I don't know about you, but I was expecting a bit of a drubbing going into yesterday’s game. Coming off the back of not just one of the worst results, but one of the worst performances of the season, and going up against arguably the most in-form team in the country was not a proposition I was looking forward to.
My nervousness grew even stronger roughly one hour before kick-off when the teams were released and the home side included the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, David De Gea, Christian Eriksen and Casemiro. *Audible gulp*. It was also so Paul Ince to go with two out-and-out strikers away at Man United after refusing to do it last week at Stoke City. But more of that later.
The game itself followed the pattern you’d very much expect. We don’t have over 40% possession against the likes of Wigan Athletic or Rotherham United so I didn’t expect us to have anything close to that yesterday evening.
What I did expect though was for us to concede a few goals and we all thought that started just after the half-hour mark when Marcus Rashford nodded in the opener... or had he? There was an offside in the build-up and the goal was chalked off. I’ve always thought VAR was a fantastic introduction to the game.
Other than that we actually did really well in the opening 45. We looked organised and managed to thwart, and survive, anything the hosts threw at us. Tom Holmes in particular was superb in the first half.
And then came the chance. To get any kind of result in games like this, you have to take opportunities like the one that fell to Junior Hoilett on the stroke of half-time. A wicked ball in from Baba Rahman found its way to the back post, and after a mistake from Tyrell Malacia the goal was at Hoilett’s mercy.
I don’t think he quite realised how much time he had; he rushed his effort and could only find the legs of David De Gea. I’m not saying we would’ve gone on to win the game if that had gone in - but you just never know, do you?
Barring that missed chance, the first half went as well as any of us could have really hoped for. However, the optimism before the break ended and soon disintegrated in the second half. Within 10 minutes, Casemiro had muscled his way into the box and dinked it over Joe Lumley.
And then five minutes later, the Brazilian had an effort from 30 yards which, via a slight but significant nick off Holmes, found its way into the bottom corner. Playing a five-time Champions League winner and one of the best midfielders of our generation in a fourth-round cup game against little ol’ Reading isn't big or clever, Erik. I hope you’re proud of yourself.
Another calamitous five-minute period followed not long after with Carroll picking up a first yellow card (which I thought was harsh for what its worth) and then putting in a classic Striker’s Tackle™ on Casemiro to get himself an early bath.
Fred quickly added a third with a fancy flick past Lumley and you feared the worst. 20 minutes to go, down to 10 men, it could’ve ended in a cricket score. But credit where credit is due, the players didn’t give up and kept ploughing away. Can you imagine if this club a year ago were in the same situation? It would’ve got ugly.
And we only went and bagged a consolation. A lovely corner from Tom Ince and there was Amadou ‘Cheeseburger’ Mbengue to nod home. And, if Tyrese Fornah had put his shooting boots rather than his take-10-touches-and-give-away-the-ball boots and slotted home that chance, you just never know what might’ve happened.
Overall, I’m really quite alright with how the game went. I expected so much worse. However, there’s still a lot than can be learnt from and improved on.
I’m pretty sure at this point Ince Sr puts the names Ince Jr, Carroll, Joao, Meite and Long in a hat before each game and blindly picks out two of them. One thing’s for sure is that this should be the last time Andy Carroll and Lucas Joao start a game together. One striker who doesn’t run playing with another striker who can't run never works.
And there are other things too. Should Lumley have done better for Casemiro’s second? Maybe. Do I understand people’s frustrations about Ince’s subs? A little. And did Carroll let the team down with his second yellow? Absolutely.
But am I annoyed? No. As I sit here typing this at 1:45am on Sunday morning, I’m really not annoyed. Like I said, I expected so, so much worse. I genuinely thought we’d get embarrassed. But we didn't.
There were some good performances (Tom Holmes and Tom McIntyre were both really impressive), we got a goal and the pints in the concourse were £3. I've had worse days following this football club, that’s for sure.
The clear and obvious gulf in quality made the difference in the end, while Reading teams of the not too distant past would’ve rolled over and got their tummy tickled - but again this team showed they’re made of sterner stuff.