If you’re a neutral reader, you may have written Reading off in early July, and then checked out of paying attention to them before pre-season was over. It might then be surprising to you to see the Royals’ paper-thin squad sitting in third place after five matches played. To be fair to you, it’s a little surprising to us too.
Before the season began, many Reading fans were bracing for 2022/23 as though we were bracing for impact. We were in defensive positions early, making it very clear how happy we’d be with simply staying up given our circumstances.
Now, the mood is jubilant. There are concerns around certain aspects of our prospects going forward, and I don’t know a single Reading fan who thinks we’ll finish the season in third. However, the overwhelming feeling is that there’s a lot to enjoy about this Reading side right now.
The unlikely re-emergence of the Inces
As a January loan swap for Liam Moore, Tom Ince seemed a useful pickup and good depth for our squad, though there were understandable concerns his best days were behind him.
When Paul Ince arrived as “co-manager” less than three weeks later, worries of best days being in the past became overwhelming. Here were Reading in a relegation fight, and the club had hired a manager who hadn’t coached a professional football match in almost a decade.
Deep into a late-season away fixture against Bournemouth, fans got on the back of Paul Ince as Reading looked to be slipping to another costly loss. Some called for Tom Ince to be replaced.
Then in a whip-crack turnaround, Ince Jr unleashed a moment of brilliance to rejuvenate his loan spell and save a vital point in the relegation battle.
Since that time, Ince Sr has been a huge part in something of a remarkable turnaround in club atmosphere in the past six months. His tenure has proven to be a relatively stable spell for Reading and has even created excitement in the fanbase for the heart in the team, regardless of the overall squad strength.
Meanwhile, Tom Ince has cracked on and become a hardworking and vital cog in the Reading squad’s machine, providing memorable moments at both ends of the pitch. It’s difficult to imagine the squad without Ince Jr’s effort. Meanwhile, Paul Ince has shown that he can still do a job as a manager.
Reading under the Inces have had horror moments, and there are things Ince Sr needs to sort out. The team has collapsed once too many times away from home under his watch. But for all that, his win percentage of 35% is in line with brighter spells in his career, and if stretched across the course of the season, should be just about enough to keep us up again. Despite escalating expectations, that will be success for both Inces.
Tyrese Fornah’s development
Ahead of the season, Reading’s only acquisitions in central midfield boasted markedly different careers to date. Jeff Hendrick, on loan from Newcastle United, was unsurprisingly out of the new owners’ plans for the Premier League club, but the seasoned international had spent several years in the top flight ahead of his switch back to the Championship with the Royals.
Fornah meanwhile had appeared in fewer than 100 professional matches and played just six Championship minutes. He’d never scored a professional goal (more on that later) and hadn’t yet stuck in a squad for more than one season.
This and Hendrick’s play in preseason gave the impression that Hendrick would be the standout central midfielder for Reading in the early stages. However, it now seems as though the Irish International will be the one looking over his shoulder when our injury crisis abates.
Both new arrivals had a shaky start in Blackpool, struggling to get into the game as Reading started their season slowly. When Mamadou Loum arrived and immediately started making a difference, it appeared Fornah’s days in the first XI might be numbered.
And yet, five matches in, Fornah has developed nicely into a confident-in-possession player who finds ways to solve problems on the field.
His first professional goal, a corker to win the game against Boro, nicely encapsulated and capped off how Fornah’s confidence has surged in recent matches.
Possessed of a defensive fortitude but now exhibiting a willingness and drive to get forward, Fornah’s contribution could continue to grow throughout this season, and should be exciting to watch!
The left foot of Tom McIntyre
A cultured peg. A wand. Whatever superlative you want to call it, Tom McIntyre’s left foot deserves it. His all-round play has come with a few errors this season, but he’s shown desire to improve and his creative play often makes up for it.
His passes from deep to our pacey wide players have led to chances for the Royals, as they’ve frequently released Andy Yiadom, Junior Hoilett and others down the wing in dangerous starting positions. Both of those players are excellent at getting into the opposition box, and providing them with more chances to do so is massively valuable to upping the tempo of Reading’s attack.
More helpfully though, McIntyre’s passing range has given us another option for breaking out of a determined press. Replacing the move-starting potential of a deep double pivot can be tricky, but McIntyre seems born to play the LCB role, and makes up for a lot of that missing creativity.
Under numerous recent managers, Reading have been overly devoted to playing out from the back. This tactic, almost universal in modern football, is a far better alternative to long goal kicks when it comes to managing game state and displacing opposition players to create opportunities.
That said, it comes with dangers, especially at this level. Not every team is possessed of cultured passers in their backline, and players who can make confident and smart passing decisions while under pressure. This can lead to opportunities being created high up the pitch by the coinciding growing use of pressing in the game.
McIntyre is the perfect press-beating player. He’s capable of making smart short passes to relieve immediate pressure. But he’s also capable of spotting when it’s time to get it clear, and crucially can do more than just spank it away ready to be returned to a deep-sitting backline.
If teams want to pressure us to release the ball early up the middle, then you need line-breaking passers to negate that press. McIntyre, while still learning the defensive side, is that passer.