There are good draws - the ones that leave you feeling satisfied - and there are bad draws - the ones that leave you feeling frustrated. Although Reading only recorded eight draws throughout the course of 2022, we’ve seen great examples of both types of stalemate. Coming back from 4-1 down at home to Swansea City certainly fits into the former group while scraping a 0-0 at Peterborough United definitely slots into the latter.
So it makes for a neat encapsulation of the progress Reading have made this year that we began 2022 with a bad draw and finished it with a good one. On January 3, the Royals’ spirit and game management were conspicuous by their absence as Derby County fought back late on at the SCL to claim a 2-2. Tonight on December 30 though, those traits helped Reading mount a comeback of their own to take a 1-1 at Carrow Road thanks to Andy Carroll’s late penalty cancelling out Adam Idah’s strike.
Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves: Reading played decently tonight and were deserving of a point, but saying too much more than that wouldn’t be quite accurate. A 1-1 draw looks about right for a match contested by two good sides which had better and worse spells without really taking charge.
However, the point (pun unintended) is that when this Reading side broadly matches the opposition performance-wise it can get what it deserves result-wise. Coming back from being 1-0 down isn’t akin to scaling Mount Everest as it was once was and we can reclaim parity - just as we did in the reverse fixture in fact.
The evening began with Paul Ince making an odd call with his choice of strikers. While he rightly rested Yakou Meite, who shouldn’t be asked to start three times in six days, bringing Lucas Joao in to partner Andy Carroll up top was frustrating. Even without seeing this partnership fail to gel on previous occasions, it’s still clear that pairing two static target men isn’t a good idea. Shane Long should have started.
That was the solitary change to the starting XI, although Joao’s arrival meant a switch from Tuesday’s 3-4-3 to 3-5-2. Accordingly, Tom Ince moved from his previous right-wing spot to an attacking central midfield role as he’s done in the 3-5-2 frequently.
Lumley; Yiadom, Holmes, Sarr; Hoilett, Ince, Loum, Hendrick, McIntyre; Carroll, Joao
Norwich came into this match under some pressure, with previous manager Dean Smith being sacked after a poor run of form and caretaker boss Allan Russell raising the temperature by claiming that the Canaries should be winning “games like these”. Comments such as those can play well with your own fans but also run the risk of boosting the opposition.
So it proved in an encouraging first 45 minutes from the Royals. After a frantic opening spell in which Reading went close a couple of times from set pieces in the first few minutes before the hosts applied pressure of their own, the rest of the half was largely stress free.
Reading didn’t boss the contest or seriously threaten in the final third, but did know how to contain Norwich and prevent them from getting into a rhythm. Being more aggressive and proactive out of possession had paid off in the reverse fixture and did so once more in this half, although there were nervier moments when the Canaries managed to get in behind.
Offensively, the Royals also looked that bit better in transitions than they have done recently, with most of the attacking play going down the right through Ince, Junior Hoilett and Andy Yiadom. However, that final bit of quality wasn’t there. While Andy Carroll looked more effective (Ross made a good point in the Ratings about the Geordie being part of the system), the lack of a suitable partner and attacking threat at left-wing-back (Tom McIntyre again starting there) held Reading back.
0-0 at half time wasn’t an unfair scoreline, but it served as a tantalising reminder that Norwich could be got at if Reading kept their standards high. Frustratingly it was the hosts who raised their standards after the break, capitalising on slack defending in the 53rd minute to go ahead through Adam Idah.
It could have gotten worse. Teemu Pukki was almost through on goal before being dragged back by Tom Holmes, while Josh Sargent forced a save out of Joe Lumley after breaking in behind. Out of the two sides it appeared Norwich were the likelier to get the game’s second goal; Reading weren’t seriously threatening and needed changes to get back into the match.
Those came in the 65th and 74th minutes - Yakou Meite replacing Lucas Joao and Nesta Guinness-Walker coming on for Tom McIntyre. Both swaps made sense, adding urgency and energy in spots where they’d been lacking up to that point, and the latter paid off big time when Guinness-Walker - attacking the box in a way that no other left-wing-back in Reading’s squad can - won a penalty.
Being the experienced man for the occasion (not to mention the fact that he’s already buried a penalty this season), you always backed Andy Carroll to convert the spot kick. And he did so with aplomb, smashing the ball past Angus Gunn.
That earned Reading a big point on the road and one we’ll all gladly take. Going to Carrow Road was always going to be a tough task, so if you’d offered me a 1-1 draw before kick-off I’d have been satisfied.
While we were tantalisingly close to finishing 2022 in the top six (a late winner would have ensured just that), finishing it in 10th - level on points with sixth - is a mighty achievement in its own right. Reading have defied all the critics in the first half of this campaign and are continuing to do thanks to a run of two wins, a draw and a loss since the World Cup.
Long may that continue.