There may be a statistician somewhere that can answer if Reading have ever won directly after being defeated on more than four occasions in a season, but it is fast becoming a feature of this rollercoaster of a campaign. This time, after Paul Ince had likely berated his team after a timid and shapeless performance against Sunderland, they pulled off another miracle away from home.
Wigan did prove to be the perfect team to provide that tonic going into the international break. An identikit Championship team chock full of bang-average players with the personality of a cream cracker. Yet to win at home, Wigan were there for the taking if Reading chose to turn up, and for the first 45 minutes it seemed that both teams were thinking of some beach in Dubai (that neither would likely actually end up at).
But Tom Ince’s gloriously placed free kick brought the points home to Berkshire and leave us third going into October. Yet, before that, it was a performance that looked fearful, bland, tense. At times keeping the ball was nigh on impossible, much like against Sunderland but without the devastating result. But a win is a win. Baffling, truly baffling.
There would be nothing that Ince would have wanted more than to go into the break with a win (and accruing no more injuries). What he probably wouldn’t have anticipated is that we would sit with 18 points in the bag and in pure nose-bleed territory in the table. If 40 points is an immediate target, then Reading are well on their way to achieving that.
Where 12 to 15 wins should be enough to keep the wolves from the door, having obtained a fair chunk of those wins already bodes well. With a scratch team that has had to play week in week out with almost the same personnel, that’s a huge credit to all concerned.
Nobody is thinking of play-offs or anything remotely fanciful (even after the win, Baba Rahman tweeted that we’re staying up). The target is still just to survive in this league. That said, the Championship is a wild, wild division – statistically, this time last season we were in a very similar position to now with five wins and five losses and look what happened after that! It’s not quite yet time to get carried away.
While the performances have been patchy at best, from the sublime of the heavy-metal pressing destruction of Blackburn Rovers to the abject humbling by Sunderland, in-between those points, Reading have still found the capability to grind out results.
Against Wigan they showed a huge lack of intention from the get-go. The internal mantra appeared to be don’t lose, don’t lose, don’t lose - as if the manager had stated in no uncertain terms that he didn’t want to have his next few days spoiled by another defeat.
But, to their credit, once the winning goal was scored, we defaulted back to the solid, stoic, sh*thousing team that we’re growing to love. With no shots on target against, it was a result that was ultimately deserved and should have been put to bed with either the header from Ince (dad didn’t fancy him to score anyway!) or via Yakou Meite’s weak effort.
Whilst we should never be a club to say that we should be beating teams like Wigan, we really should have beaten Wigan and, in the end, we did just that.
Whilst Tom Ince, yet again, will take all the plaudits for his winning goal and another gut-busting display, a huge amount of credit must go to Sam Hutchinson too. Shifted into central midfield to replace the struggling Mamadou Loum, Sam has showed his versatility and experience to great effect.
After shuffling the pack to move Andy Yiadom back into central defence, Junior Hoilett to right wing-back and Baba Rahman to left wing-back, it all seemed very reminiscent of a selection by former boss Veljko Paunovic. For all those movements, it was Hutchinson’s that proved to be the most decisive in a position that had proven to be a tad difficult to pin down for the Royals this season.
For many seasons we have missed such a player who can shift from defence to midfield seamlessly without us suffering in the process. He also provides a huge amount of experience and has the know-how to guide the younger players around him which is sorely needed, too. Sam is already proving to be a fine addition to the squad.
Arguably, for the first time this season, our bench looked relatively strong considering the bench from our first game of the season.
Blackpool: Bouzanis, Abrefa, Leavy, Scott, Jahmari Clarke, Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan, Long.
Wigan: Bouzanis, Mbengue, Loum, Guinness-Walker, Craig, Meite, Carroll.
Aside from debutant Mbengue (who showed some promise in his opening appearance) and Michael Craig, there’s a fair amount of experience to call upon. The attacking options of Meite and the second coming of the messiah, Andy Carroll, are hugely welcome.
Hopefully, after the international break, we will have the likes of Ovie Ejaria, Naby Sarr and Shane Long returning, Andy Carroll will have had more time to integrate (again) and get fitness into those very capable legs (again).
All things considered, most would bite your hands off to be where we are. Potentially, could there be better to come or at least better performances? It’s a tall order but Reading are well placed to further be bolstered with the options available to them before the next batch of games leading up to the
Winter Olympics World Cup.