The Royals returned after the winter break with a win – words I didn’t fully expect to write in honesty. But it was probably the break itself that caused that to happen, in part at least. Coventry City had all the momentum leading up to the enforced break due to the World Cup in Qatar, but both teams seemed to take time to get into some sort of flow. Yet City looked much more of the part than we did up until the final third.
The first half was hardly a classic. As is customary now, Reading simply ceded control to the opposition. On one hand this was frustrating, but it’s clearly the de facto way we play. On the other hand, it worked. This was our seventh win at home and in almost all of them we’ve played the same way.
We would love to see more dynamism and interplay, much like Coventry did, but what this team is and how it was fashioned has to be remembered.
Pundits and some fans seem to be turned off by the manner of the result. This seemed quite baffling for a number of reasons.
Firstly, our mantra this season has always been “Just Stay Up”; it has never been anything other. Secondly, we are working under an embargo – we haven’t been able to sign any players for money for ages. Thirdly, our team is made up and stuck together like a classroom exercise to cut out players from Match magazine and pasted in with a Pritt stick. We haven’t had the time or resources to mould and fashion a side with a grand design in mind.
It would be churlish to bemoan winning a game but the result was frowned upon based on a reality that we’ve never had. This team doesn’t have flair, it doesn’t have pace, it’s not really capable of playing the pretty patterns that the opposition had played. But what it does have must be lauded for what it is: a hard-working unit that works its socks off because that’s all it can do.
Expecting to be entertained with tricks and flicks isn’t what this bunch needs to do; it does what it has to, first and foremost. If this style wins us games, gets us to 50 (plus) points and keeps our head above water, that is all we need care about.
What was pleasing to see was a bench that was brimming with bona fide replacements to be used as and when necessary. Tom Holmes had to be taken off very early in the game due to a head injury and was replaced with Tom McIntyre. Later in the second half, we saw our first glimpse at home of the giant Naby Sarr. Mamadou Loum, returning from his training sessions with Senegal, came on for Tyrese Fornah. Lucas Joao and Shane Long replaced Yakou Meite and Shane Long respectively.
All five changes made sense and were done with a decent amount of time left on the clock for them to have effect, and no doubt all of them contributed to ensuring the win. Shane Long especially for causing panic in the City back line was a playful joy.
It’s such a pleasing sight that we can now replace players with sensible options that do not involve moving players around like a puzzle or changing system as a result. We will need each and every one them in the coming months and some might even be entertained by them! Imagine that.
Star of the show with his debut goal was the new fans’ darling, Amadou Mbengue. Continuing his form from before the winter break, the young defender picked up where he left off with another mature performance. Nothing too flashy, just sensible defending that doesn’t cause panic. He’s still learning and is a part of another back three that shifted and altered but his few errors weren’t punished against a very mobile Coventry side.
His goal was no more than he has deserved for his performances of late. Not only that, we scored from a set piece that worked like a charm. Andy Carroll lured the defenders in, McIntyre nodded forward and Mbengue was at the right place to niftily glance home to score his maiden goal.
As has been written before, he’s the type of player we need and he has all the attributes to succeed. When asked about his time at the club and his future with us, he replied “why not?” Music to our ears, Amadou! A Christmas present of a new contract would be simply “magnifique”.
The win takes us to the unfathomable position of eighth in the table. There’s still so much football to play for us to consider being safe despite being where we are now. Can the likes of Hull City, Huddersfield Town, Blackpool and Wigan Athletic muster up 10 more wins when they have only managed a maximum of seven thus far? It is results like this that pull us away from the mad scramble at the bottom that we can well do without being embroiled into.
With 10 wins out of our 22 matches thus far, another 10 wins from our remaining 24 would surely be enough. Wouldn’t it? Maybe within that time there may even be time for some entertainment! Imagine that.