Going into the game, some mentioned this as being a must-win fixture. In some ways the point was valid with a staggering four out of our next five being away from home and with some pretty tough tasks ahead too, against the likes of Burnley, Luton Town and possibly Watford. Taking points at home should always be our best bet and Reading seemed to be in the mood to address the performance and result against West Bromwich Albion. The less said about that the better.
Whilst we didn’t fly out of the blocks like a wailing banshee, the intent seemed to have returned. Having the more mobile focal point of Yakou Meite up front with Lucas Joao instantly helped. This in turn gave us more confidence to push the midfield higher. The gaps which were present against West Brom seemed to be fewer. The units were tighter and City found it tough to find a way through. Improvement!
As usual, the opposition had more of the possession but failed to do a lot with it, which was surprising considering they were the top scorers in the league prior to this fixture, plus they had our own club nemesis of Nahki Wells in their midst! But in honesty, we were rarely threatened. Tom Holmes and Tom McIntyre had strong matches; the clearing of the lines which are the meat and drink of their games came to the fore.
But the highlight of the defensive show was from young Amadou Mbengue, filling in at centre back to replace the suspended Andy Yiadom. At only 20, he put in a confident and assured performance. Whether he will keep his place with Yiadom’s suspension now over is unsure, but there will be a clamour to see more of this dynamic young Frenchman.
With his contract being a short one, only until January, there will undoubtedly be claims for the club to tie him down, should he want to stay. He is certainly the type of player we need – versatile, agile, intelligent, strong. Do your thing, Mr Bowen!
The improvements were not just limited to the defence – the midfield shone brighter than it had in recent weeks. The much maligned Jeff Hendrick put in a stellar second half in particular. He found a lot of joy down City’s right, no doubt a weakness that had been analysed which could be exploited. This was a different kind of Hendrick that was intercepting, reading the play, finding space; City couldn’t get a handle on him.
Tom Ince too was back in his demonstrative, high-energy ways. Perhaps not at his absolute peak, but sure enough, he was demanding more from his teammates, bemoaning sloppy play and particularly chasing down the City backline after our opener from Mamadou Loum… which was created by Ince’s own corner!
Loum opened his account with a textbook header from a corner and put in a performance that was improved, but still has room for further improvement. The fans have taken to him and he was positively beaming come the end of the game when the vocal cords of Club 1871 sang his very own theme tune. That can only be beneficial when the fans and players align.
Which dovetails nicely into another that the fans have taken a shine to: Joe Lumley. Again, another that was written off before a glove was donned, but aside from a few well documented blunders, he has rarely put a paw wrong of late. But what has to be admired is his, shall we say, professionalism! When we’re winning especially, his professionalism, otherwise known as time-wasting or sh*thousery, is a joy to behold. Luminating, if you will.
From chatting to the officials (for reasons unknown) to careful placement of the ball and removing turf from his boots, he’s got all the tricks of the trade. At one point, deep into the second half, we won a goal kick from a failed City attack via
Jack Grealish Alex Scott. From the ref’s whistle to launching the ball downfield it took a staggering FORTY seconds! I know, I counted! Later, another kick, high up into the darkening skies took FOUR seconds to land. All very deliberate, no doubt. If you haven’t already, watch him closely. He’s an absolute master!
But the piece de pièce de resistance was undoubtedly the arrival and combination of Shane Long and Andy Carroll. With a combined age of 68, they provided the goal that proved to seal the deal. Jeff Hendrick looked to play a very adventurous pass down the line to Long, who shrugged off (the rather comically abysmal) Timm Klose. What followed was a culmination of the years and years of experience to perfection. Long took his time to thread a perfectly weighted ball to the onrushing Andy Carroll to calmly sweep home his first goal at the SCL.
The appearance of the special team may be a feature to see out or improve upon games this season and many might scoff at our elder statesmen, but when they can combine in such a deadly fashion as this, they proved that they still can be effective game changers.