Well, well, well, who’d have thought it? Tinpot FC at the summit! Drink it in people, this is a joyous moment – and it will be just for a moment as we all know this can’t be sustained longer term. But just for a while we can look back and be really proud of what has been achieved in such a short space of time.
We are only six games into the season and being top of the league doesn’t mean squat in the great scheme of things, but if any team wins four games out of six in any run of games, that’s a fantastic return by any measure.
Paul Ince and his staff can take all the credit after being much maligned by the media for not being able to manage after an eight-year absence – what nonsense he has made of that!
For the first time in forever (sing it with me!), Reading had the option of mixing things up a little. Naby Sarr took his place in central defence, Tom McIntyre was moved out to left-wing-back and Lucas Joao replaced Shane Long who definitely needed a rest. On paper, the defensive changes caused concern as dropping Sarr into the fray for his first game away from home could be seen as risky, but more so was putting McIntyre into a position where he’s never going to truly excel.
But, as we are getting used to seeing, Reading adapted – we made it work. Tom didn’t carry out much of what a traditional wing-back would do, but it most certainly was the plan. Kudos to Ince for taking the risks to make the changes yet still make them work to very good effect.
Almost overnight it seems we’ve turned into an absolute behemoth of a unit. The core of Tom Holmes, Sam Hutchinson, Naby Sarr and Mamadou Loum, added with the discipline and nous of Andy Yiadom, means we now look to be rather formidable and strong. Rarely have we seen a line-up that looked HUGE physically. For seasons we have appeared weak with a midfield that could have been punched through like a wet paper bag, but not now. Even the slightly slighter players – McIntyre, Tyrese Fornah, Jeff Hendrick and Tom Ince – all put themselves about; there are no shrinking violets here.
Again, to Ince’s credit, he has toughened up the side to be resolute and hard to beat. Three clean sheets after shipping four in one game cannot be underestimated. Much is often made of how hard the Championship is, but now we have a physical unit that matches that requirement.
Suddenly, we now look the part. That’s not to say we won’t still have bad days, but Reading have morphed into something tougher and nastier. Wins against us won’t be a pushover like it was against Rotherham United, which seems to have been a true watershed moment. Ever since then, the pieces have slipped into place like an oily jigsaw!
As if plucked from a movie script, the long-awaited arrival of Naby Sarr delivered the most perfect of performances. It seemed the transfer would end in failure as the delays kept on coming with the requirement to offload George Puscas being requisite to register Naby. On the other hand, it has given him plenty of time to train with the team and do everything bar pull on the shirt in anger.
After that frustrating wait, what a way to make your appearance – a debut goal, a fine performance full of blocks and clearances; it was like he’d never been away. He slotted into the back three (which was the third different back three in three games) and completely looked the part. The weeks of watching, learning and adapting had truly paid off.
The most pleasing of outcomes need not be pretty to watch. After seasons of watching what, at times, was pretty with some outstanding moments of skill and individuality, there’s more pleasure to be found in seeing a team beginning to blossom.
Restricting the home side to one shot on target and generally performing like other teams always seem to against us, it was very satisfying to see a performance away from home that had all the hallmarks of all the planning, hard work and tenacity uniting. This win encompassed that this didn’t need a Man of The Match (it was Sarr), but the team as a whole deserved the honours.
We are now exhibiting organisation, togetherness and professionalism. The game management of when and how to draw fouls, being smart when the game requires it – all these things we have rarely seen over the last few seasons has improved dramatically. We are learning how to win ugly, and ugly wins are beautiful.
Top of the League. *chef’s kiss*