Long time coming
The thronging massive had waited and waited and finally the fans at home saw the hero return… and how! Aside from the awful start, Reading and Shane Long grew into the game. His penalty set the tone for the rest of the match, but you could see how he has learned and polished his craft since he had left us; who knew that he had sh*thousery and dark arts in his locker?
While not having the pace he once had, he was still a huge pest for the Cardiff defence with subtle nudges here and there, eking out free kicks in useful positions and generally being a nightmare to defend against with his positioning and calmness. His presence alone was enough to keep the defence honest at all times.
To his huge credit, he lasted 80 minutes despite not yet being fully fit. All things considered, it was fine return home.
Usually, I avoid writing about the officials. It’s a thankless task that none of us would dare do, but sometimes an event happens that defies any logic. Tom Ince was taken down, nay, wrestled by Curtis Nelson. In any given game this happens when the defender is clearly the last man and a “goalscoring opportunity” beckons, nine times out of ten a penalty is awarded and the offender is sent off. No quibbling.
The notion that he was not likely to shoot is simply baffling. Tom is left-footed, so he was veering towards his favoured foot, not away from it. Whether the referee subconsciously figured that he wouldn’t shoot because he was right-footed mistakenly is a huge assumption, but surely this shouldn’t come into question?
The rules aren’t dependent on if the player is good enough to score with his left foot! Even if it were his weaker foot, there’s a fairly good chance that he would have scored nonetheless. In the end, no harm, no foul I guess, but still, a very infuriating decision.
When Tom Ince signed/re-signed for Reading in the summer it was met with an acceptance as a fait accompli that when Ince Snr had signed on, it was almost nailed on that Tom would follow. His signing had almost fallen under the radar but it’s important to remember what Ince gives, game in, game out – huge amounts of energy.
He was man of the match by quite some distance, capped off by a superb strike that was worthy of winning any game, but his general play and pressing really set the tone for our recovery. He never stopped. At the full-time whistle he slunk to the turf in exhausted exhilaration.
He typifies the kind of mentality we will need to survive this season: be strong, be committed, never say die. And, to their credit, to a man the rest of the team are following. This may not be enough in some games, but it will give us a fighting chance in many.
What has been very evident is that Paul Ince has set out some, dare I say it, “non-negotiables” (copyright V Paunovic) and they would be to have a solid shape and good defensive line. While we’re not going to have the most talented defence or even the fittest squad, what Ince and his coaches have instilled is a new organisation and work ethic. There are no passengers here, everyone must work hard and work for each other, and we saw that in spades on Saturday.
No doubt the recruitment in the summer has also highlighted that ethic also. Could we have signed talented players that don’t have that ethic? Possibly, but you can’t help but feel that some of the triallists were let go due them not having the right mentality for Ince. We wouldn’t have won this game against Cardiff without everyone pulling in the same direction, without a shadow of a doubt.
And finally, us! Ince mentioned in his post-match summary that we deserve some credit as we never got on the players’ backs and that we understood the situation at the club. While the players must have a siege mentality, so do the fans. It was noticeable that after Cardiff’s goal there was no panic or booing from the stands. There may have been the thought of “Oh, here we go again”, but there is a growing warmth to the current bunch of players.
They themselves are showing a resilience and togetherness that the fans love to see - something that has been missing for many recent seasons. The Shane Long factor will be helping this without doubt, but to see the fans appreciate a very hard-earned three points with a threadbare squad is a beautiful sight to behold. You love to see it.