It’s the hope that kills you, isn’t it? Frantically checking Coventry City’s Twitter feed on the bus for the full-time whistle on Sunday, I was ecstatic to see them double their lead. Matt Godden’s late goal ensured the Sky Blues went home with a 2-0 win over Barnsley, and it put a smile on the faces of every Reading fan.
Had Barnsley won that game - as they were expected to, given Coventry’s lowly league position - they would have finished the weekend seven points clear of Reading. With four matches still to play that’s a huge margin, albeit not one that’s mathematically insurmountable. Losing however meant the Royals cut the gap from five points to four.
The key theme of my match report on Friday (written during a thoroughly dejected, empty mood after Reading dropped points to Cardiff City), may have aged poorly after all. Season over? Perhaps not. It isn’t just that the Royals are now that little bit closer to the play-offs - it’s also the psychological effect that an upset like that can have: unsettling Barnsley while boosting Reading.
Veljko Paunovic can’t control what impact Sunday’s match will have on the Tykes, but he can use it to his advantage at Reading. The simple message from him to his players should be this: Barnsley can and will drop points in the remainder of this season. As impressive as their form has been in recent months, they’re not going to beat every single one of Huddersfield Town (A), Rotherham United (H), Preston North End (A) and Norwich City (H).
We may have dropped points on Friday, but the opportunity to secure a place in the play-offs is still there. When Barnsley next slip up, it’s up to Reading to pounce.
That could well come as soon as this week: Huddersfield are (like Coventry) only a few places away from the bottom three and know they need wins if they’re to absolutely ensure their spot in next season’s Championship. If they manage to grind out a result against Barnsley and Reading win at Luton Town, a bit more of that four-point gap gets chipped away and the mood at the Madejski Stadium changes dramatically.
I went into writing this piece on a pretty downbeat note given the unlikelihood of Reading making the top six. I was not in a good mood after the Cardiff game, and the two-word ‘season over’ summary for the match report was chosen sincerely. So, at this point in the article, I planned to inject some realism about the Royals’ situation (you could reasonably call it negativity instead).
Now, I don’t know it came from - the act of writing the positive stuff above, a level of optimism in myself I’d not realised was there or the general joy that comes from having just bought some fruit cake at Sainsbury’s (highly recommended) - but the more I think about it, the more optimistic I feel.
We couldn’t, could we?
It would be such a Reading Football Club thing to, having convinced ourselves that our goal was out of our reach, wind up the neutrals by raining on a popular team’s parade. Think of the last two times we reached Wembley: beating giant-killers Bradford in 2015 to get to the FA Cup semi-finals, or sneaking past media darlings Fulham in the 2017 play-offs.
This side has already shown similar. The fact that Reading have stuck in play-off contention for so long - despite being tipped by a fair number of neutrals to fade into mid-table obscurity after the xG-defying start to the season - shows this team’s potential to rip up the script. That, ultimately, is what Reading now need to do: pull off a feat that shouldn’t happen. Can we really completely write this team off?
It’s the hope that kills you.