If away days bear a paucity of goals, let alone points and wins, home games are where Reading really reap from their harvest. Today’s match against Blackpool proved to be fairly typical Reading home fare with not much possession, an unconvincing defensive display but enough quality in the team to win for the 10th time at the SCL this season.
My fears for today were to be slightly unfounded as I’d braced myself for spotting the ball amongst the Heathrow flightpath. However, in somewhat untypical Mick McCarthy style, the Tangerines actually tried to play some football interspersed with the occasional direct ball to Gary Madine (who had given Tom McIntyre a torrid afternoon a year ago this weekend). Thankfully TMc was a full-back today in the slightly surprising back four, Paul Ince finally ditching the totally ineffective back-five line-up favoured in recent weeks.
Typical seems to be the word of the day, with a typical slow Reading start to the game - the Tangerines actually dictating possession much more than I thought they would. But gradually Reading took a grip of the first half and, while the opener from Thomas Ince was somewhat fortuitous with Amadou Mbengue winning the ball from Husband high up and Ince’s effort deflecting over the keeper, at that stage it was against the run of play.
Having said that, on balance of play over the opening 45 I felt Reading just shaded the half. Good chances were fashioned for Meite from a Hoilett cross at 0-0, a Meite low cross flashing across goal after he’d skinned the full-back just after the opener (Husband having a bit of a mare of a game to be honest, Meite had him on toast all game), while Andy Carroll blazed over, slicing his shot when he’d done all of the hard work in controlling a dipping cross.
Blackpool however looked lively, particularly down their right, with Josh Bowler looking to run at McIntyre whenever possible. More than once he got into dangerous positions both on the flank and in the inside-right channel, fronting up McIntyre and taking him on with ease, and more than once Blackpool crosses and set-pieces dropped between 12 and 18 yards out to a free man on the edge of the box. It is a worrying trend that Reading have, with lots of balls dropping to free men in that area, and to be honest I’m slightly surprised we haven’t conceded more from that scenario this season.
The second half was a slightly different story, with again a typical Reading performance at 1-0 up, sitting back and horribly deep. Blackpool, to their credit, denied Reading virtually any opportunity to get out of our own half and had a couple of really presentable opportunities that, on another day, should have been taken from 12 yards (that old free shot from a dropping ball again).
However, Reading only needed one opportunity to break with danger and took it with ruthless abandon; a ball over the top from Ince saw Meite break in behind the high Blackpool back line, who eventually bundled him over in the box before he could get the shot away. A certain penalty, and a more than strong case for a red card as there seemingly was no attempt to play the ball… not even a yellow. Cheers ref. Thankfully it didn’t come back to haunt us as Andy Carroll took the responsibility to plant the ball low to the keeper’s left for 2-0.
And then in a matter of no time at all, Meite once again worked his way free down the right, sent in a low cross which wasn’t dealt with at all effectively by the tangerine defence and the ball was only cleared to Thomas Ince once again to sidefoot home and wrap up the three points.
Blackpool didn’t go home totally empty-handed as they scored a consolation with the last kick of the game but, from a Reading perspective, it was incredibly frustrating to not obtain a clean sheet, which would have been only our second since the World Cup. Naby Sarr showed his frustration at the end when the final whistle went immediately, but ultimately despite Blackpool showing a lot of territorial and possession dominance, it was Reading who took the three points and, being 13 points clear of the relegation zone with just 13 games to play… surely we can’t screw this whole season up totally now?