After the rather shambolic debacle of the Nottingham Forest defeat, the last thing that the Royals needed was to concede yet another early goal. Whilst we lasted a tad longer than the 17 seconds, it was still another cause to eye-roll at our porous core. That said, it was a fine move and finish to which most defences in this division would also likely concede. Little can be attributed to any failing on our part, for once, it was just a good goal.
However, conceding first is a bad habit and rarely have we overcome many times in recent history. For the remaining nine games this is a terrible trait that Reading can well do without.
More eye-rolling and audible groans would have been noticeable in the away end when Lucas João was substituted to make way for fellow recent returnee Yakou Méïté. With João in fine form recently, and without top scorer and creator John Swift, goals and creativity seemed to be in short supply.
With the clock ticking down, removing João seemed like the worst thing to do. But as Ince Sr explained, his situation, like Méïté’s before him, has to be managed. Speaking from current real-life experience, getting a handle on your breathing during Covid is not an experience you’d wish on many. But for a professional footballer the situation still has to be handled with care. He may be our best and potent goal threat but there are limits when recovering from such an illness that we have to be very mindful of.
The deserved equaliser was pretty unique to Reading this season. Firstly, a rare corner from another recent recoveree, Ovie Ejaria. Secondly, Tom Ince was perfectly placed to receive the clearing header. Thirdly, a sublime finish from the edge of the box.
It was the kind of finish that fans would (and no doubt have) watched again and again. There’s a simple poetry which highlights that when such a goal is made to look easy football can be beautiful again. Ince Jr had a clear picture in his mind of what he wanted to do when the ball arrived at his feet: a deft foot to control the looping ball, followed by a venomous strike that most goalkeepers would flail at. A rare moment of quality, skill and beauty. Chef’s Exquisite Kiss.
Believe to believe
In that one moment, belief rose again. Not just to retrieve a well-earned point but possibly to recover our entire season. With just one kick of a ball, it could be enough to elevate Reading onto greater things. Maybe that’s a bit too grandiose, but the overall performance against one of the league’s leading sides was no fluke.
A result borne out of hard work, defensive shape, offensive improvements and a wonder strike. A total sea change to the crushing defeat just a few days earlier that cause Ince Sr to wonder if his charges did, indeed, have the minerals. From this showing, they could have finally found them.
And so, after two contrasting away games, albeit with only one point to take from either, Reading return to the SCL Stadium to confront Blackburn Rovers. The opposition need not matter, it’s a must-win game for the Royals. With Barnsley now hot on our tails, home is where the heart is and the belief found after an encouraging performance must be continued, otherwise we will drop into the relegation places.
With Derby and Peterborough struggling to reel Reading in, a home win would increase spirits, belief and increase the gap again on those below. Home form has to change and while a draw away from home is not the usual springboard for such revivals, it may be just what we need.