There has been a worry over the years that Reading are too nice a football team. On Tuesday night, the ultimate ‘Oh go on then’ temptation to throw away a stunning start to the season with an all-too-friendly handout to lovely, plucky Wycombe was thankfully turned down in favour of a 1-0 win.
Lucas Joao fired a trademark winner as the Royals produced a professional, if somewhat uninspiring, performance that certainly fitted the narrative of 2020/21 so far.
Veljko Paunovic has stressed the need for patience with his approach but even a nun’s self-control would have been tested by the latest slow start for Reading. It was stoppage time in the first-half before the hosts had a shot against a team averaging three goals conceded per game this season.
The attack was too spread out, the first touches were poor and the 50/50 battles were largely lost. And yet, Wycombe were not dominant or particularly dangerous. The most worrisome opportunity came via a haphazard Omar Richards touch - neither a control or a clearance - in his own D that led to a shot fired over from 18 yards.
The best chance of the half, as mentioned, was Reading’s only. Ovie Ejaria, who carried the Royals’ promise along with Michael Olise, produced a delicious cross that Yakou Meite ran onto. Alas, the Ivorian flicked a header wide when any serious contact would have resulted in a lead at the break.
Meite’s tough night was compounded when, while offside, he and Ejaria fell into each other from a chance to run at goal. Both men claimed a last-man foul, only to realise they themselves were the last men.
Paunovic had had enough and subbed Meite and Tom Holmes on 56 minutes for loanees Alfa Semedo and Tomas Esteves. The mobility of the hosts immediately increased, pushing Wycombe back with the tempo definitively upped.
It was a long ball that provided the opener, Liam Moore firing to Joao with his back to goal and 20 yards to the line. While some strikers would complain at such service, this was meat and drink for the Royals’ top scorer and he held off two men before spinning and driving the ball low, hard, and into the net.
Wycombe were knocked back but still a danger. Likewise, Reading created openings for Semedo and Ejaria that failed to test the goalkeeper. The attacking effort naturally dropped off and Wycombe came forward, Rafael producing a fine stop to deny Fred Onyedinma in stoppage time.
With Bristol City losing to Middlesbrough, the win put the Royals top with, annoyingly, 40 games still left to play. While that is worth bearing in mind, the team can still revel in how successful Plan A has become. Built from the back, patient in attack, and clinical as hell. The Pauno Way.