Fun! Do you remember fun? The fun that we go to watch games for, among other things? Well, this was FUN. And I put that unashamedly in capital letters. For at times, the players looked as if they had that fun back in their play and their hearts. You love to see it.
Yes, we were against 10 men for the majority of the game, but the referee made that decision, not us. You can only play against what’s put in front of you. It was the perfect tonic for a game that, on paper, was going to be a stiff test against the previously unbeaten *checks notes* The Boro. (Yep, I know, don’t ask).
Pretty much everything we now witness and see develop, compared to last season and the seasons before that, when we had intolerable garbage laid before, was like night and day. Players then didn’t care how they played, let alone care for the club that we love. That disconnect between the players and ourselves was massive and getting worse. Fast forward to the present day and everyone was basking in the glory of a victory together.
It’s a very rare feeling to be watching Reading stroke the ball around at will with movement off the ball, everybody wanting the same outcome and everyone in the ground… relaxed. In such a short space of time the whole environment feels nicer, collected and, at times, joyful.
We can labour the point that we beat 10 men but they’ve still got to be beaten. We still had to find a way of breaking down a stubborn side that was previously unbeaten. Fans will remember not being able to beat Yeovil Town who had eight men! Stevenage had their moments when David Button had to be deployed into action, which he dealt with very well indeed.
We can recall times when we’d crave a goal before half time, just to quell the nerves and give us something to hold onto, and those moments never came. Not this time. A set-piece that was worked on in training led to Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan not rising like a salmon to nod home unopposed. He didn’t even jump! And that’s all it took to put this game to bed, in truth.
Big Kelv doubled his tally in the second half after a delicious ball from Tyler Bindon found the marauding Amadou Mbengue. His stinging effort found the awaiting poacher to score his fourth goal in five games. Drink that in: a striker that’s scoring goals!
That goal ended any hope - if Stevenage had any by that point. It was damage limitation from their perspective. With a 2-0 lead, the first time we had scored two goals in a game in the league since the days of black and white footage, it seemed. For once we could all sit back and watch the play unfold without worry or anxiety. We had earned that right to enjoy what was happening in real time and not be concerned with matters of ownership, deductions, tax and whatnot.
It was time to appreciate what Rubén Sellés, his staff and the players had managed to achieve in such a short space of time. Even though this squad is in its infancy (in many senses), the progress that has been made both on and off the pitch was obvious. For an eternity the club has been fighting against itself to find an identity or even a launchpad for any kind of stability. Yet, here we were, watching a team that was such a polar opposite to what ended the last season. They played with invention, strength, poise and spirit.
While Ehibhatiomhan deservedly took the plaudits for his brace that could have led to the “perfect hat-trick” had it not been for the contentious offside decision, plenty of others performed admirably.
The centre-back pairing of Nelson Abbey and Bindon continues to defy logic. Bindon especially shone with a calmness that belied his years. He’s surely not just 18?! His passport has to be checked, it can’t be right! His actions were simply beyond the experience that he’s showing.
Amadou Mbengue’s education and progression is showing now that he’s got a permanent position. He’s not flawless by any means, none of them are, but when he’s in full flow he’s a dangerous player - defensively and offensively.
Sam Hutchinson also came in, did a job and didn’t get booked. Remarkable really considering that the referee was throwing them around like an accident at Clinton’s in the first half. Hutch had the experience and know-how that enabled Charlie Savage to play with such freedom.
In the second half, we got our first glimpses of the fleet-of-foot Paul Mukairu and wonderkid Ben Elliott. Neither of them looked out of place, yet both had some tidy movements and actions that excited.
Elliott especially oozed self-confidence; his appreciation of the space around him and what to do with the ball and when was something we’d not seen from players with far, far more years of experience under their belts. This kid is going to be special, you can feel it.
With two consecutive home wins and five points in the bag, the acid test remains: winning away from home. Our next opponents, Exeter City, won’t be a walkover by any means. That said, considering where we were just a week ago - losing to Port Vale with such an abject failure - we can now be a little bit hopeful.
Evolution (or is it a revolution?) continues under Sellés. On this showing alone, Reading can be very proud of their work, as was demonstrated by an impromptu huddle at the end of the game. It’s little things like this that show signs of growth, a spirit and an identity that is beginning to form and flourish.
It’s very hard not to be excited, enthused and inspired by this current crop. The swing from despair to desire is hard to deny. We do have to keep our feet on the ground, we know this. This could just all go flat very quickly if fitness and injuries catch up with this young group.
But all the signs are there: this is a defensively solid, fluid in attack and genuinely likeable, if not lovable, bunch of lads. It’s so hard not to gush and go completely overboard. Breathe it in. Ride the wave. The potential is palpable.