How quickly things can turn in football...
After beating Wigan Athletic away and Huddersfield Town at home, the reactions to the draw against promotion contenders Norwich City were as well very positive. Paul Ince’s men were able to compete with maybe the strongest side in the league at eye level.
Nearly the same happened three days later at Loftus Road. Although we lost against QPR due to an avoidable penalty in the final minutes, the performance was good. Then last week West Brom at the SCL Stadium and Swansea City away were our opponents, and where everyone might have expected three or four points, we lost both of them. Tuesday night was especially really hard to take after a 2-0 lead.
So here we are. Four games without a win, three losses in a row. There was some pressure ahead of the mid-table clash against Bristol City. Even though the Royals’ boss constantly pointed out that we weren’t playing poorly, points were needed to keep us in the upper part of the table.
To achieve that Paul Ince opted for a 3-5-2-system with Amadou Salif Mbengue in the right spot in the back-three line. Junior Hoilett switched to the right wing-back position, while Baba Rahman started on the opposite side. Further, up front, Lucas Joao partnered Yakou Meite. The bench offered some decent options, among others Nesta Guinness-Walker, Tyrese Fornah, Ovie Ejaria, Shane Long and Andy Carroll.
Reading made a convincing start. The first occasion came after only three minutes when Tom Ince won a ball in midfield, burst forward and sent in a lovely cross which Yakou Meite nearly converted into an early lead. The Royals showed passion, won most of the battles in midfield and dominated the game. In addition, the supporters in blue and white were also in good voice and pushed the team further forward.
Although captain Tom Holmes and co kept going and were in full control, the following 30 minutes were less spectacular. The visitors tried to slow down the tempo in order to relieve some of the pressure. Regarding our offensive play, the final pass or touch was just missing on many occasions. On the other end we showed a really solid and concentrated performance in defence. Definitely something to build on.
A series of corners then gave the Royals some good opportunities but were all wasted. A shot from Mamadou Loum went also wide after 37 minutes. Shortly before the break, Bristol had their first real attempt on goal. A free-kick from the right found Semenyo who fired the ball clearly over. So, it was 0-0 at half time and everything still to play for.
No substitutions were made and the Royals began in the same manner as they did in the first 45 minutes. Seconds were only played when a long-range strike from Baba Rahman went just inches wide. After already six corners in the first half a badly taken seventh led to… corner number eight and Reading’s deserved 1-0! Tom Ince’s inswinging ball found Mamadou Loum in the middle who headed it powerful into the net (52nd minute).
The goal changed a bit the dynamics. Bristol City, who had been pretty harmless so far, tried to push forward while the home side set slightly deeper. A brilliant tackle from Tom McIntyre prevented the Robins from heaving a clear shot on target. Still, the Royals were able to keep the visitors away from the box and were themselves always dangerous with their counter attacks. In the 67th minute Paul Ince brought on Shane Long in place of Lucas Joao who worked hard but wasn’t really lucky up front. While coming on, the 35-year-old Irish striker received a warm welcome from the home supporters.
The tempo was a lot higher now. The boys in blue and white battled hard to maintain the lead. Mbengue made a fantastic last-ditch challenge inside the area. Definitely no complaints about the way how Reading were fighting. They deserved the clean sheet. In the 86th minute, Nelson Abbey came on for Junior Hoilett.
Only seconds later Tom Ince should have made it two. Shane Long broke down the left and found Jeff Hendrick who sent Ince clear. Unfortunately, Robins keeper O’Leary blocked the ball with his feet from short range.
Andy Carroll then was substituted on for Yakou Meite. The Ivorian is looking to get back into form with every game under his belt. Overall, it was a terrific atmosphere from the stands today. The Royals supporters backed the boys in excellent manner and gave the team an additional boost.
Two minutes before the end of stoppage time the SCL Stadium seemed to explode! A great pass from Hendrick to the left wing, Shane Long made an amazing run, defended the ball brilliantly and sent in a perfectly timed pass to the on-running Andy Carroll. The 33-years-old made no mistake and killed the game off. 2-0!
Seconds later it was full-time. A huge win for the Royals. Absolutely deserved! Reading showed everything that was needed to keep the three points at home. Job done!
The way we won the game should give everyone confidence. A real team performance. It's difficult to pick a single player for the man-of-the-match award. Our defence was top-class. We found a good balance on the pitch between attacking and covering the back. That’s how we have to continue.
And suddenly things look a lot better again than 90 minutes before… Come on Urzzzzzz!