The risky thing about having a game just two days before Christmas is that your festive mood is pretty much at the mercy of Reading Football Club, and that’s never advisable. Luckily, the Royals had some festive cheer to serve up on Christmas Eve Eve with a comfortable, straightforward and - dare I say it - enjoyable 2-0 win over Wigan Athletic.
The Royals have been on an upward curve for a while now - ever since the shift to 4-1-4-1 in late October really - and this game was the latest evidence of that trajectory. Reading weren’t fantastic (a better performance could well have yielded a heftier scoreline) but knew how to get the job done. Wigan were poor overall, but Reading have still struggled against poor opposition this season.
There were plenty of positives to come out of today, but that element of Reading looking like they knew what they were doing was the biggest one for me. This was a win defined not by a single moment, nor by a single player, but rather by the refreshing notion of just how assured it felt. A first clean sheet in the league since September 30 (!!) and the first in any competition since October 10 (!!) was the most apt indication of that.
A rough start to the game aside, the Royals looked tactically well balanced, restricted the visitors effectively, created chances fairly well and managed the game intelligently in the latter stages. Basic things, sure, but still things Reading have had to do a lot of work on in recent weeks, following the nadir of October’s losing streak.
The two happiest individuals coming out of this game though will be the goalscorers: Femi Azeez and Sam Smith. Both showed their attacking class with their strikes, although they found in the net in very different ways. Azeez provided a moment of pure quality in the first half to rifle the ball home from range for 1-0, while Smith got on the end of Amadou Mbengue’s cross in the second half to add some breathing room.
Reading also deserve praise for the psychological aspect of this performance. As at Lincoln City last time out, the Royals endured an early setback (in this case being on the end of Wigan dominance for the first 15-20 minutes), and again they had the resolve to pick themselves back up and assert themselves on the match.
That didn’t falter after the break. Reading have been guilty of going off the boil badly in the second half of recent home matches, fading substantially against Barnsley and Oxford United, but there was no repeat against Wigan. The focus and the intensity remained strong.
I’d have probably taken a point in this game before kickoff, so getting three right before a very tricky away trip to Peterborough United indeed is a huge boost. Anything there will be a bonus, but Reading can hopefully build on this result with another win at relegation rivals Cheltenham Town on Friday.
From me and everyone else at TTE, have a very Merry Christmas!