Tom McIntyre turned 10 years old barely a week before Kalifa Cisse and Kevin Doyle scored the goals for a Reading win at Sheffield United in 2008, sparking a long barren run for the Royals at Bramall Lane that TMac himself ended in the most dramatic of circumstances almost 14 years later.
How this Good Friday winner came about is almost incidental. Away wins, particularly late ones, will always spark pandemonium in the away end. But this one was something different.
Reading rocked up in South Yorkshire on Good Friday nervously peering over their shoulder at a relegation zone with the Blades thinking of an immediate return to the Premier League, having not lost in 12 home games while only conceding two goals along the way. What happened next was part away-day masterclass and part Championship madness.
Any fears of a fresh rollover on the road, a la QPR or Nottingham Forest, were not peaked by the early stages as a surprisingly even tone began to turn the Royals’ way. After 17 minutes, the newly no10’d Josh Laurent released Lucas Joao who barrelled a right-footed effort past Wes ‘Not the No1’ Foderingham and into the roof of the net. The away end lept in delirium, Joao’s Steel City history a mere footnote in the moment.
Joao should have made it two shortly after Tom Ince and Laurent had maintained the momentum and threatened from good positions. The striker was released by Ovie Ejaria and clipped the far post after a trademark twist-and-turn in the box created a glorious opening.
United were unnervingly quiet, not quite Cardiff City first-half bad but comfortably second best and obviously capable of improvement. Fortunately, any swipe from the Blades was met with a steely Reading shield, blocks flying in left right and centre from Michael Morrison, Tom Holmes and McInytre, the latter in midfield and thus a useful asset at balls into the box.
The start of the second half should have been a terrifying spectacle from the away end, virtually at pitch level and where all action at the far end becomes instantly more worrisome by simple force of perspective. And yet, the home team just didn’t do much.
Reading settled in nicely and there was a sense, as Ince flashed a ball across the face of goal in a short spell of solid counter attacks, that… maybe everything would be alright. Even if United got back into it, if there was enough time - maybe that wouldn’t be that.
A large stretch of the second half passed by without incident. Turning around to check the scoreboard, suddenly the game was at 80 minutes and the Blades spat out the odd reasonable chance but hardly drew Orjan Nyland into any substantial activity. Perhaps it was all a little too easy as Reading took their eye off the ball and an equaliser was squeezed home.
A roar went up around the ground for kick-off as the play-off-chasing hosts smelt a late comeback win on an off-day. Maybe a point, a worthy result at the start of the day, was something Reading would have to convince ourselves was an acceptable outcome.
Reading won a free-kick and the first thing to note was that it was a good delivery. Good. We like good deliveries, things can happen from them. Then Morrison won the knockdown. Enter McIntyre. A Doyle-esque dart lost his man and a stabbed finish burst the sound barrier in the away end. Had he not been a footballer, the Reading born-and-bred defender would have been one of those in the lower tier at Bramall Lane rushing, jumping and barking in utter ecstasy at a victory shocked back into life.
The final whistle came and the barren run had ended. The dreaded dotted line dropped further away. Reading fans should soon be able to wave goodbye to any League One woes for another summer. Maybe, just maybe, everything will be alright in the end.