Will Ferry was in nappies the last time Reading FC won a home game in the third tier, but the Cheltenham defender proved the unlikely hero for the Royals after netting an own goal in Tuesday’s night clash at the Select Car Leasing Stadium.
Some 21 years, five months and 23 days ago, Jamie Cureton netted the only goal against Stoke City and it’s basically felt that long since Reading have won a league game of any variety.
Ruben Selles didn’t so much freshen things up after the weekend as tear things down and start again, ditching seven of the players who had played in the two 1-0 defeats against Port Vale and Peterborough United in favour of the young bucks who had thrashed Millwall in the Carabao Cup.
In came Amadou Mbengue, Tyler Bindon, Nelson Abbey and Matty Carson to an entirely new-look back four (for the league) with Lewis Wing handed a full league debut and attacking duo Mamadi Camara and Caylan Vickers unleashed from the start.
Reading started semi-nervously but soon hit their stride with pace and energy to their attacks. Vickers forced the winner via a quick pass forward from Wing, which bounced off the unfortunate Ferry and looped into the net.
There was dynamism and intent about the Royals’ play, with an acceptance that things might not always come off but they were worth trying anyway. It brought about a feeling of fun to the first half in particular, and in keeping with the 20-plus year gap since the club had last been in this situation there was an air of nostalgia about the team.
Abbey and Bindon gobbled up counter-attacks with ease, making for a little-and-large combo that reminded of Ivar Ingimarsson and Ibrahima Sonko, respectively. Left-back Carson flung in crosses from deep with the howitzer-level frequency, if not precision, of Nicky Shorey. Charlie Savage stroked the ball around with the panache of James Harper. Although, there was a nagging sense of the Bas Savage about Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan’s comical failed backheel inside the box.
The young striker was, overall, a good man to hit in attack and should have been played in by Vickers late in a two-on-one late in the first half for 2-0. Reading faded in the second half, in keeping with a dominant theme of their season so far. In fact, it was Vickers who grew into proceedings and a mildly nervy second half could have been capped with a second had a proper substitute striker been present to add some weight to the frontline.
This is the only real time of the season that performances can matter a bit more than results. Green shoots of genuine ability and a proper playing style can mask early-season sluggishness. However, while that is true of tonight it was also the exception to that rule with Reading so desperately needing a win at all costs. For it to have been delivered by this rousing group of youngsters is highly promising, and Selles now has no choice but to keep backing them as far as they can go.