Win! Reading kept up their miraculous home form and at times actually played some decent stuff. It was still a bit scruffy here and there and a better team than Blackpool could have had at least a couple, but you can only beat what’s in front of you and all that.
The line-up was a bit of a head-scratcher and Reading even appeared to be set up for a back five if you were in the ground early enough to witness the defensive drill carried out by Alex Rae. But, in reality - shock, horror – it was a back four!
Maybe this was deployed because the opposition was deemed to be poor and we could spread our wings a little or Paul Ince could use it as an “I told you so” if we got beaten. Either way, it worked out for the best.
It might be a rare outing for four at the back but we had more space, more time and better movement between the lines. It felt comfortable to watch, going forward at least. There were still gaps that Blackpool exploited in the first half, especially. But they were guilty of being profligate in front of goal. Shame.
The main beneficiary of this 4-1-4-1 system was Yakou Méïté who rolled back the years with a man-of-the-match performance. Despite not scoring, he had a huge hand in all three goals. From the first minute, he seemed like was in the right frame of mind and full of beans.
In comparison to previous games where he’s looked a little lost, he was in his element here. Every time he had the ball he wanted to show his speed and strength. This was highlighted by winning the penalty after tumbling in the box. A cast-iron penalty, but he would have much preferred to have scored himself.
All afternoon, he was a total menace to Blackpool’s left side. Manager Paul Ince bafflingly seemed to be unaware that this has been Yakou’s best position before today. In his post-match interview he alluded to the fact that he’d not seen his previous performances out on the wing! Less said about that the better.
Another in credit was the two-goal former Seasider Tom Ince. Not only that, but both strikes were from open play and both set up by Meite. Yet, strangely, despite the two goals, Tom was a quieter than normal. This was largely due to him have to do less work than usual as he had players around him to help out, which is a change from the norm. He still put in another huge shift, as is standard, but it was nice to see other players coming to the fore.
In any other game, he’d be a sure-fire bet for yet another man-of-the-match performance, but the resurgence of the Yak took away that honour. He’s still going to pick up the player of the year gong, regardless, mind you.
Another player that improved was loanee Cesare Casadei. After spending a few weeks out of the team acclimatising to get up to speed, he looked a lot more comfortable. With some tidy touches and composure he looked a lot more controlled and moved into some nice pockets of space at times. “Chezz”, as Ince called him, was always going to need time to adjust to the frenetic pace of the Championship, but the clamour from the fans to see more of him has taken some time.
It was probably another game where he could be dared to be deployed. If not against the league’s second worst side then when could you? He may not feature so much in the weeks ahead when we have the likes of Sheffield United and Millwall at home, but he will be required should injuries occur and to give us something different.
He’s got the strength, touch and poise to certainly hold his own in this division. Whether he gets more of a chance is a question for Ince.
At 3-0 and when the win was in the bag, Reading conceded with the second-to-last kick of the game. No big deal in the great scheme of things, but the reaction from the defence was one of not being happy bunnies. Joe Lumley berated Femi Azeez for not seeing out the game at the other end of the field. Naby Sarr, in his own little universe, was visibly frustrated and possibly berating himself for letting in the late goal.
Even Ince mentioned that the players were “distraught” after losing the clean sheet. This kind of emotion and accountability is encouraging to witness. That willingness to win and having standards to adhere to is something that this team haven’t been charged with to date, but these are the things which are a glimpse behind the curtain - a return to the kind of non-negotiables we’ve heard of before.
As much as we’ve been told countless times that this team is a blend of spare parts and rust, there is a still sense of professionalism that sometimes we don’t see or appreciate.
And so we move on to the next four fixtures which, on paper, look to be absolutely frightening. Up against us are the teams that currently sit, in no particular order: second, third, fourth and fifth. Proper nightmare fuel.
Fortunately, two of them are at home, but still will be tough to get wins from. Very tough. That said, we do have a 13-point buffer between ourselves and the dreaded trap-door. The clubs at the bottom are bereft of wins and not showing any signs of improvement. Even if we manage to scrape just a few points from the next four fixtures, this should make the picture a lot clearer.
With the 50-point target almost in range, we need a few more performances and results like this one to be able to truly relax. The games that lead up to the next international break will test us to the extreme.