269 days. We had waited TWO HUNDRED AND SIXTY NINE DAYS since our previous away win. That’s a heck of a long time for any team, but for one that has been mired and written off in every way possible, this was monumental.
On paper it looked to be a mismatch: Millwall chock-full of seasoned Championship pros, up against a Reading side that was “experimental” at best. With an age group that would be fresh out of uni in the real world, the kids in grey pyjamas with a lion on the shirt mauled the Lions of London. The hosts were tamed as mere kittens.
This was no flukey ‘one shot on target that trickled over the line’, this was an unapologetic hammering, make no mistake. If manager Rubén Sellés had a dream about this fixture, it probably couldn’t be topped by what came to pass.
This was the first sign of a stamp of authority for Selles’ managerial style and ethos. No doubt the good work carried out before him via Noel Hunt had a huge impact on the younger groups too. They were probably much more aligned to this new, modern style of aggressive football than the old lags that Paul Ince had shockingly moulded into a reductive rabble of shithousers and miserable robots.
This result is just as much for the work of Michael Gilkes, Mikele Leigertwood and Noel Hunt as it is for Sellés and Andrew Sparkes, let’s not forget that. These kids are alright.
When the group, collectively, has decent and well-rounded humans within who buy into what is demanded of them, it should have perhaps come as no surprise that, on this night, we clicked - just not to the sublime tune of 4-0!
Everything clicked into place like a smooth jigsaw piece slotting into the puzzle. For so long the pieces had previously been strewn haphazardly; we just hoped and prayed that something, anything, would fall for us. It was never cohesive or smart, just a hit-and-hope mentality that didn’t have the nous or talent to do any better. Now we are seeing the signs of life; the road ahead looks brighter, happier and united.
What has been missing from Reading and had been missing for years it seems was confidence. It seemed like a self-fulfilling prophecy that we couldn’t generate it because we never had any start with, or that we couldn’t gain any traction into developing it because we had no plan, no style, nothing. Yet, on this one night when nothing was expected, nothing was hoped for, we had our “Eureka!” moment. Was it the hope that had previously killed us before?
This result could be the spark of belief that was so desperately required. A marker, a line in the sand to say: “This is what we are now. This is what we can do.” Proof that, on the field at least, we are capable of much better things.
Everything that Sellés will have relayed to and instilled into the group came to life absurdly well. It all sounds like hyperbole, granted, but considering where we’ve come from - where anti-football proved to be our ultimate downfall - this result means so much more than progressing to the next round.
To a man, the young lads excelled. Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan with a poacher’s instinct netted twice from inside the six-yard box. Caylan Vickers grows in confidence game after game with licence to shoot on sight, it would appear. It’s reaping its rewards!
The defensive partnership of captain for the night, homegrown Nelson Abbey and a box-fresh new signing in Tyler Bindon blossomed out of nothing; they had never even played next to each other before then. Matty Carson played his first-ever competitive fixture for Reading. Even Tivonge Rushesha, who deputised for Amadou Mbengue at right-back when he went off injured, played cohesively and seamlessly.
Then, of course, we have our new badge-kissing darling, Charlie Savage, giving it top bins with a delicious free-kick that Bartosz Bialkowski could only paw at. Gorgeous stuff.
Lest we forget performances by Mamadi Camara, who had his best showing in a Royals shirt by far, prodding home the fourth goal (FOURTH!!) after good work by Basil Tuma. Michael Craig, too, showing his versatility in midfield and defence.
Suddenly, a squad that seemed thin and too youthful is now competitive and has challengers from the academy to the first-team players.
A single outstanding performance has the potential to shape the future. It will cause Sellés to have several headaches - not just for the weekend ahead but also in the months to come. For once, it’s a nice headache to have. The confidence gained by these young players will remove some of their own doubts of playing in the first team. None of them will have harmed their chances of progressing.
What underpins this win is the new ethos and togetherness that is growing day on day. It is a sign, no more than that, that we are capable of better than we have shown in recent years. That teamwork, the lack of egos, dickheads and toxicity, and everyone pushing in the same direction will reward Reading with results like this. Confidence, the one factor that has eluded this unit, has a good chance of returning after this unlikely shoo-ing of the Championship side.
It is hard not to get carried away but this was a giant stride towards getting ‘our club back’, on the pitch at least. If this was a general indicator of what could be to come then we’re all on board the fun bus.
Are we back? Too early to say. Does this one result change the world? Probably not. But for one glorious night in South London, this was a love supreme.