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Wigan Athletic 0-1 Reading: Ugly Wins Still Taste Sweet

The Royals bounce back from Wednesday's embarrassment with a solid 1-0 at Wigan.

Simeon Pickup

The last time the Royals came to Wigan - in November 2019 - there was no shortage of drama. Reading pulled off one of the most thrilling and unexpected comebacks in recent years, with George Puscas grabbing the headlines via a marvellous late hat-trick.

Today was a far cry from that match. The contest was largely unentertaining and often low on quality, it was decided by just the one goal, and there was no last-gasp plot twist akin to Puski's. But that'll still do us just fine.

This was an ugly win on the road with Reading far from at their best. Today won't go down as one of the Royals' best performances so far, let alone across the course of the season.

But what we did manage was the basics - defensive organisation, focus and game management - to grind out a fourth clean sheet of the season. And they were capped off with a moment of pure quality from the left boot of Tom Ince, curling a gorgeous free kick over the wall and past the goalkeeper, to seal a big three points.

So, overall, solid but unspectacular. This performance was good enough for a win today, although it would have been punished by better opposition.

Still, in the context of Reading's last game, the display looks very commendable indeed. The Royals have once again under Paul Ince bounced straight back from a heavy defeat - in this case Wednesday's 3-0 home loss to Sunderland.

While we're already used to Reading reacting well in such circumstances (a two-edged sword if ever there was one), seeing the positive side of the trend continue is heartening. The next step is preventing the need to bounce back in the first place.

The afternoon started with Reading naming a pretty odd XI. Paul Ince didn't have many options in his squad to change things up after Wednesday, so made just one alteration: Baba Rahman came in for Mamadou Loum. You'd have thought that would mean the back three staying as it was, just with the midfield and potentially attack changed.

Nope. It actually prompted a wider reshuffle: Sam Hutchinson into Loum's anchor spot, Junior Hoilett to right wing back, with Andy Yiadom and Tom Holmes shunting across in the back three that also included Tom McIntyre. While noone was strictly speaking out of position, the following were in spots that aren't their best: Hoilett, Yiadom, Holmes and Hutchison. That's a bold response to shipping three in midweek, and seemed to have been done just to accommodate Hutchinson replacing Loum in the middle.

The changes neither backfired nor obviously worked in a pretty dull first half. Reading and Wigan largely cancelled each other out, with neither side consistently threatening. However, Jeff Hendrick put a close-range effort over and Josh Magennis nodded a header wide just afterwards; both players should have scored.

Credit where it's due though, one tactical change did work quite well: Hoilett and Yiadom at right wing-back and right centre-back respectively. It's something that's worked well for Reading offensively previously and created our best openings in today's first half, including that one for Hendrick. Hoilett has the ability to take a man on individually and put crosses in, while Yiadom adds energy on the overlap.

Still, Reading needed to take things up a few gears going forwards after the break. With Yakou Meite and Andy Carroll on the bench, that could be achieved with alterations at some point.

With no changes at half time though, either in personnel or shape, the Royals remained in a low gear. There was some improvement going forwards and Tom McIntyre should have converted a low Hoilett cross, but it wasn't enough. Reading needed new ideas up top.

...or not. Tom Ince had other ideas, first winning a free kick in a dangerous position with a strong run forwards and then converting it. He had no right to beat the goalie there, but he expertly bent the ball over the wall and under the bar to send the away fans behind the goal into raptures.

That shouldn't have been that. Reading had quality chances to extend the lead, with Ince nodding a McIntyre cross over from a few yards out (heading the ball down into the ground and up) and substitute Meite putting his effort straight at the keeper when played straight through.

Better opposition would have probably punished Reading for such sloppiness. However, although Wigan threatened in the second half (responding positively immediately after the goal), Joe Lumley wasn't properly tested. That's a credit to Reading's resolve, game management and utterly shameless timewasting, which collectively got the side over the line in a tight contest.

Doing so was vital. While Reading's form this season would still have been impressive regardless of what happened today, going into the international break on two negative results would have put a sour note on things. A battering by Sunderland, in conjunction with defeat at Wigan - or even just dropping two points late on - would have left us feeling as if so much hard work had been undone.

Instead, we can look back on the first stage of the season positively: six wins, a narrow loss at Blackpool and three really bad off days. If we'd been offered those results before the start of the season, we'd have taken them gladly.