High: Matching the promotion hopefuls (October 4)
October wasn’t a great month for Reading results-wise, containing just two wins and a draw in seven matches. I was tempted to go for one of those two victories - probably the 3-1 over Huddersfield Town as it featured Yakou Meite’s first goal in a long while - but both that game and the Bristol City one were fairly standard home wins.
The point at which Reading really elevated themselves was a 1-1 draw with Norwich City. It had looked to be a daunting fixture ahead of kick-off, considering that the Canaries were promotion hopefuls and had recently been in the Premier League, but the Royals rose to the challenge.
Akin to the Blackburn Rovers victory, it was an uncharacteristically proactive and aggressive pressing display that allowed Reading to cause the visitors problems. Although it didn’t end in three points, which would have been deserved, Reading did seal a creditable point thanks to Jeff Hendrick’s second-half equaliser.
Low: Collapsing at Swansea (October 18)
That draw with Norwich - at the end of a long run of impressive form - had kept the Royals third in the table. However, the next three matches were when Reading fell away into mid-table, with the Royals losing to Queens Park Rangers, West Bromwich Albion and Swansea City. The last of those three defeats was undoubtedly the worst of the bunch - and arguably the most frustrating game of this season so far.
Just over half an hour in, the match was going so well for Reading. Yakou Meite and Tom Ince had put the Royals into a 2-0 lead, albeit one which was very much against the run of play. However, Reading would then collapse by conceding in the 41st, 60th and 74th minutes to lose 3-2.
It was an uncharacteristically poor show of game management. Reading were far too passive and sloppy in how they attempted to see that lead out; you could tell in real time that a turnaround was on its way. Blowing a two-goal lead was reminiscent of the 2021/22 Reading - not the savvier 2022/23 side which we’d started to get used to.
Low: Friday Night Frights (again) (November 4)
Not content with one naff Friday night defeat being broadcast live on Sky Sports this season, Reading endured another. The Royals had already lost 2-1 at QPR in early October, putting in a below-par performance and completely blowing a 1-0 lead late on due to a sloppily conceded penalty. The next time we had a Saturday match moved forward a day, it didn’t go much better.
Reading were pretty abject in this 2-1 loss to Preston North End. The lack of attacking endeavour was frustrating, not even properly rectified by triple sub on the hour mark, and two moments of slack defending in the second half consigned the Royals to another home defeat.
High: An away turnaround of our own (November 12)
Just under a month after that collapse at Swansea, Reading headed north to Hull City in the final match before the winter World Cup. The Royals were in need of a positive result after a run of three defeats and one draw in the previous four matches; going into a month-long break on the back of another loss would have compounded Reading’s problems.
What we saw at Hull was the epitome of a ‘result > performance’ match. Reading laboured through the contest and looked more like losing it than winning it, particularly in the second half, but sealed the points in dramatic late fashion. In front of the away end, substitute Andy Carroll nodded a set piece back into the danger area and the ball was deflected in. A bizarre but still perfect conclusion.
Let’s be honest, in the grander scheme of things this game wasn’t that much of a high. Reading have played better this season and lost or drawn; the performance at Hull was largely as flat and uninspiring as what we’d seen before. But still, the nature of the result was still hugely commendable: Reading don’t often come from behind to win, particularly on the road, so it’s special when we manage it.
Low: Ovie Ejaria excluded for discipline breach (December 8)
Fortunately Reading didn’t have many lows in December and lost just one game - a 3-2 defeat at Birmingham City. That was my original pick for this entry, but I eventually settled instead on something that happened off the pitch: Ovie Ejaria being excluded from the winter training trip to Tenerife. As Paul Ince said at the time:
“The thing is with Ovie [Ejaria], we are all in it together and we all have to be part of it. We’re all fighting to try and keep this team in the league. If you’re not part of it, then there’s a problem. Ovie’s a great kid, he trains well all the time but discipline-wise, you can’t do that.
“Our team is about discipline and respect and if you don’t do that, then you won’t go to Tenerife. Now he is back training and you’ve got to learn from those mistakes because the message is clear here.”
This event was the latest, starkest point of decline for a player who’d once been so lauded by fans for his eye-catching ability. Whatever the breach of discipline was, the fact that it was severe enough to prompt a strong response from the manager says all you need to know. At this point it’s hard to see Ejaria making a significant positive contribution for the club again.
High: ‘Ding won merrily on Sky (December 27)
Reading started their 2022 home games with a frustrating draw at home to Derby County (which was still good enough by January’s standards to be considered a high) and ended them with a huge three points against Swansea City. In the first case the Royals dropped a two-goal advantage but in the latter that same lead was maintained - a nice representation of how game management has improved over the course of 2022.
Andy Carroll stuck before the break and Tom Ince doubled the Royals’ advantage in the second half after Yakou Meite had blazed a penalty into the night sky. Despite a Swansea fight-back late on, which was enough to halve the deficit, Reading saw out the result. The Royals certainly weren’t at their best against the Swans, but they were able to channel the grittiness, solidity and efficiency which had proved so key to securing wins at home in the first half of 2022/23.
We had a few added bonuses too. The result made up for the October collapse (to an extent), while Joe Lumley had great fun at full-time winding up the away fans and even Swansea City manager Russell Martin. Never change Joe, never change.