Well then, it’s all begun again. The last few weeks have been topsy-turvy to say the very least, but it’s still good to see the boys back in the blue and white hoops (even more so when the blue and white hoops look as good as they do this season).
And the players, in the end, did the first outing in the stunning new kit justice after a difficult first half against the League Two outfit, in which the Us took the lead through an inventive finish by Jevani Brown in the 37th minute.
There couldn’t really be any arguments from Reading for going behind as up till that point, we were incredibly sloppy - maybe the surprising starting eleven had something to do with that, but it still wasn’t good enough from the Royals.
But then it was time for Lucas Joao to take centre stage. Firstly he planted an equalising header into the bottom corner on the stroke of half time and then won the game for the Royals in the second half with a right footed seconded before a wonderful individual third goal that sealed a perfect hat trick. If we keep this guy fully fit and firing this season, he will be a serious player for us.
Here’s what the fans had to say about some of the key talking points...
The starting line-up
Eyes were peeled in anticipation for the first competitive team news of the season at 2pm on Saturday afternoon, and considering how much we - the fans - have been left in the dark over the last week or so, I’m sure we were all intrigued to see how the team would lineup. Even with Paunovic locked in his hotel room rather than in the dugout.
It was certainly intriguing to say the least, with Joao, Baldock and Marc McNulty all starting the game - which definitely raised a few eyebrows. Furthermore, forgotten man Sone Alike was given a start, as well as Felipe Araruna and academy players Luke Southwood and Ethan Bristow given their debuts.
I’m sure the line-up, which O’Shea later revealed was picked by Paunovic, was more a case of the new manager wanting to see more of some players before making a decision on their future - it certainly confused the Loyal Royals...
Ahhh the classic 4-2-4 to 4-1-5.— Niall - Reading 106 (@Reading106) September 5, 2020
When we said weakened we didn't mean by this much lads— A (@rfc_1871) September 5, 2020
What is this— SamClarke (@SamClar95824870) September 5, 2020
What on earth is that team, I am not confident.— Reading FC Blue And White Wall (@bluewhitewall) September 5, 2020
Nice to see Southwood start. Walker who is number 1 didn't even get on the bench...
McNulty, Baldock and Joao ALL STARTING??? The first two... oh no.
Best of luck to Bristow.
Aluko probably be CAM but anywhere, is BAD. Sell him.
Its gone from bowen playing 10 defenders to playing 10 attacker's. Love it.— Max Cruttenden (@maxiebadger) September 5, 2020
Wasn’t expecting this and I’m glad Aluko is getting another chance. COME ON READING ⚪️— Luke (@Luke1871_) September 5, 2020
What a player this lad could be for us this season. On his day, he is a top, top striker at this level and proved it again on Saturday afternoon with a wonderful hat trick. It also reaffirms the theory that it’s no coincidence that as soon as Joao got injured at Craven Cottage on New Year’s Day, Reading’s season started to really decline.
Along with Puscas, who will get better this season, and the ever-reliable goal scorer Meite, Joao is part of arguably the strongest attacking lineup we have had in some years, and now it’s up to new man Paunovic to get the best out of all 3 and keep all 3 happy - which will not be easy.
There was a lot of love being thrown around for the hat trick hero on Twitter after the game, and rightly so...
We missed João so much last season! First game perfect hat trick #readingfc— swiftwoo23 (@sidwoo231) September 5, 2020
Joao and Puscas both scoring this weekend you love to see it. #readingfc— Alex Lane-Kieltyka (@alex_elkay21) September 5, 2020
I really hope Lucas Joao stays fit, I think this attack with Meite, Ejaria Swift and hopefully Riquelme could cause some big problems if all fit #readingfc— Andy Campbell ⚫ (@RoyalBearC) September 5, 2020
Joao, Meite, Puscas...potentially a lot of goals in this team. Let's hope Paunovic recognises this and plays the right tactics/formation. #readingfc— Neil Palmer (@neilpalmerphoto) September 5, 2020
I remember Wednesday fans pissing themselves at us when we got Joao for the price we did. He is genuinely so good. If he stays fit he bags 15+ goals a season and we can really compete as long we bring in players in all the right areas. #readingfc #swfc— Harry Sands (@SarryHands) September 5, 2020
More academy debuts
With all the chaos and negativity that’s been surrounding the club during pre-season, one thing that will always cheer fanbases up - particularly the Reading fanbase - is debuts for academy graduates. And we got two more of them against the Us.
Luke Southwood got his long awaited, and arguably long overdue, debut between the sticks and 18-year-old Ethan Bristow got given his first professional start at left back.
Both players slotted in effortlessly with Southwood making a couple of key saves, particularly in the first half, and Bristow looked assured and confident throughout the game at left back.
It certainly cheered up the fans, and hopefully Paunovic continues to put faith into the academy players, as we do have a seriously talented crop of youngsters coming through at the moment...
Southwood— Billy (@RFCbilly_) September 5, 2020
That pass out that was to short was the only wobble and the few goal kicks that went in the wrong direction. That's just splitting hairs, it was still a great Debut from Southwold.— Michael Hunter (@Michael_BHunter) September 5, 2020
Having now actually watched yesterday. Thought Southwood was fine, had a couple of moments with Morro. Don't think we've seen the best of Bristow, but understandable on professional debut. Araruna will be annoyed to miss out, having had a large hand in 2 goals... #readingfc— Matthew Williamson (@Photomattic) September 6, 2020
Also great to see @lukesouthwood1 in the net, should absolutely be second choice keeper behind Rafael this season. Whatever you think of Walker, he's a different style of keeper to Rafael - with Southwood you don't change how you play when he comes in. Solid today #readingfc— Dave (@shakefon) September 5, 2020
All in all, a good first outing of the season for the Royals. I think the starting lineup was definitely more a case of Paunovic wanting to see more of certain players rather than it being a style of play and lineup that he wants to stick with going forward, but I might be wrong.
It’s definitely going to be a busy week as we build up to the Championship curtain raiser and I really hope Paunovic proves the doubters wrong. It's not his fault he’s now in the driver’s seat so lets back him from the first whistle.