There are very few better feelings than scoring a late winner, away from home, via an own goal, in front of your own support. Very little can top that level of absolute sh*thousery and it was that level of balls-out grittiness that Reading had missed over the last six weeks. But here, against a team managed by a former Royal, Liam Rosenior, the good times came flooding back.
From the off, we seemed to be a bit more focussed (aside from the goal from a set-piece which will be conveniently glossed over here). The press was back, better use of the second ball, a bit more composure, less of the headless-chicken mode. It felt like we had a plan again. There was a response.
The bad thoughts would have been present after conceding yet another early goal, but the game never got away from us. Whilst the quality in the final third was still dubious, Hull did not look like a side that were going to pepper the goal relentlessly despite our defence being held together by a right back by trade, a young centre half and an even younger utility player (who we simply must keep).
That said, City should have been home and hosed when Slater decided not to pass the ball into an empty net but to go down a cul-de-sac of despair instead. Ah well, never mind!
Instead, via the scruffiest of finishes, Yakou Meite became Reading’s highest goalscorer in our Championship history. A somewhat unlikely stat for the amiable Frenchman but highly deserved nonetheless. For once, we were back in the game and fighting. The fight that we saw earlier in the season was creeping back into view. Come the second half, we had every chance coming home with something.
Enter the Special Team of Lucas Joao and Andy Carroll. It was the former that won the free kick that lead to Carroll rising like a salmon for the stricken Ryan Longman to prod home the “swallow me whole” moment that will haunt him for days.
This goal is almost the twin of our winner against Sheffield United last season which was also away from home and a 2-1 victory. A beautifully launched free kick, a nod from the back stick, a stab home from six yards. Replace Longman with Tom McIntyre and voila! A late winner on a platter.
As templates go for goals, it’s a standard play for many teams. Did Joao realise that when he was fouled in that area of the field? Who can tell? Nobody really cares in honesty, but it’s nice when a plan comes together.
We now go into the longest international break since Shane Long was in short trousers and possibly beyond. The win takes us mind-bogglingly just two points off the play-offs, but conversely, had we have lost we would have been just three points from the relegation zone. Such is the utter joy of the hardest league in domestic football.
The oft-mentioned fine margins are well documented for how tight this division is. Just 10 points separate fourth from 22nd; no team within that spectrum can say that they won’t go down, be in mid-table mediocrity or be utterly doomed.
The mental boost alone of winning this final game before the World Cup cannot be underestimated. Every club wants to go into a break with a win and after a pretty awful run this could be the shot in the arm that everyone at the club needed.
What lies ahead is hopefully a fit and rejuvenated squad for the final 25 games. With the return of Sam Hutchinson, Femi Azeez, Naby Sarr and the controversial return of former captain Liam Moore, Reading should be better placed to cope with the rigours of the remainder. That’s not to say there won’t be any more injuries - we know that’s going to happen for sure - but being able to rotate a few or drop one or two if form goes south can only be a positive.
If Ince can tie up Andy Carroll until the season of the season and Amadou Mbengue until the end of time (plus ‘another couple’ that was alluded to in his post-match interview), we could be set fair in terms of squad depth. Anything to drag us over and above the dreaded dotted line.
But that’s all ahead of us; thus far we’ve had superb highs, standard lows and very little in between for the first (almost) half of the season. Same ‘ol Ding – but we love you just the same.