17 days without a league fixture is a long time at the best of times, but in a season like this one when games are coming thicker and faster than ever, it must’ve felt like an eternity for the players. It certainly did for me anyway.
Of course we’ve had the FA Cup third-round game at Luton Town in those 17 days, but Pauno understandably fielded a much-changed side in that fixture, so for a lot of Reading’s starting eleven on Tuesday evening, it was their first taste of action in a long time.
That showed for long periods of the first half as the visitors really took the game to us and were pretty impressive. They’re a brave team who like to take risks on the ball, and when it pays off like it did in the first half it looks good, but when it goes wrong like it did in the second half it looks naive. More of that later on.
A sloppy back pass from Holmes very early on let O’Hare through on goal, but the Coventry man could only find Rafael before Ostigard missed an absolute sitter for the visitors. At this point, with us not looking at the races at all, I was bracing myself for a scrappy, nervy game. But then I got reminded that we’ve got the best striker outside the Premier League playing up top.
The best players produce the big moments when things aren’t going quite your way and you’re a bit under the cosh. That’s exactly what Lucas Joao does and exactly what Lucas Joao did again in the first half.
The pass from Swift was a brilliant one, but the control and finish from Joao were beautifully destructive. A perfect touch on the chest, the power to brush away former Royal Dom Hyam and the lethal touch to bury it past the keeper. *Chef’s kiss*
Lucas’ opener seemed to settle a few nerves and breathe a bit of life into what was until then a very flat performance. Ejaria found his dancing shoes to tiptoe through three or four players before hitting the frame of the goal when he really should’ve squared it to Joao, who was as free as a bird in the penalty box.
But, saying that, the visitors continued to threaten and play through our half-hearted (at best) press. Even with the one-goal cushion, we had to move up a couple of gears - gears I always felt were there to move into.
And within 30 seconds of the second half, at least one of those gears seemed to have been found as we pressed higher and harder, forcing a mistake from the Coventry defence which allowed Joao to roll his man and cut back to Rino, who fired home from the edge of the box to double the lead on his 100th Reading appearance. I wouldn’t say it’s the thing I most love to see, but it’s in my top one.
From then on it was plain sailing for Pauno and his players, apart from a few choppy waves as the Sky Blues threatened a little bit more. This time in a more direct fashion as a couple of set pieces ended in a couple of good chances for Ostigard again, one of which forcing a vital stop from Rafa between the sticks.
The wheels continued to come off for the visitors after that as they began losing the ball very cheaply in very dangerous positions. And like I said earlier, when playing out from the back goes wrong, it goes horribly wrong.
The second big mistake - after the one that ended in Rino’s goal - led to McFadzean’s first yellow card as he cynically tripped Olise on the edge of the box. The third big mistake came very shortly after, and ended in McFadzean’s second yellow as he hacked down Ovie.
Then came a moment of utter, utter brilliance. For a very long time I have been in John Swift’s corner. His undoubtable talent has often worked against him during his time in Berkshire as I think the majority of us fans expect that little bit more from him because of how good we know he can be.
Even this season, when he’s been out injured, I have seen a lot of tweets and comments questioning how Swift fits into the team when he returns, with Ejaria, Meite and Olise performing so well. Well, if you didn’t already know, you will now - John Swift walks into our best starting XI.
That free kick was a thing of sheer beauty. The audacity to even try it is outrageous enough, but to have the ability to plant it in the top bins with the power and accuracy he did is just a bit silly really.
The mistakes didn't stop there, as Tetek pounced on yet another loose ball to feed Sam Baldock who really should’ve made it four but showed exactly why he’s yet to find the back of the net this season. But, luckily for Sam, by then the damage had already been done and the three points were sealed.
We’ve played a lot better this season than we did tonight, but as the old cliche goes, the best teams find a way to win even when they don't play well. And when you have the likes of Joao, Swift, Ejaria and Olise on the pitch, a match-winning moment will never be too far around the corner.