As the old football adage came to pass: you can only beat what is put in front of you. Reading did just that against a beleaguered Town who looked a shadow of the side that took the points at the SCL last season in a breathless 4-3 win. That said, only a handful of players are still at both clubs; since then, much has changed on and off the field for both.
It has not been very often that we would have gone into a game as firm favourites, nay, expected to win, but this is where we are now. Third in the table, still. Still firmly in the ‘pinch me, I think I’m dreaming’ territory. Confidence in football is a wonderful thing, it is possibly the greatest asset to the team and one that can’t be bought or obtained easily, but at home, especially, we have it in spades.
In truth, confidence is all we really needed to beat Town; they were there for the taking but it wasn’t without issues.
This will sound ultra picky, and it is - the game still felt a bit sticky at times. In the second half especially, Reading fell into their own trap of believing in themselves enough to know that, at 2-0, if they kept their shape and organisation in check, then the game was done and dusted, but this then led to a lack of ambition.
Armed with the knowledge that this is how we win games is fine, but it comes at a detriment when it allows the opposition to have more time on the ball and gain confidence. Such a trait we could do without against the likes of Norwich who follow up on Tuesday night under the lights.
Manager Ince alluded to the fact that we dropped deep and allowed Huddersfield back into the game and he was quite right. We have to learn that we must keep on taking the game to the opposition as we tend to allow the away side to have more of the ball almost by default. When the game is going in our favour, we need to keep on keeping on, not sink back into a defensive mode. We’re not good enough to believe we can just kill games just by killing the game.
All of that said, none of the above would be possible unless we had won seven games by the beginning of October. Upon being interviewed, Ince opened with his disappointment at conceding at the death to a routine corner. It’s testament to how far we’ve come this season that we are now disappointed with elements even when we’ve won a game quite easily!
The standards that he (and his son) aspire to are now high, much higher than we’ve any right to achieve, but that comes with the fact that we are still third in the division with almost a quarter of the season in the bag. There’s so much we have improved upon: intensity, organisation, shape, togetherness, spirit and determination. It does seem churlish to gripe but Ince has every right to expect a clean sheet after Reading put themselves three goals ahead.
Even if his goal was as a result of some pure comedy defending (some might say Reading-esque), it was a wonderful sight to see Yakou Meite score after more than a year from his last in front of the massed Infant Army in the North Stand.
A firm fan favourite has struggled with injury and finding a position for himself under Ince. He’s not a winger, nor a striker per se, so there’s no obvious position for him to slot into under the current system. However, a fit Yakou is still an asset nonetheless. With the next batch of games being crucial before the huge inconvenience that is the World Cup, having him ready and confident is no bad thing wherever he can slot in. Vive la difference.
For the first time in living memory, we almost have a bench made up of first-team players - albeit most of them in midfield. They all vary in their roles and capabilities but surely someone will have to step in when Tom Ince runs out of batteries. The one-man dynamo continues to cajole and corral his teammates into doing more, doing better; he’s a huge standard bearer for the season.
On the bench returned Ovie Ejaria, who had been out since late August. Tyrese Fornah, Mamadou Loum also kept the plastic warm, whilst new boy Amadou Mbengue completed the set.
Only Ovie could really step into Tom’s position and even then, it would require quite the tactical tweak to make the midfield work in the same fashion. As talented as Ovie is, his work rate and style are radically different to Tom’s.
Hopefully we can keep Tom fit as he is the heartbeat of this side currently. Rarely have we seen a player so animated, so demanding of others and committed to the cause. It may only be October but player of the season is his to lose.