And... breathe. Saturday’s efforts against Barnsley would’ve been for absolutely nothing if we didn’t get a win here tonight. But thankfully, although the performance once more left a lot to be desired, we managed to get over the line and add a vital +3 to our points tally.
The players of course would have known of the significance of this fixture. But for the opening stages they certainly didn't play like they did. They played with a relaxation and confidence that I’ve seen only a handful of times this campaign, and we got our just reward 13 minutes in.
One player who had started the game particularly brightly was Junior Hoilett, who had come in to replace Tom Ince who couldn’t play against his parent club. And Hoilett was the provider for the opener with a sumptuous cross for the Morrison Express to steam in and first produce a worldie save from the Stoke ‘keeper, before bundling home with his shoulder (definitely not his upper arm).
After that though, the performance level started to decrease and bad habits which we’ve seen all too often this season started to creep back in. Passes became sloppy, the tempo dropped and individual errors started to be made.
One man who looked more prone than others to those individual errors was Ovie Ejaria. After a disappointing showing on Saturday, I was praying he could put things right this evening - but it really wasn't his night. At all. He did well to last as long as he did, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hooked for the game against Cardiff City this Saturday.
However, the biggest individual error of them all came from Orjan Nyland who, since arriving on a free transfer, has been really impressive. But Stoke’s leveller tonight was by no means his finest moment. Sawyers struck it with venom, but it was straight at Nyland, who nine times out of 10 makes a comfortable save.
And just like that, after looking fairly comfortable for 44 minutes, we were going into the break one a piece. As we all know, Reading have made a habit of conceding at awful times this season and going on to be dismantled at will, so fans would’ve been forgiven for fearing the worst at half time.
Whilst I’m speaking about individual errors, it would be remiss of me to not mention the players who performed at the other end of the spectrum. Once again, Danny Drinkwater was absolutely superb. He is filling the Andy Rinomhota-shaped hole perfectly and is really showing his Premier League quality when we need it most.
To be honest, at this point, I couldn't care less how he’s performed up to now and whether or not he’s upped his game because he knows he’s going to be after a move this summer. All that matters to me is that he keeps in putting performances like he has done in the last two games. He’s been fantastic.
As has Sir Andy Yiadom. What a player, and what a man. It’s hard to prioritise new deals this summer with so many out of contract, but I’m sure Yids would be in the top two or three for most Reading fans. Mr Reliable and the kind of player you only properly miss when they’re not there anymore. It’s imperative we do everything we can to keep him at the club for next season.
Now, back onto the performance. The second half picked up where the first half had ended unfortunately. It’s almost as if it had sunk in mid-game to the players just how big this match was and how important getting a win was. It wasn’t a horrifically bad performance, but you could just sense that the players were nervy.
The fluidity, confidence and pizzaz from the opening 15 minutes were a distant memory and Reading now looked like a team hovering above the relegation zone. Stoke were starting to grow into the game and dominated the ball for large periods. I fear that, if we were up against a team who had something on the line and something to play for, we could’ve got properly punished.
However, like I said at the beginning, it’s not about performances now. It’s all about results. And just after the hour mark we took back the lead out of nowhere. A John Swift delivery was met by the head of a Stoke City defender who planted it past his own keeper. Despite Joao’s best efforts to convince everyone it was his goal, I don't think the dubious goals panel will be letting him have that one.
Just like that, the ball was back in our court. And as the minutes started to tick by, the gut-wrenching nerves began to grow and grow and grow.
Arguably the biggest thing a team vying for survival needs, besides hard work, attitude and determination, is a big fat load of luck. And by God did we get that tonight.
As the game began to peter out, Stoke’s Jacob Brown somehow found himself with the space of RG2 from a Tyrese Campbell cut-back. However, the visitors' top goalscorer somehow managed to slice it over the bar. Honestly I think Kingsley could’ve scored it. It was a horrendous miss, it really was, but it was a slice of luck that we desperately needed.
And that was that. A monumental three points. I reiterate: if we had come up against a team with something to play for, I seriously question whether I’d be writing about a win now. But hey, I could not care less. We won the game, and that’s all we needed to do. That’s all we need to keep doing. The job is not finished yet, but tonight was a gargantuan step to safety.