Laurels for Laurent
A new hero has emerged from the flaming ruins of a season in the frame of an unlikely match-saver: Josh Laurent. He’s delivered ‘single-handledly’ four points after his winner against Blackburn Rovers and now this vital stroke home from six yards. Aside from the finish he came alive when moved into the more advanced position behind Lucas João. Reading needed more impetus in attack and he provided the energy to harry the tiring Barnsley defence.
Without Andy Rinomhota, the link from midfield to the final third needs to be filled and Josh has all the attributes to do that similar role. Interim manager Paul Ince indicated that he could well start in the role against Stoke City and, on this second-half showing, it would be no surprise.
Drink it in
It’s been a long time coming, but finally the £100k-a-week man finally put in the man-of-the-match performance that we had expected to come an awful lot sooner. Danny Drinkwater had the drive and intensity that many of his compatriots did not have in the first half. Between him and fellow loanee, Tom Ince, only they seemed to grasp the gravity of the situation.
A feature of Drinkwater’s game has been his high-risk tackling to steal the ball and thus it was to be here, many times. His tenacity to win the ball in crucial areas broke up Barnsley attacks and kept us in with a shout. While we have seen similar performances before from Drinkwater, they were also littered with errors and those were largely eradicated here. It’s a shame that we hadn’t seen this kind of performance sooner. However, it will sadly blend in like a spit in the rain of a largely disappointing season from the Chelsea man.
Despite the rest of the team gelling and growing, the left side of the starting XI has failed to follow suit. Simply put, Tom McIntyre isn’t a left back and Ovie Ejaria seems out of love with craft. Whilst none can fault McIntyre’s efforts in a role where he is by no means adept or a natural, it’s not a position that he seems to enjoy or able to flourish in; he’s just a defensive body in a defensive position. That said, he did put in a crucial stop at the death – that’s just pure defending.
Because Tom is not a natural there, the link-up between he and Ovie exacerbates the lack of form in the latter. Maybe the ‘tippy-tappy crap’ has been beaten out of him, but he seems the shadow of a man who has bedazzled fans with his close-control wizardry. It’s hard to pin down what the problem is; is it physical, after recovering from Covid, or mental? As ever with Ejaria, he’s such a hard player to read. Is he just carrying out the manager’s instruction? Is he happy playing on the left? Is he happy at all? Maybe the return of Baba Rahman from injury can flick the switch in Ovie to bring him to life.
Smells like team spirit
Despite every adversity known to man, this vital point brought Reading one game closer to the biggest sigh of relief in the club’s history. Efforts will still need to be doubled in the remaining games but it’s worth reminding ourselves of where we are. We’re still a mish-mash of players cobbled together to be more than our requisite parts. For every player that’s returned, we’ve lost another (or even the same players all over again).
A defence that’s a jumble of youth with some attacking verve on one side, but not on the other. In the middle, the old head of Michael Morrison, who at times looks like a boxer who’s gone on a few fights too many, combined with Tom Holmes who has everything in front of him. The splash of loan players (who have remarkably stayed fit) and lack of back-up striker adds to the whack-a-mole availability of the squad this season. Mind-bogglingly Reading!
Home sweet home?
Our next two games are at home at the SCL, whilst Barnsley’s next two games are away from Oakwell. Potentially, these sets of fixtures could well define the final order of the season. Two wins against the cities of Stoke and Cardiff could, would and should see off Barnsley (and Derby) unless they achieve some gargantuan results away from home where they have won only once and drawn just four times.
All things being more perfect than beer in hand on a summer’s day after a lottery win, that would put Reading 11 points clear with 15 points left to play for. Very much easier said than done, granted, but we are a couple of wins from safety. It’s as simple as that, but also anything but simple to achieve.