So, for the fifth time in almost four years, a new managerial era started for Reading this evening - although, judging by Paul Ince’s ‘interim’ title, this era may not last as long as the previous four, even by our own standards.
In true Reading Football Club style, the appointment didn’t come without its controversy. The father of new signing Tom Ince and rumoured client of a certain Kia Joorabchian coming in on an interim basis? I dunno, I think that’s a bid dodgy mate.
However, we wanted a managerial change and we got one. And the age-old saying ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ comes to mind given the current situation the club is in. So, even though there was a fair amount of scepticism and wariness going into this game, there was surely some optimism, too.
As Ince had alluded to in his first interview with the club, he didn’t make any wholesale changes to the team for his first game. Just the one in fact, and even that was enforced with Tom McIntyre coming in for the injured Baba Rahman.
Ince also suggested in that interview that there isn’t a huge amount Reading need to change to turn our fortunes around. That may seem like a wildly inaccurate thing to say about a team which had lost eight consecutive football matches before the Preston North End game on Saturday, but part of me does agree.
The players are good enough to win games in this league and always have been, we just needed to firm up defensively and change our mindset a little, and, I have to say, we definitely saw that tonight. I didn't go to the game against on Preston on Saturday, so tonight was the first time I’d seen a Reading team which looked like it knew it could win the game in a very long time.
Although the first half didn’t have much in the way of goalmouth action, we looked comfortable and calm on the ball, and organised, aggressive and assured when out of possession. The visitors certainly had their waves of pressure, but we rode them out well throughout.
The big chance of the opening 45 fell to the new gaffer’s son, Tom, who skewed over with his weak foot after a dangerous ball in from Hoilett down the left flank. The last time I saw Hoilett play, he got sent off in inexcusable fashion, but tonight he did more than enough to redeem himself in my eyes. He was a thorn in Birmingham’s right-hand side throughout.
Other than that, it was a cagey first half. But the game came to life after the interval, thanks to some magic from Lucas Joao and John Swift. These two, I am just so in love. They aren’t just our two best players, they are two of the best players in the entire league, and if we keep them fit, firing and happy, they will win us games like they did tonight.
The opener came from a lovely pass from the aforementioned Swift into the feet of Joao, and the Portuguese striker did the rest. A classic Joao-like piece of footwork, followed by an aplomb finished and a nonchalant celebration. He just knows he’s good, doesn’t he?
The second came not long after, with Tom Ince picking out a lung-busting run from Yiadom who went down in the area. Swifty tucked away the penalty to get his 11th of the season. Combine those goals with his 13 (THIRTEEN) assists and he has scored or assisted over half of our 41 league goals. That is crazy. And I’ve lost enough sleep this season to start thinking about him not being here next campaign.
We had chances to extend our lead even further, but a team in the form we are in, which has been so used to losing this calendar year, was always going to start getting a bit nervy and focus on seeing out the three points rather than going for even more blood.
The problem is that, when that happens, and when you’re a team with the worst defensive record in the entire Championship, you are probably going to end up conceding, which we did. I wasn't even at the game but those last 10 minutes or so made me want to physically throw up.
But, seeing two wins out like we have done in the last two games will do the world of good to the players' confidence. There is nothing more demoralising than when you just keep conceding goals and losing games. At least in the last two games we’ve showed we can score more than we concede. Now we just need to stop conceding altogether.
I have to give a shout-out to a couple of individual performances, too. I mentioned Yiadom’s lung-busting run for the penalty earlier, but he was brilliant tonight, utterly brilliant. As was his team mate Andy Rinomhota who was everywhere in the middle of the pitch, he truly looked back to his energetic, enthusiastic best.
It’s been a difficult start to his Reading career for Karl Hein. He’s had his fair share of critics, myself included. However, he arguably did more to win us the game than the goalscorers. He made some really, really crucial saves. A few nervy moments, yes. But, we probably wouldn't have won without him.
And then, of course, the two star men. I'm not a religious man, but I will pray every night that Lucas Joao and John Swift stay fit for the rest of the season. I think it’s fair to say the football gods owe us one when it comes to injury luck, so let’s hope they do just that.
So, all in all, a positive step forward. There is a long, long way to go, but tonight was a huge three points. Back-to-back wins, Joao and Swift finding the back of the net and, although we’re still looking for that clean sheet, we looked a lot more solid at the back, albeit against a bit of a blunt Birmingham City attack.
I started by saying the Ince’s appointment has been met with a fair amount of scepticism, but that will soon go away if he continues to pick up results like he has done tonight. Onwards and upwards (I hope).