Cometh the hour
There are fewer better sights than a stoppage-time winner. Fewer still when that winner is away from home in a vital game. Even fewer that the scorer is one of your own. Just when it looked like the Royals had gone full Dingsy to drop yet more points from a winning position, cometh the hour, cometh the fan - Tom McIntyre lurked to benefit from Baba Rahman’s fine cross that was nodded on by Michael Morrison to poke home from six yards.
As important strikes go, this is as big as it gets. No wonder the celebrations will live long in the memory that witnessed this win at Bramall Lane. United’s home form coming into this game had been more than respectable but, as ever in the Championship, anything can happen and yet again it did not fail to deliver.
Without the injured John Swift, Reading needed to adjust (yet again). This time the aforementioned McIntyre was drafted into a holding position in front of the back four with Josh Laurent pushed up to support Lucas Joao. While Laurent’s position is relatively new, Tom had not played in his this season. There is an argument that this could be Tom’s best position in the future; he’s not the biggest for a centre-half and not supremely quick, but he’s fine in the tackle, and reads and breaks up play very well.
Meanwhile, Laurent has found a new lease of life as harrying number 10. Neither changes would likely have happened if Swift were fit, but these alterations have provided more than the projected sum of their parts. A central midfield of Danny Drinkwater, Laurent and McIntyre in theory should work, especially away from home; a tidy venn diagram of a defensive midfielder, a deep playmaker and a box-to-box player, if you will.
Any team without Swift has caused Reading to struggle in the past, but when the wide players play their part as they did, what happens centrally need not have an out-and-out creative focalpoint.
What this win also cured was the abject mental failure in the second half against Cardiff City. There would be no doubting that interim manager Paul Ince would have been furious at the way Reading capitulated in the second half. But as we have seen so often this season, throwing away points from winning positions at home has become a specialist subject.
To rectify this trait away from home is no mean feat either against a side vying for a play-off position. Another sign that, mentally, Ince has strengthened the squad. Peaks and troughs are bound to appear but since his arrived it could be argued that this facet is the one that has improved the most since his appointment.
Yours to lose
If saving Reading from relegation is the audition for Paul Ince to take the managers’ position permanently, then it would appear that it is now his job to lose. While nothing has been confirmed if we read between the lines, then it would appear to be a fait accompli.
Stating that he would be ‘able to say a lot more’ once survival has been assured would suggest that he could be the manager for the next season, at the very least. Upon taking the interim role he surely would have asked the question of “If I keep this team up, then will I be able to continue next season?” There would seem to be little point in dangling a carrot that was never there for him otherwise.
As is often seen, when players or managers sign new deals then momentum can be lost. Ince is still proving his worth, but thus far, it’s hard to argue against the fact he has turned this gargantuan season around. From 7-0 drubbings to currently being fourth in the form table is no mean feat. No wonder that he punched his chest and seemingly proclaimed “this is MY side” after the win. He knows what he’s on the brink of achieving and what it could lead to for another gruelling season. The conversation of what he can do with the squad is for another day.
According to the abacus gurus we now have only 4% chance of relegation. Another win and realistically, a loss of points for any of Derby, Peterborough and Barnsley below and our future is virtually confirmed for another season.
While a home game against Swansea City is no gimme, a win would all but certainly put the final nail in the coffin for the teams that have been in the relegation zone since Big Ben was a small watch.
Should Reading win and Peterborough and Barnsley draw, then Peterborough are down, Barnsley are clinging on by fingernails only. By virtue of the fact that either team will lose points their fates are pretty much sealed either way, regardless. If Derby lose to QPR, then we also cannot be caught if we win or even draw on Easter Monday.
If Reading do not win again this season, it still would require Derby to win all of their remaining fixtures and Reading to gain no more than two points from the remaining four games (when goal difference comes into play). And breathe!
Almost there, almost there.