It’s been a topsy-turvy 12 months, hasn’t it? In an attempt to make some sense of it all, I’ve gone through the last year - month by month - to pick out Reading’s highs and lows. Some months were easier to cover than others, some more positive than others. Look out for the second part when I’ll look at July to December.
High: The Cherry on top from Lucas Joao (January 29)
When Lucas Joao collected Ovie Ejaria’s pass, danced into the Bournemouth box and slotted home to put Reading 3-0 up, it felt like this side was unstoppable. The Royals weren’t just beating high-quality play-off rivals, they were demolishing them - after Tom McIntyre and Josh Laurent had established a 2-0 lead.
That night’s 3-1 win was our fourth in six, and had us dreaming of automatic promotion, given that we were then level on points with second. This was surely the time at which Reading’s stock was highest in 2021; unfortunately, it was all downhill from here.
Low: Joao’s penalty miss at Preston (January 24)
This was, really, the only notable negative from an otherwise very strong month. Reading were well below par in a dour Sunday lunchtime 0-0 at Preston North End, but had the chance to win it late on when Joao won - and then stepped up for - a spot kick. His miss denied the Royals a fourth victory in four.
Although Joao continued to score pretty well in coming games (such as against Bournemouth five days later), I do wonder if this game at Deepdale had some lasting effect on his confidence that played into Joao’s poor form in the closing portion of the season. Either way, this penalty miss foreshadowed another costly one almost exactly a month later in south Bucks.
High: Michael Morrodona (February 16)
Michael Morrison isn’t a particularly goal-shy centre half. After all, by February he’d already scored against Cardiff City and Nottingham Forest - classic centre-back headed goals - and would go on to score at Rotherham United. But his strike at Ashton Gate in Reading’s 2-0 win was something else entirely, a bizarre charge upfield before unceremoniously looping the ball over the ‘keeper. It was a joy to behold though, and rightly earned Morro a new nickname.
Another year of Morrodona - and hopefully more magical moments like this one!— Reading FC (@ReadingFC) May 11, 2021
He's sticking around, Royals! pic.twitter.com/JO9AirV3Zm
Low: Defeat at Adams Park (February 23)
By late February, results had turned for the worse after home losses against Brentford, Millwall and Middlesbrough. Reading’s trip to rock-bottom Wycombe Wanderers should have been a banker for turning that run around. Instead a limp defeat ensued, with the Royals unable to match the hosts’ dogged hard work or break them down, even with the opportunity of a penalty offered to Joao.
This game’s performance and result were decidedly worse than previous ones, and as such, it’s when alarm bells really started ringing about Reading’s play-off hopes. While the Royals would win the next three games and only lose three times more, the nature of defeat at Wycombe seemed to heftily knock the wind out of the team’s sails. Reading’s confidence, positivity and expansiveness were a mile away from what we’d seen a few weeks before in that win over Bournemouth.
High: Beating Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 at the Mad Stad (March 6)
By the time we get into March, the outright highs weren’t quite so impressive. After all, that represented Reading’s gradual collapse in form and performances in the second half of the season.
The 3-0 win against Sheffield Wednesday was a decent high. It was one of the most stress-free league victories Reading have had in recent years, and capped a respectable three-match winning run as the Royals bounced back from defeat at Wycombe. Then again, it was an easy three points against a poor 10-man team facing relegation to League One.
Low: Misfiring Royals grab a point at the City Ground (March 13)
I could have gone for a worse performance and result than Reading’s 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest: a 2-1 loss at Birmingham City four days later. That was in fact the Royals’ only defeat in March and it was thoroughly deserved due to the limp showing. But I’ve gone for the prior game due to its longer-term significance.
Reading had shown previously that it could bounce back from a poor away defeat when three points were likely (Wycombe), so defeat at St Andrew’s was very poor but less consequential. What we couldn’t recover from was the habit of missing vital quality opportunities. The 1-1 draw at Forest seemed to kickstart that trend, with Lucas Joao and George Puscas both missing golden chances to turn one point into three.
The Royals’ form tailed off in the back half of the season because draws (seven after Wycombe) weren’t turned into wins, not because there were too many defeats (three after Wycombe). And sharper finishing would certainly have come in handy against Forest, QPR and Barnsley (more on that later).
High: Olise’s screamer against Derby (April 5)
We miss Michael Olise for moments like this. Heading into the break of a home game against Derby County at 0-0, Reading needed a moment of magic, and got exactly that with this strike. It put the Royals en route to the side’s only win in April and May - or in the last 11 games of the season for that matter.
The technique @ReadingFC’s @MichaelOlise10 rifles one into the top corner with no backlift! #EFLonQuest - Tonight at 9pm #EFL #ReadingFC #Royals— Quest (@QuestTV) April 5, 2021
Stream free on demand with @discoveryplusUK: https://t.co/5BVoLl5xim pic.twitter.com/N6gO4XTDuh
Low: Joao’s miss at Oakwell (April 2)
From a fantastic goal to a dreadful miss. Reading’s trip to Barnsley was the first match in the eight-game play-off run-in after the final international break and, coming against direct contenders for a top-six spot, couldn’t have been more important. So Joao missing this chance has to go down as one of the worst moments for Reading on the pitch in 2021 full stop. I still have no idea how he didn’t score.
It feels grimly symbolic for how a play-off spot was right there for Reading, only for the chance to be blown.
UNBELIEVABLE! @ReadingFC’s Lucas Joao with the miss of the season! ❌#EFLonQuest - Tonight at 9pm #EFL #ReadingFC #Royals— Quest (@QuestTV) April 2, 2021
Stream free or live on demand with @discoveryplusUK: https://t.co/5BVoLl5xim pic.twitter.com/SWw1aEYhgS
High: Luke Southwood signs on (May 7)
Reading had no joy in the final two games of the season (a 4-1 defeat at Norwich City and 2-2 draw with Huddersfield Town were downbeat dead rubbers), but did have some bright moments behind the scenes. While various players would sign on in May (in addition to another in June), the club sorting out a new contract for Luke Southwood has aged wonderfully.
Granted, he did make an error in May as Reading conceded late on in the 2-2 draw with the Terriers on the final day, but he would later come to life in the second half of 2021. As things stand he’s surely on the shortlist for 2021/22 player of the season - that wouldn’t have been possible had Reading not been able to persuade Southwood to stay.
Low: Omar Richards finally joins Bayern Munich (May 27)
Surely the most drawn-out low on this list, Richards’ move to Bayern Munich had been rumoured for months by this stage. So confirmation of that free transfer in late May was ratification of the inevitable rather than a shock.
For Richards, getting a well-deserved transfer to European giants Bayern couldn’t have been more of a high, but it was a punch in the stomach for Reading Football Club. A talent like that should have brought in at least £10m, but the inability or unwillingness to sort out a new deal before or during his break-out 2020/21 season came back to bite the Royals. Given the club’s continued financial problems this season, Richards walking away for free only grates even more.
High: Tom McIntyre, he’s (still) one of our own (June 29)
As with securing Southwood’s future, Reading did well in tricky financial circumstances to tie down Tom McIntyre to a new deal. In fact, the contract was only announced a matter of days before McIntyre was due to become a free agent, showing how lengthy the whole process was.
The news went down wonderfully in the fanbase - no surprise given McIntyre’s popularity among supporters, impressive performances previously and overall potential. It was an important lift at a time when the club needed one, having just missed out on the play-offs and looking nervously at which players would be headed for the exit door.
Low: Yet another all-Championship cup draw (June 24)
A bad cup draw is far from the end of the world (there wasn’t much else to pick in the quietest month of the year), but it was still pretty rubbish. Reading found out that their 2021/22 League Cup campaign would begin against Swansea City at the Mad Stad - a matter of years after the same tie in the same competition. We’d have liked a more interesting game as one of the first with fans back in stadiums, but had to settle for this.
The game itself was pretty miserable too: a particularly young Reading side was comfortably beaten 3-0 in August. We’d have to wait until December for a compelling cup draw when Kidderminster Harriers (away) came up in the third round of the FA Cup.