There’s simply no way to sum up how I’m feeling right now. Euphoria, bliss, ecstasy, elation... none of those words quite get across just how perfectly the sensation of pure joy hits home when you’ve just seen your team win a league away game for the first time in 378 days.
It’s been a long time coming, to put it mildly. For a year and a fortnight, playing away from home has - with the exception of some special nights in the cup - been a forlorn hope. I’ve lost track of the sheer number of painful moments and miserable journeys home I’ve had to endure since Reading last took three league points on the road. Batterings, late collapses, entire matches without even managing a shot on target: we’ve seen it all.
Today was different though, today that all changed, today I’m over the moon.
Reading could have scrappily ground out an ugly, lucky 1-0, I wouldn’t have cared. None of us would. The result was all that counted, all we’ve been craving for months on end. But, to add to the perfection of today, this 2-1 victory at Wycombe Wanderers truly was a deserved win. Reading certainly weren’t perfect, but this was still an excellent all-round shift from a side that will undoubtedly be just as relieved to have gotten over the line as any fan.
Like at Shrewsbury Town a couple of weeks ago, Reading were the better side over 90 minutes. In both cases failing to win would have been undeserved, but while the first 2-1 lead was blown, this time Reading learned their lesson.
And that’s the main takeaway about the Royals’ performance at Wycombe. Yes, the 4-1-4-1 again showed its value; yes, Reading were a viable threat going forward; yes, the hosts were restricted effectively in open play... but good game management tied everything together and got the job done. The Royals learned their lesson.
Reading had a better start to the game at Shrewsbury than they did today, going 2-0 up inside the first 15 minutes. But the Royals went into the break in Shropshire on the sour, anxiety-inducing note of being the last side to concede, and they reacted to that with a passive second-half display even before the late goals turned the contest around.
Today, you could see the signs of a much more encouraging pattern emerging, even in real time. It’s such a psychological blow to let a lead slip straight after you get it, but such a boost to restore it.
Reading were the better side in the opening half an hour and took a deserved lead. It came in bizarre fashion: Femi Azeez won the ball high from a loose goal kick and his cross/shot somehow found the far bottom corner, possibly with a touch from Sam Smith to thank. Whoever gets credited with the goal, it didn’t matter one jot to an away end that went into raptures...
...but only for a matter of minutes. Shortly after, the hosts put a long ball into Reading’s box, Michael Craig - otherwise impressive today - couldn’t quite get close enough to Killian Phillips, and he curled the ball past David Button for 1-1 before goading the travelling supporters behind the goal. That aged well, didn’t it Killian?
Lewis Wing, former Wycombe midfielder, had other ideas though. Nine minutes after Phillips’ equaliser, Azeez again turned provider, feeding Wing to slam a deflected shot in for 2-1. A hefty wedge of fortune, sure, but the usual caveats of “good performances yield good fortune” and “I don’t give a monkey’s how we scored” both apply.
Wycombe had their moments after the break but didn’t truly threaten Button’s goal. In fact, they were kept at just the one shot on target all game: the first-half equaliser from Phillips. Down the other end Reading could well have increased their lead, with Smith, Azeez and Harvey Knibbs all going close, particularly Smith, who forced a smart close-range stop out of Max Stryjek.
While the Royals didn’t add to the 2-1 scoreline, they did protect it properly. It sure was an encouraging, calming sight to see Reading keeping the ball high up the pitch in the closing stages, not defending set pieces, with every corner and throw-in won cheered to the heavens by the away end.
The biggest roar of them all came with the full-time whistle though - a roar of the sweetest, purest joy. It was as if, in that very moment, every ounce of suffering in the last 12 months and a bit was washed away. An end to the misery. Closure.
Mathematically this game changes little: Reading are still bottom of the table, still in poor form and still adrift of safety. Psychologically though, this win, this long-awaited win... it changes everything.