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Stats Corner: Holding Our Nerve

Late goals against Blackburn and Ipswich could be vital for Reading going forwards.

Reading v Cardiff City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

Those fans who say a win scraped against Ipswich isn’t much to rally behind are surely missing the point entirely. The joy of a 90th-minute winner for both players and fans alike, no matter against which opposition, can have positive effects stretching further than just the three points won in that particular game. And it’s a feeling that has been in scarce supply for Reading fans in recent seasons.

In fact, I wrote an article on this particular subject earlier in the season. Before Reading’s match against Blackburn Rovers on February 13, the Royals hadn’t won a game in the 85th minute or later of a game since Yann Kermorgant completed a remarkable 3-2 comeback on January 2 2017. Now, in the space of 17 days and four games, we have done it twice. That could be season-defining.

What’s so important about a last-minute winner is that it can galvanise a team and inject a confidence and belief in a side that nothing else can quite do. Managers can only do so much, but history has proved that, at Reading, if you can find a way to win late it often can get repeated again and again. You’ve only got to take a look at the first Brian McDermott era of 2010-13 to see that last-minute goals, winners and equalisers became a key feature - so that by the year we won the league in 2011/12, Reading racked up 19 points after the 85th minute – equal to 17% of their total points that season.

The fact that Reading were able to repeat what happened versus Blackburn, conceding a late equaliser but still scoring again to nick three points, against Ipswich last Saturday, can be seen as proof that this team have turned a corner psychologically. I mentioned in that previous article on this subject that there was no secret to suddenly being able to pull something out of the bag at the game’s death.

It was just something that had to happen by chance or by one moment of inspiration, and if it did happen then it could help break that particular cycle of depression. Well, what happened to break that cycle? A moment of magic from a previously unknown source – Nelson Oliveira’s solo effort to score against Blackburn. This Saturday we may be ruing his absence for the coming weeks, but maybe his impact will still last without him on the pitch.

How so?

That last-minute winner back in February helped break the cycle of depression and make the rest of the Reading team believe they could still salvage something even when the worst happened. We saw it against Rotherham United two weeks ago; even though it stayed 1-1 you could see that the Royals still believed they could get a winner, and only for luck not falling our way, we would have buried one of those chances and got three points.

Then last Saturday, with Oliveira off the pitch injured, the belief was still there for Modou Barrow to win it in the 90th minute. What I’m saying is that, yes, Nelson’s impact will be sorely missed, but his individual brilliance against Blackburn may have already had a bigger effect on Reading’s survival hopes than we can see at present. Only time will tell how right I am, but here’s hoping…

Speaking of Barrow’s last-minute winner, the Gambian international proved what an asset he can be to this Reading side when he’s able to perform. Both goals he’s scored this season have come in the 89th minute or later. His last three strikes have been decisive, winning seven points against Ipswich, Stoke City and Preston North End (last season).

In fact, one third of all his goals for Reading have proved to be match-winning, with one quarter coming in the last few minutes. Only once when he’s scored have Reading come out on the losing side - at home to Burton in 2017. So could Mo be the man to fill the shoes of Nelson Oliviera in terms of match-winning magic? We know he’s capable, he just needs to unlock the quality he demonstrated time and time again last season.