The long-awaited and much-needed win finally arrived at Deepdale and thus taking six points from Preston North End this season. As unbelievable it was, it was nonetheless totally deserved. Lucas João returned to his impudent best with two goals and assist.
But this wasn’t just the João-wow Show, this was a much, much improved performance over the previous drab and devoid outing at Peterborough United. To a man they all stepped up. The passing had more zip, the movement was logical and creative, and defending seemed less frantic, at least until the usual breakdown which had all of us gnashing our fingernails. It was almost as if they knew what was to come and had something extra to play for.
Putting your finger on how we managed to score goals, be aggressive and generally look like the side we know we can be is so difficult to pin down. Racing into a 3-0 lead away from home against a side that has improved hugely under Ryan Lowe is no mean feat. Andy Rinomhota, John Swift and João all deserve special praise. It’s players like these that we have needed to either return or step up to be the force we know we can be.
It could be argued that Preston underestimated us, but when a team has the quality of Swift and João, anything could happen. Our final goal perfectly summed up that, when the players believe in themselves, magic can happen. Of course, this means little unless we continue this new-found form, but it was great to see some excellently taken goals that led to three very valuable points.
Within the hour of the win, Reading managed to change the mood with the most dramatic and unexpected plot twist that could be conjured. Veljko Paunović’s reign as Reading manager was ended by ‘mutual consent’. We all knew the end was inevitable, but some of us had settled on this being at the end of the season.
All the signs indicated that the board were hanging Pauno out to dry after so many points in the season that he should go, that he couldn’t survive this; still he remained. Only Reading could let go of a manager after a win and a very good win at that. The removal was, apparently, arranged before the game and the players unaware but, honestly, you couldn’t make it up.
In another plot twist that could be from Football Manager or the result of a wild fever dream, Paul Ince was installed as interim manager alongside Reading legend Michael Gilkes. Paul Ince who has not managed since 2014! Paul Ince! The obvious link is that his son plays for us, but even more so is the apparent links to Kia Joorabchian (who else?) made this move possible.
The likelihood is that Ince will be manager until the end of the season. Whether this new voice will be enough to further galvanise the troops remains to be seen. Even if his role will be of a man-motivator to mentally massage the players to better things while Gilkes takes over the tactical side, it could be enough to ensure our survival in the Championship. We live in hope.
Despite the win, the writing was already drying on the wall for Paunović - the ironic twist being that, in his final game as manager, his team had performed how he would have wanted. Unbeknownst to the players, he had already agreed to end his tenure.
In his final interview, Pauno cut a disconsolate figure. The mental toll of the huge pressure he endured was etched clear on his face. While sad and disappointed that his time has ended as manager, the relief was visible also. He understood that a change was needed to be made. It was hurting him just as much as the team and the fans.
There’s no doubt that he tried his best, he had an unbelievable set of circumstances to deal with that many a manager would have struggled to deal with. At least in his final game, some of those non-negotiables that he often cited appeared to return. He can be proud of that.