I’m sure I wasn't the only one heading into this game with a slight looming sense of doom. I know we’ve had a terrific start to the season and were coming off the back of the most comfortable win in a long time, but we’ve still shown this season that we have the ability to collapse - particularly against the so called better teams.
So as Norwich were the visitors to the SCL tonight, there was part of me expecting a bit of a drubbing. But, once again, this team proved they’re made of much, much tougher stuff than what Reading teams in recent times have made us accustomed to.
I’m going to use all the age-old cliches that have been used time and time again this season, but this team just do not stop running (particularly Ince Junior, and we’ll get on to him in more detail in a little while).
They’re organised, they fight, they give as good as they’ve got time and time and time again. And although it’s the players who are the ones on the pitch putting the performances in, a huge amount of credit has to go to the boss. They all laughed at us when he was appointed. Hell, we laughed at ourselves. But I think it’s about time we start giving credit where credit is due and acknowledging the job that Paul Ince is doing at the helm.
The spirit and energy he has instilled into this team is clear for all to see, and we saw it again tonight. That spirit and energy translated into a monumental performance on the pitch. In the first half, we were the only team who looked like scoring, and probably should’ve done through a locomotive steam train header from Andy Carroll, which was thwarted by Krul.
Side note: I’d love to know how many aerial duels Carroll won tonight because I lost count after about 15 minutes. He was the perfect target man all game. When Norwich tried to play their way out from the back and pass their way to goal, we didn’t try to fight fire with fire, not at all. We fought fire by lumping it to big Carroll and playing on the second balls. It was absolutely beautiful and, more importantly, effective.
We also went close as Ince Junior nearly latched onto a Hoilett cross (both of whom were absolutely superb all evening) and Jeff Hendrick nearly grabbed his first goal with a peach from distance that scraped the outside of the post - which, luckily for us, turned out to be a dress rehearsal for the real deal in the second half.
So, at half time, it was 0-0 on the scoreboard but the momentum was well and truly with us. And then, just like that, a scrappy corner finds its way to Grant Hanley at the back stick minutes into the second half, who put the visitors 1-0 up.
In times gone by I would’ve expected the worst after that goal. But not tonight. We didn’t deserve to concede that goal and, from how good our performance had been previous to that, I knew we’d still cause them problems and the game was far from over.
A few hairy moments followed as Norwich capitalised on some awry passes and nearly doubled their advantage. But still we hung in there and still we asked questions of our own.
Nesta Guinness-Walker, who was again really, really, really good, continued to channel his inner Kevin De Bruyne, delivering inviting cross after inviting cross but to no avail. Carroll kept winning headers and we kept winning the second balls.
And then Hendrick found himself with a chance at take two of his opportunity in the first half, only this time it didn’t end up whistling passed the post, it ended up in the onion bag. Simply lovely.
It was a great goal and no less than we deserved. We held our own this evening. Actually, we more than held our own. We went toe to toe with arguably the best team in this division and the players proved that, you know what, they won’t lie down and get their tummy tickled whenever they come up against one of the top teams in the league.
There’s a fire in the belly of this team, and boy is it burning brightly. And the one who’s lighting the match? Tom Ince. Part of me feels bad for singling out individuals tonight when there were so many impressive performances, but this guy just keeps getting better.
You could tell from the get go he was up for this one. That’s not to say he’s not up for any other game, far from it in fact. But tonight he was a man machine. He had even more of an edge than he usually does and, once again, he led the way for his team mates to follow. I simply adore him.
But, like I said, it wasn’t just Tom Ince who was impressive. Tom Mc, Tom Holmes and Hutch were solid as a rock, NGW and Hoilett simply fantastic at wing back, the midfield trio organised and full of energy and I’ve already spoke about Carroll and Ince.
By the way I’m badgering on, you’d have thought we won the game. But, tonight, although a draw is a very, very good result indeed, I’m so much happier with the performance than I am about the result.
A really good evening, and one that’s made me fall in love with this team even more - which is a dangerous feeling.