Brilliant win for Reading! No doubt, football-wise we have seen more impressive performances so far, but the way the Royals dealt with all setbacks was fantastic. A deserved three points as Pauno’s men showed their development this season in a match we would have probably lost in the last few years.
Compared to Wednesday’s disappointing loss against Birmingham City, Paunovic made four changes. Yakou Meite and Lucas Joao missed with injuries (hopefully nothing too serious). Sone Aluko on the right wing and Sam Baldock as the lone striker took their spots. Further, Tomas Esteves started instead of Tom Holmes at right back and Alfa Semedo was preferred to Michael Olise in the middle.
The Royals got off a lot better than three days before and looked much more solid defensively. Baldock had an early attempt after a good run in behind. Omar Richards’ following cross went past everyone in the middle. Shortly after QPR came also to their first opportunity, but Ilias Chair’s long-range effort was parried by Rafael.
After the 15th minute Reading had the biggest chance so far when Michael Morrison’s header missed the target following a corner from Ovie Ejaria. Aluko then tried it with a shot from the edge of the box that went wide too. Moments later Josh Laurent sent a fantastic pass out on the left wing to Ejaria whose cross nearly found the in-sliding Baldock. Everything looked quite positive for Pauno’s men.
Unfortunately, that changed soon. As if Reading’s injury worries had not been big enough, Richards, one of the most consistent players this season, went off with what seemed a hamstring injury. On came Lewis Gibson. Even though the loanee from Everton fitted in well, the loss of left back Richards definitely had an impact. Reading looked struck as QPR more and more pushed for a goal.
First, Bright Osayi-Samuel got past Esteves too easily with a nice move on the left wing. His pass into the middle hit Morrison’s heel but was gathered comfortably by Rafael. Then Tom Carroll came close with a powerful shot which was blocked by Liam Moore.
The Royals suffered now. 10 minutes before the break another chance for the home side: Osayi-Samuel curled a ball to the second post. Fortunately, Gibson could prevent Chris Willock from getting a touch and score from close range. At that point, it felt that Reading’s only aim could be getting into half time at 0-0. At least that mission was accomplished.
The second half began pretty even. Reading gave a better impression though as they pressed their opponents a bit higher up and regained the good defensive structure, they had also during the beginning 20 minutes of the first half. Both teams battled hard to get that important first goal. Laurent made a great run onto the left after 64 minutes. His cross nearly found Baldock in the centre.
Right after, Veljko Paunovic made two further substitutions: Olise for Aluko and Holmes for Esteves. The Royals started to look now slightly the stronger of the two sides. Then again it was the home side that had the biggest chance in the 71st minute. Dykes made a good run down the middle. His right-foot shot hit the inside of the post. Rafael would have had no chance. Lucky moment for the Royals.
For the last minutes, Pauno brought on Tom McIntyre for the unfortunate Baldock (didn’t seem like an offensive switch…). Semedo moved up front as McIntyre played in midfield. Reading tried everything. Laurent, who was again one of the best, made another great run down the left. No complaints about the effort.
It just felt the Royals would need a little bit of magic to win the battle at Loftus Road. And that magic moment came in the 89th minute! Birthday boy Michael Olise started a run on the right wing, played a one-two with McIntyre (brilliant touch also by him) and hit the ball perfectly with a left-footed shot from outside the box into the bottom left corner. What a goal! What a birthday present for himself! A fantastic hit that gave Reading all three points, because seconds later the referee blew the final whistle.
A very hard-fought win. QPR didn’t do much wrong. But having in mind how unlucky the Royals have been hit by injuries – Andy Yiadom, John Swift, Felipe Araruna, Meite, George Puscas, Joao and now as well Richards – these three points seemed well deserved. All credit to the team who battled their way back into the match. The perfect reaction to Wednesday’s defeat.