A cold Wednesday evening. Blackburn Rovers versus Reading. Fifth against 16th. A long midweek trip up north for the Royals who find themselves in a deep results and performance crisis. From 11 league outings in 2023: two wins, two draws and seven defeats - the last three matches without scoring. Shocking numbers…
But every game starts at 0-0 and so all Reading supporters could also dream of a positive result at Ewood Park. Paul Ince made four changes to his starting line-up against Millwall. Amadou Mbengue, Cesare Casadei, Mamadou Loum and Lucas Joao came into the side while captain Andy Yiadom, Scott Dann and Andy Carroll were all missing out through injuries.
Nesta Guinness-Walker dropped to the bench where he took his spot alongside Dean Bouzanis, Liam Moore, Femi Azeez, Kelvin Abrefa, Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan and Nelson Abbey. Tactically it looked like a 4-1-4-1: Lumley; Mbengue, Holmes, Sarr, McIntyre; Loum; Ince, Hendrick, Casadei, Long; João.
Reading made a really good start and seemed spot on… unfortunately only for 90 seconds. After a corner the Royals’ defence was left far too open. A quick counter-attack by Rovers and here we go! 1-0 to Blackburn. Ben Brereton Diaz slotted home a low effort from the edge of the area. No chance for Joe Lumley. It was really a shame; the last thing Reading needed was going behind with the first shot on target.
But to be fair the goal didn’t affect the visitors too much. Paul Ince’s men showed resilience and worked hard to equal possession. In the 22nd minute, a flick-on by Lucas Joao gave Cesare Casadei the possibility to have a clear shot on target right from the edge of the box. Unfortunately, the ball went straight at ‘keeper Pears. A good sign for the Royals though who seemed to grow with every minute of the first half.
Blackburn on the other side were only partly dangerous (which was also the case thanks to a solid defensive play by Tom Holmes and co). They had a couple of half-chances after just over half an hour. From the outside, the two teams didn’t differ that much. After 37 minutes Casadei tried again from distance. Although Pears had some difficulties, the Italian’s strike was again parried away.
And once more out of nothing it could have been 2-0! After a back pass Lumley waited a second too long and then mishit his long effort. The ball bounced straight off Szmodics and hit the post (40th minute). A lucky moment for the Royals.
Right before the break Blackburn had another great opportunity when a half-volley from Carter narrowly dipped over the crossbar. Nonetheless, it remained 1-0. Although Rovers had more and better chances, Reading were still in the game.
The second half started with more pressure from the home side. A brilliant block by Mbengue prevented Brereton Diaz from scoring again (55th minute). It was all Blackburn now and the Royals had difficulties to find some air to breathe. Gallagher then should have scored the second from short range but another brilliant tackle, this time from Tom Holmes, deflected the ball over the bar. The chances for Jon Dahl Tomasson’s men were coming now minute by minute and it was Lumley who kept us in the game with a superb double save against Gallagher and Thomas.
In the 65th minute the Royals showed some signs of life themselves. Shane Long’s header after a Mbengue cross was tipped over by Pears. The game was getting again more open. With all the missed opportunities by Rovers, the Reading players looked like believing that today might be their day.
And it seemed to work! A third try by Casadei from distance and it was 1-1! A fantastic finish from about 20 yards, straight into the bottom corner (68th minute). What a goal!
Both teams were now on fire. Paul Ince made a triple substitution in the 78th minute: Femi Azeez, Kelvin Abrefa and Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan came on for Long, Mbengue and Joao. Blackburn increased the pressure and four minutes later they were rewarded with a 2-1 lead. Morton passed the ball into the middle, Gallagher’s flick-on found Hedges and the substitute made no mistake to slot past Lumley.
Of course, it wasn’t undeserved, but nevertheless very disappointing for the visitors after such a good comeback. And it went even worse. An angry Mamadou Loum headbutted Gallagher after a (relatively) hard challenge by the home side’s number nine. Rightfully a red card for the Senegalese (85th minute).
With one man down the remaining Reading players showed what fighting spirit they had in themselves and pushed for the equaliser. Without success. Full time, 2-1 Blackburn. Another defeat for Paul Ince’s men. A disappointing result, although you have to give tonight’s team their credit. They really tried hard and showed the right combativeness that is needed in a situation like this. It’s a tough period. At least today you could feel a bit for them.
One aspect that became apparent again today is in my opinion still worth mentioning. There has been some talk about managerial mistakes, why Long plays as a left-winger or how Andy Carroll might limit our offensive play. All reasonable topics. But when we take a look at Reading’s season so far, to me Tom Ince plays also a key part… and not only positively.
He has (rightfully) won some player of the month awards. There is no doubt about his footballing skills. He is definitely one of the strongest assets we’ve got. It’s his behaviour that worries though. Especially when things are not going our way like in the last weeks, his attitude is too negative. His head goes down, he shows frustration by waving his arms and starts complaining to his teammates.
Someone like Carroll or Long might ignore that, but there are definitely others who get dragged down furthermore by it. And when self-confidence is already low, it’s the last thing you need.
In fact, that’s a big dilemma because football-wise we depend on him. He is the one that creates danger up front. But at the same time, he can be the one who adds further negativity around the place. Certainly, that affects the team.
And what makes it even worse or more difficult is that the manager is his father. What will Ince Senior do? Nothing. So the team has to live and deal with it. It’s definitely another factor that (partly) explains our poor performances. Still, we need him. Like everyone in this squad. Come on Urzzzz!