Expectations were low at kick-off for Reading’s visit to Home Park. Jose Gomes rang the changes, with Lucas Boye and Michael Morrison being the only starters from Saturday’s game against Huddersfield to retain their place in the squad. More important than anything else was the return of Jordan Obita, who captained the side. It’s been said a lot but I will say it again: what incredible spirit he has shown to fight over two years to recover from such a horrific injury. It is just fantastic to see our left-back playing football again. Never has a 7/10 performance been enjoyed by so many. [Assistant editor’s note: Our player rater gave Obita a 6, but you get the point.]
So, Plymouth against Reading. Second in League Two against 11th in the Championship. Plymouth started brightly, showing the confidence a strong league start gives you, no matter the division. Danny Mayor caused issues down his inside left channel, feeding Callum McFadzean on the overlap. Gomes’s new look back line just about held firm under siege. Sam Walker tipped over an early header, before Jose Baxter scuffed a volley into the turf and another McFadzean cutback was turned narrowly wide. Ryan Taylor’s goal after twenty minutes was inevitable. A cross lead to a goalmouth scramble and the affectionately-titled ‘Ginger Zlatan’ prodded home.
Now onto the elephant in the room. In fact, you could grab that elephant and still fit him in the space between the ball and the goal line. The ball was that far off the pitch. I’ll be sat watching The Carabao Cup’s Greatest Moments in front of the fire at the ripe age of 89 and still be incredulous that neither the referee nor the linesman called for a goal kick. Nevertheless, Plymouth had threatened down their left-hand side repeatedly in the opening stages. You could see it coming.
Reading weren’t playing well. It was a display to be expected of a team containing the fifth and sixth choice centre-backs, a left-back without a game for two years, three teenagers and Charlie Adam. Possession rarely progressed into the final third in a first half that featured long ball after long ball. Meite did his best but lacked a strike partner to feed off his knockdowns.
In a line-up featuring many of the next batch of youngsters, it would be easy to consign Josh Barrett to a place amongst these reserves. He emphatically proved otherwise. His volleyed attempt from 30 yards was ambitious, but a sign of his confidence. Picking up Adam’s pass, he drove at pace into the box and finished into the bottom corner with aplomb. Barrett’s pressing was relentless all game and again he went close with a curler from range. Having lost his place due to a change in formation, he was determined to prove his worth to Jose Gomes.
The Royals started the second half brightly: Teddy Howe looked lively on the right, Barrett skewed wide and Michael Olise began to run the show. Unfortunately, Olise was at the heart of the game after an hour, for all the wrong reasons. He was dispossessed in attack, allowing Plymouth to regain the lead through Jose Baxter. Baxter certainly did the Jose name proud with an acute daisy cutter from range into the bottom left corner. Again, some questions were directed at the man in the middle. The ‘tackle’ on Olise could be kindly described as agricultural. It could also be described as grade one assault. Yet, Reading should only look at themselves for the nature of the goal – give a free strike to an attacker at any level and you take a risk.
Reading looked to respond instantly – Adam’s deep corner was bundled wide by Meite, Loader forced a save after a mazy run and Adam’s drive deflected kindly for Plymouth goalkeeper Michael Cooper. Yet, too many attacks broke down on the edge of the box. The creativity of dainty duo Swift and Ejaria was sorely missed.
It took a tactical switch from Jose Gomes to open up the Argyle rear-guard. The rarely seen 4-1-2-3 formation featured no less than four recognised strikers. Baldock and Boye had replaced Olise and Adam to add some dynamism to a tiring match. Loader could drive from deep and put in a surprisingly resolute defensive display in front of Rinomhota. This allowed Reading to break with numbers for the final 20 minutes. Boye especially made an impact, spreading the ball to Barrett for the equaliser.
Without wanting to put overdue pressure on Josh Barrett, he only scores stunning goals. If his chip versus Chelsea and first half drive weren’t quite special enough, his 72nd minute dipping effort surely was. Gloriously, it not only left the keeper rooted to the spot, but also left the covering defender utterly helpless. A spectacular goal for someone who deserves his chance.
The Royals sensed the vulnerabilities and piled on the pressure. Obita drew a dive from Cooper, who then showed great reactions to deny Baldock a tap in. Like all great strikers, Meite had kept making his runs. With four minutes to go, he poked Boye’s through ball past the keeper and fell under the challenge. Alike his probable idol, Mike Dean, the referee milked the moment before eventually pointing to the spot. Foolishly, the Plymouth defenders remonstrated with the near linesman. As we established earlier, that man is as blind as a bat. Meite was not to be denied the opportunity to redeem his miss against Cardiff. He slotted past the goalkeeper and celebrated in style with the delighted travelling supporters.
With Argyle pouring men forward, a Reading counter was on. Lucas Boye again was the orchestrator, driving from his own half before finding Baldock who in turn found Meite. His finish squirmed under the home keeper and cemented the Royals’ place in the hat for the third round. It’s great to see the fan-favourite back amongst the goals after the abuse he suffered last week.
Overall, a fairly bonkers game at Home Park. An apt showcase for the glory of the Carabao Cup. Jordan Obita is back playing football. Reading are winning back to back away games. The Portuguese revolution is in full flow.