit without creating the kind of clear-cut opportunity that they should have scored. Swift had two shots on goal - one just wide and the other saved, Meite’s overhead kick was easily caught, and McCleary raced clear down the left before firing past the far post, having been found by a brilliant long-range kick from Martinez.
That said, it should have been 1-1 just before half-time, Huddersfield Town loanee Collin Quaner charging through the Reading defence before the ball eventually dropped for a free shot at goal - but it was fired straight at Martinez. Let-off.
That chance was a sign of things to come, as Reading again sat off and invited pressure after the break. It had backfired against Rotherham United the week before, and could very well have done again. Ipswich started to take an ever-larger grasp of the game, imposing themselves with an aggressive style that was bizarrely facilitated by the referee’s refusal to hand out yellow cards to the home side.
Reading would increasingly have to rely on Martinez in goal, who made a series of fantastic saves to keep the score at 1-0. That he seemed to be injured at the time, having received medical attention and struggling to kick the ball a few times, made his performance even better.
Ipswich were knocking on the door and, with a few minutes left to play, they forced their way in. Ejaria missed a challenge on the edge of the box, the ball was flicked up over Modou Barrow’s head, and Gwion Edwards buried it. At the time, it felt like Reading’s Championship status had been snatched way in front of me. Getting a one-goal lead, not being able to extend it, and then letting it slip, is something we’ve seen far too often in recent weeks.
But Modou Barrow wasn’t having any of that.
With the away defence under pressure, Miazga hacked the ball clear to the halfway line; Meite then doing fantastically well to control it under pressure. He played in Barrow, via a deflection, who then blitzed into open space before knocking the ball past Bialkowski.
Cue pandemonium in the away end, the kind of euphoric out-of-body joy that’s reserved for special moments like a last-minute goal that could go on to keep us in the Championship. I could barely type at that moment, meaning our goal news tweet simply read:
After a panicky few minutes, during which Martinez’ heroics were again needed, Ipswich put a sitter just wide of the post, and I lost count of the times I yelled “blow the fking whistle” at Geoff Eltringham... the sheer relief of full time came - and great celebrations in the away end.