Be honest, who saw that coming? I’d have snapped your hand off for a point before this daunting trip to promotion-chasing Bournemouth, let alone when 1-0 down at the interval. Fast forward to full time though, and not only had Reading grabbed a 1-1 draw, but they’d thoroughly deserved that result. Don’t be under any illusions: this wasn’t a lucky point, even if the hosts were well below the expected standard.
Getting that point took grit and patience, two of the less sexy traits for a football side, but ones this team has lacked this season. I wrote earlier this week in reaction to Paul Ince’s first four games that there’s been an alarming lack of progress so far; fair play to him though as, on the basis of tonight, he may well know how to inject some fight into this group.
That fight very much came into operation after the break; this match was a classic case of a ‘game of two halves’. Reading were below par before the interval. The tone for that was set early on, the Royals again conceding a short way into the match, this time from Reading-born Dominic Solanke who slotted home to cap off an incisive move.
From then on the Royals weren’t that bad, and credit’s due in a defensive sense for keeping the score to 1-0. The risk always was that the hosts would be able to pull away through sheer individual quality, considering the ability they’re able to call on even when not playing at their best. But, bar a smart stop from Todd Cantwell, debutant Orjan Nyland (a former Cherry) wasn’t tested all that much.
Despite that, Reading didn’t demonstrate enough intensity to really take things to the hosts. There were a few moments of promise, such as a Tom Ince cross that could have been tucked away by Lucas Joao and an Andy Yiadom pull-back which wasn’t converted by Andy Rinomhota, but they weren’t part of lasting, convincing pressure. The Royals were struggling to build momentum or get the likes of Joao and Ovie Ejaria into the game - not helped by a frustrating tendency for the ball to be given away before an attack could be launched.
A rudimentary metric I’ve been using in my mind for performances this season has been to assess whether or not Reading look like they think they can win. The potential in this group is always there but the belief is another matter. And whatever Paul Ince said at the break, in the second half his side believed it could win the game.
That’s immensely satisfying given the contrast with Saturday, when Reading wilted after the break. This time though the intensity went up, the Royals took the game to the hosts and convincingly looked on top throughout the second half.
That didn’t equate to convincingly looking like scoring. Reading came close a couple of times - another Ince cross taken off Joao before he could tap home, Josh Laurent winning the ball high but getting his cross to Joao wrong - but that bit of quality in the final third wasn’t there.
What we needed was a substitution. As has been the case for a short while now, attacking options on the bench weren’t lacking - the most obvious ones being Yakou Meite and Junior Hoilett. The away end knew exactly who should make way, with chants of “take your f’ing son off”, although withdrawing Laurent would have been the better call. He was after all ill-suited to his attacking-midfield role, which could be taken by Ejaria, and was on a yellow card.
Paul Ince though thought differently, opting to swap Meite for... Joao. That change went down like a bucket of cold sick in the away end, who immediately turned to chants of “you don’t know what you’re doing”. It was on the face of things a bizarre decision with Reading chasing the game, although Joao’s recent return from illness was probably an acceptable mitigating factor. Regardless, Reading’s momentum stalled at that point, as if the wind had been knocked out of the players’ and supporters’ sails.
But on 83 minutes Reading got a deserved equaliser, and what an ironic way for it to come: the boot of Tom Ince. He’s been involved in Reading goals already, helping to win penalties against Bristol City and Birmingham City, but this was his best contribution by far, lashing the ball home from the edge of the box after it had dropped to him following an Ejaria corner. It was a reminder of just how much ability he has.
Cue delirium in the away end. I can only speak for myself but my emotions quickly shifted: “oh God we’re going to concede again, aren’t we?” Ince’s equaliser seemed to rally Bournemouth, who’d showed little in the second half, and they duly put together a period of late pressure to ensure my nerves were shredded. But Reading got over the line.
There’s certainly plenty to be pleased with about this performance. Coming to Bournemouth and deservedly getting a point is distinctly better than we’d have hoped for, and could well prove to be a huge result by the end of the season. But I don’t want to get too carried away with this game for a few reasons (for the sake of adding context rather than undermining the positivity):
- Bournemouth were surprisingly rubbish - to the degree that they didn’t look that much like scoring more than their one goal
- There’s still a lot to improve on the pitch, based particularly on the first half but also in the general lack of attacking ideas throughout the second half
- Paul Ince was again too passive with his attacking changes, only making one before the 90th minute when earlier subs would have helped
- Reading need to back this point up with other results - ie on Saturday at home to Blackburn Rovers but also in the subsequent trip to Barnsley
With all that said, I’m still delighted by tonight. Reading have surprised me in a good way for a change, and that’s not something I’ve been able to say that much this season. Onwards and upwards.