All it needed was three goals. Just three. Three goals that seemed so very improbable after going 4-1 down. We’d been here before, this wasn’t Reading’s first rodeo for falling apart at the seams. What was required to get anything out of this game would be nigh-on impossible. How could a team that did not have the likes of John Swift, Andy Rinomhota, Ovie Ejaria and Tom Holmes pull this off?
Reading rose again they did in as glorious a 25 minutes that we’re ever likely to see; as you do at Easter, if that’s your vibe. This kept alive our healthy gap to <checks table> Peterborough United, who need a similar miracle to now catch us over the course of the three remaining games. Barnsley seem to have only a funeral on the horizon, while Derby County are, alas, no more; rammed into League One.
But HOW did Reading do it? HOW?! In a second half that had it all, everything seemed to happen in a whirlwind. At 4-1, Swansea made changes and why wouldn’t you? The game was finished… right?
Crucially, they removed arguably their best player on the day, Flynn Downes. He had been booked but could equally have been taken off to protect a recent injury. The Swans made another change two minutes before we pulled one goal back via the boot of Tom Ince, stabbing home from yards out. In fact, aside from the penalty from Lucas Joao, all our goals were scored from the combined distance of a few Papa John’s pizza boxes. Russell Martin will not be happy with that. Ho. Ho. Ho.
Our momentum with that goal, coupled with those substitutions, started to change the tide. Our belief grew, we became unafraid to collectively press higher up the field, causing mistakes to be made deep in Swansea territory. The crowd responded in kind, giving it everything. After Joao tucked away our third, it was game on. We could do this. The belief was actually real, not hope, proper belief. To a man they all put in a hell of a shift, that cannot be denied.
Reading have been guilty many times in the past of not going for it even when a goal or two down as we saw against Swansea’s countrymen and best buddies, Cardiff City. But not on this day.
There’s a word in Welsh that can cover many meanings. Hywl can be fun, emotion, passion; we had all of that in spades in those glorious 25 minutes. That hywl from Reading took us from yet another turgid home defeat to one of the best experiences ever within Berkshire’s Finest Seated Bowl.
Such an enormous swing of improbability from being outrageously outplayed at times to unequivocal ecstasty; drink it in, hywl like this is rare. We will fondly look back at this day for many, many years to come. And it was all for just ONE point, but quite possibly the most important point in recent history. For a brief, sublime moment it felt like we have our club back.
For the first time in a very long while, supporting Reading felt good, like, really good again. Leaving the stadium, the tangible buzz was back. Sweet songs surrounded. Talk of Tom McIntyre, Josh Laurent and Tom Ince were not whispers but roars. Walking past abject Swansea fans, absolutely gutted that they and only they threw the result away. Teenagers with their first “My Little Stoney” jumpers on weren’t half as cocky as before kick-off either.
At times this season, winning felt like a happy accident, a relief rather than deserved. Even though the result here was just a draw, this felt so much more of a culmination of everything that has happened to the club this season. From all the uncertainty and desperation, we finally did something monumental. Something bigger than the sum of its parts and it wasn’t even a win.
Ince more with feeling?
Say it quietly, but it’s hard not to attribute this mammoth effort to Paul Ince. We all know that this collection of players has managed to fold like an ill-fitting Primark bedsheet when under pressure, but the recent changes in mentality and results show that his influence is strong. Possibly stronger than we were led to believe.
Even Laurent (who was superb on the day) stated that he’s more likely to sign a new deal if Ince is still in charge. This may have been said at the height of emotion but, in comparison to the body language and tone of what we saw under Veljko Paunovic, this is a huge change in attitude from the players.
A comeback of this magnitude does not merely come from luck or misfortune from the opposition. It’s all instilled and earned. That’s what managers are for. Does Ince deserve the chance? It’s difficult to say that he doesn’t, all things considered.
With safety all but confirmed, it’s no happy accident that he’s moulded this unit (still with many injury worries) into a frantic fighting unit that has taken points from some very good sides in this division, even when outplayed or even when possession is a dirty word.
On this day, the word was hywl. (hoo-ill)