Eight games to go, eight cup finals for the Royals with the away trip to Ashton Gate the first after the last international break of this season. At least there is no reason to fear that the break would have stopped any positive run.
After four defeats in a row (and losing all away games of 2023!), Paul Ince’s men managed to get a 1-1 draw out of the home match against the 15th-placed Hull City. Today’s opponent Bristol City are one position above them, four ahead of Reading. Back in October the Royals showed a convincing performance and were able to beat the Robins 2-0.
For the trip down the M4 Paul Ince had only a small squad available due to a long injury list. Tom Ince, Scott Dann, Liam Moore, Junior Hoilett, Tom McIntyre, Shane Long, Baba Rahman, Dejan Tetek, Sam Hutchinson and Mamadou Loum through suspension were all missing out.
Joe Lumley started in goal. Ahead of him a defence of three with Amadou Mbengue, Tom Holmes and Naby Sarr, with captain Andy Yiadom (right) and Nesta Guinness-Walker (left) as wing-backs. The midfield trio consisted of Tyrese Fornah, Jeff Hendrick and Cesare Casadei. Yakou Meite partnered Andy Carroll up front. The bench was pretty young with Nelson Abbey, Kelvin Abrefa, Jay Senga, Femi Azeez and Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan all taking their spots next to the more experienced Dean Bouzanis and Lucas João.
The first 10 to 15 minutes were relatively quiet ones as both teams looked to gain possession without risking too much. Bristol City showed a bit more initiative by creating some half-chances while the visitors tried their luck with quick counter-attacks, mainly through long balls up to Meite or Carroll.
Austrian striker Weimann had the biggest opportunity in the 16th minute but saw his right-foot shot blocked by Carroll. Seconds later Meite should have done better on the other side after a lovely pass from Tyrese Fornah. Unfortunately, he could not quite meet it with a shot. Joe Lumley was then on the spot twice quickly to prevent the Robins from having a clear shot on goal.
Overall, it was scrappy. You could clearly see why both teams have lost recently most of their league outings. Longer passing passages were an absolute exception. The visitors seemed to grow though a bit as the game went on and had a good chance again through Meite who had a lively game. The Royals’ number 11 burst onto a long ball from Mbengue, outplayed the outcoming Bristol City keeper O’Leary on the left, but could not send his strike from a very tight angle into the empty goal. Still, one of the better attacks by the visitors.
Defensively Reading looked solid without being tested that much. And when everything was settled already for an unspectacular 0-0, one minute before half-time the home side took the lead. A deflected cross dropped to the fortunate Conway who was quickest to react and slotted it into the net. 1-0 to Bristol City.
Very unlucky for the Royals. Paul Ince’s men had shown a decent performance so far. They were not brilliant, but definitely not worse than the Robins. Nonetheless, the boys in blue and white had to cope with being behind again. A tough task for the second half…
No changes were made during the break. Yiadom and co showed a good reaction and started focussed by gaining more possession. Fornah saw his strike from long range fly past Bristol City’s left post. Right after the hour mark Paul Ince chose to bring on fresh legs. Azeez and João came on for Guinness-Walker and Fornah. To me especially the latter had a quite reasonable game. But of course, Reading had to push for the equaliser so some more offensive options on the field were also necessary. Tactically it was a 4-4-2. Yiadom switched to the left by playing behind Azeez while on the opposite side Mbengue and Meite occupied the right wing.
The game opened up now. Bristol City had a good opportunity after 67 minutes. Lumley made a great save to deny the Robins’ second. However, again, contrary to the run of play – the home side were dominating mostly after the substitutions – a free-kick ended up as Reading’s equaliser!
And it looked like that variant had been practised on the training ground. Azeez sent in a soft ball to the edge of the area where, a bit surprisingly, Carroll was waiting. His flick-on found João in the middle. The big Portuguese made no mistake and headed it past keeper O’Leary. Just when you could have questioned the impact of Paul Ince’s changes, both Azeez and João taught us better. How important that goal was…
80 minutes were played when Reading’s injury list went even longer. Mbengue limped off, Abrefa took his spot at right-back. The home side was now pushing forward. Tense moments for the Royals. And the last two minutes of injury time were then unrivalled in terms of drama.
First, King headed a cross against the upright. In direct succession on a counter, Reading were three against one. Azeez passed to João who unfortunately tripped over the ball. What a missed opportunity! But it was not over yet. The subsequent long ball was defended well by Carroll, only to see it drop for Cornick whose volley whistled past the left post.
Thankfully that was the last kick of the game as referee Martin blew the final whistle. A very important point for the Royals. The first one on the road this year.
It was not the best football, it was not easy to watch. But to be fair, the team gave their all. They battled hard and deserved the 1-1, although we were a bit lucky in the end. Overall, a solid team performance. For me a good example of that was when Carroll won an important header in the final minute in an unfamiliar right-back position. That is the spirit!
A point we need to build on though. If we do not get a result against Birmingham on Friday it will not be worth anything. The team needs to show the same passion as today, from minute one till stoppage time.
Hopefully today’s draw will give them a much-needed confidence boost so that also the footballing element in the game improves as well. At home with the fans behind I am optimistic that we will keep the points at the SCL Stadium. Come on Urzzzz!