High: Smash and grab in the Steal City (April 15)
Or, to be more precise, 4.50pm on April 15. That was when Baba Rahman lofted a free kick into the box, Michael Morrison nodded the ball on, Tom McIntyre snuck it into the net... and hundreds of Reading fans behind that net exploded in sheer delirium.
Relegation-battling Reading going to promotion-chasing Sheffield United looked like a foregone conclusion. Getting a point was tough enough, let alone all three, but the Royals surpassed all expectations with a huge 2-1 win. And we deserved it too: Reading put in one of their best performances under Paul Ince, going ahead through Lucas Joao in the first half and holding firm in the second until Iliman Ndiaye’s 90th-minute equaliser.
Reading and McIntyre had other ideas though. That 92nd-minute winner wasn’t the prettiest goal you’ll see - a scrappy close-range finish from a set piece - but it’s exactly the kind of goal a side can score when it really believes in itself.
It was also integral to Reading’s 2022, sealing our last victory of the season and setting the side up to essentially secure Championship survival a few days later at home to Swansea City - again via the boot of McIntyre. Without that moment at Bramall Lane, we could well now be following a League One club.
Absolute scenes at full time— God Rest Ye Merry Tilehurst Ends (@TheTilehurstEnd) April 15, 2022
What a win, what a day
You f*cking Royals pic.twitter.com/3XUZArHlgj
Low: Out with a whimper (April 30)
While Reading proved themselves capable of a big performance in the closing weeks of the season when it really mattered, the opposite was unfortunately also true when the pressure was off. Reading’s penultimate match of the season - a 1-0 defeat at home to West Bromwich Albion - was reminiscent of the dire, lifeless displays that had got us into relegation difficulty, not the spirited performances which had mended the damage.
The Royals were abject against the Baggies, never really looking like getting the points. Still, we somehow managed to lose a match that was headed for a boring goalless stalemate, with Karlan Grant netting in the 78th minute.
I could have picked the 3-0 defeat at Hull City a week earlier when goals from Keane Lewis-Potter (x2) and Alfie Jones saw Reading off comfortably. The Royals were similarly abject that day too. We did at least manage to secure safety however, thanks to Peterborough United losing at home to Nottingham Forest.
It was depressingly fitting for the 2021/22 season that, despite proving what they were capable of under Ince, Reading also seemingly downed tools as soon as safety was secured.
High: Steve Coppell XI 5-8 Brian McDermott XI (May 20)
I’m kinda cheating with this one a bit - it’s not anything to do with Reading’s first team - but I couldn’t resist. The 150th anniversary celebration match was an absolute joy to witness, with a whole host of players from the Royals’ 2005/06 and 2011/12 title-winning sides taking to the SCL pitch for a thoroughly entertaining 90 minutes.
Besides being cracking nostalgia that would have been a delight at any time, it was also the perfect bit of escapism after the stress of 2021/22. For one afternoon we could ignore our ongoing worries about how Reading Football Club was in its current state and roll back back the years. Olly summed it up perfectly:
“This was the perfect antidote to the last nine months and almost a reward for enduring it all. There was no better way to forget the present than to hark back to the two most successful eras the club has ever seen.”
An honourable mention for the most consequential thing that happened for the Royals’ first team in May: the return of Mark Bowen. Reading’s former gaffer was appointed as ‘head of football operations’, finally filling a key behind-the-scenes role as supporters had been demanding for a long time. The club looks to be on a much firmer footing now and it’s hard to imagine that being the case without the return of Bowen (or something equivalent to it).
Low: John Swift leaves for West Bromwich Albion (May 26)
John Swift leaving Reading on a free transfer hardly came out of the blue. In fact, given the Royals’ record with contract management in recent times, you could have probably predicted it a couple of years before it happened, let alone when it finally came to pass in May 2022.
It still hurt though: despite his flaws, Swift was one of the most talented players to turn out for the Royals in the decade after the most recent relegation from the Premier League. He contributed 34 goals and 38 assists for the club in 202 appearances; in fact, his league-only record (32 goals and 36 assists) was better than any other Reading player in the Championship era.
Seeing him join West Bromwich Albion on a free transfer was a reminder of just how far Reading had fallen. The Royals were now struggling to compete even with mid-table Championship sides when it came to retaining key players - not surprising given that Reading were now (seemingly) very much a bottom-third club. That theme would rear its head again the following month...
High: Andy Yiadom and Tom Holmes sign on (June 17)
Reading took their time getting any significant business done in the summer but it kicked off in mid-June with two key contract renewals on the same day: Andy Yiadom and Tom Holmes. It was far from a foregone conclusion that the Royals would be able to keep hold of either; the former had been voted player of the season in 2021/22 while the latter - a talented youngster on the up - had reportedly been subject to interest from Nottingham Forest.
Signing each of them up to three-year contracts has aged well too. In the summer Yiadom was named as captain and Holmes as vice-captain, and both have been key first-team regulars in a Reading side outperforming expectations in 2022/23.
Low: Josh Laurent joins Stoke City (June 21)
Laurent’s departure for Stoke City wasn’t as big a blow as Swift’s for West Brom but it was still a big setback. The all-action midfielder had been a regular since arriving from Shrewsbury Town in the summer of 2020, being named player of the season in his debut campaign and retaining his status as a fans’ favourite despite a drop-off in form during his second season.
That last point was probably the biggest source of sadness about Laurent’s departure. He was a prominent figure in the Royals’ gutsy fightback against relegation under Paul Ince, scoring crucial goals against Blackburn Rovers and Barnsley. As with Swift though - not to mention Andy Rinomhota who would later depart for Cardiff City - Reading couldn’t keep hold of first-teamers in the face of interest from mid-table Championship sides.
There was one silver lining however. With Laurent heading to Stoke on a free transfer and three-year contract, a Potters player made the opposite move later the same day: Tom Ince. Not a bad swap at all.