If Reading were an adolescent, they certainly have shown their tumultuous mood swings over the last two fixtures. A horrific shambles of a performance at Rotherham United versus this vibrant, spiky, confident spanking of the league leaders. Not in my living memory (and that’s a long, long time) could two performances, score lines and attitudes could be so wildly contrasting.
From the first whistle to the last, the application of the game plan was on the money. Whatever Paul Ince has been trying to instil since his arrival finally clicked into place. It genuinely was a beautiful thing to see. To a man, everyone was on the same page, they all knew their roles and they fitted within a framework. Nothing felt out of place or awkward; finally, we saw a well-oiled machine and not a clunky spluttering jalopy trying to coax itself into life. This was pure heaven.
Of all the most pleasing aspects of the win wasn’t just the final score, but how it was achieved, via probably the single best showing of pressing that we’ve witnessed at the SCL - a showing that Jurgen Klopp would have been proud of. From the first whistle we gave Rovers not a second of peace. From the front to the back, the Royals were strong, committed, annoying and combative.
Rarely before have we seen a Reading team execute the mental side of the game so faultlessly. The intensity rarely wavered; any time Blackburn had the ball in their own third, a Reading player would be chomping at the bit. Time after time the turnovers kept on coming. Blackburn had no answers to the siege mentality of winning the ball back at every opportunity. This was pure heaven.
Underpinning this superb team performance was a midfield that finally functioned well. Not just well, but unparalled. Blackburn manager Jon Dahl Tomasson panicked at half time and tried to shuffle the pack with Bradley Dack and two others, but he barely featured – he was possibly most notable for digging out Brereton-Diaz for spunking yet another shot over or around the woodwork. The latter eventually was substituted late on after a pretty dreadful performance. But enough about them, our midfield was an absolute joy. Tyrese Fornah, Jeff Hendrick and Mamadou Loum easily had easily their best performances in the hoops.
In Fornah, we saw a performance that belied his years. Confident, tenacious, unafraid - truly finding his feet after a somewhat rocky start. Via Fornah in the corner as he took on two Rovers defenders, robbing one of them to deliver an easy assist for Lucas Joao to score in his usual Matrix-like shapeshifting fashion. Despite being a loanee, he showed that he is truly invested by rousing the fans in both halves. You love to see it.
In Loum, we have a player that fans are sure to be falling deeply, deeply in love with. Whilst he’s still settling into life as Royal, it is clear that he’s a cut above, the real deal. Rarely have we seen Reading bully the midfield - this wasn’t ‘weak as p*ss’, this was top drawer, and Mama killed a man time and time again. His power and tenacity never stopped coming, even getting booked in the 95th minute when the game was done and dusted. This was pure heaven.
What was also pleasing was not just the performance on the field, but also off it. Maybe because it wasn’t a thousand degrees outside, maybe because the crowd did not expect too much, maybe the fanbase are coming around to the idea that we are going to have some bad days, but we are slowly turning performances and the club in general around, it felt relaxed in the SCL. Leading up to the game, most would have accepted a defeat, begrudgingly, but given Blackburn’s start to the season and a 4-0 whooping in the rearview mirror, nobody would have foreseen this result or performance.
But by the time the game had kicked off there was a fizz in the air, a bit of electricity that wasn’t just from the thunderous clouds above. The positivity was still flowing despite what had gone before. Aside from some ultras from the 1970s in the John Madejski Stand trotting out ironic cheers for not conceding a goal as the clock hit the 10-minute mark, the atmosphere had a feeling that had long since been lost: optimism, passion, praise for every tackle won, every move broken up, even when little things didn’t quite go right. This was pure heaven.
Never say Dai
With owner Dai Yongge in attendance, Reading finally delivered a performance that felt worthy of his investment. He would not have witnessed many wins in person, but not many of us fans would have seen such a comprehensive, savvy, controlled, complete win as this. It was smart, committed, unified - everything that we’ve seen happen to us many times before, but this time it was US asking all the questions.
This will be the template for future performances, Ince will insist on that. The evidence is now clear that they can compete, that they can create and be solid at the same time. That despite being written off as an unprofessional shambles of a club, we’re capable of hitting new heights once again.
It was just one game, we can’t forget that, we all know that this could just be an exquisite blip, a diamond in a mountain of coal, it could even be for one night only. But this was pure heaven.