Devastating. Who’d have thought it? It was one of those very, very rare days when the vidiprinter of old would have burst into flames for having to chug out 9 followed by NINE in big letters.
Nine unanswered goals. Five Reading scorers, One own-goal from a former Royal. No penalties, no red cards and only one shot on target for the hopeless and hapless hosts. You couldn’t make it up. It was a literal rugby score.
It’s hard to comprehend unless you saw it with your own eyes. Personally, I made a literal last-minute decision to pay ten quid and watch it on iFollow. At the time, I remembered all the occasions that I made a similar decision to watch a Paul Ince side flounder and flop to disaster after disaster. Like many of us, we’ve wasted plenty of money watching Reading play away either virtually or in person. Tonight was not one of those nights.
From the very first minute, well, third if we’re being generous to Exeter City, we looked very much up for the task, culminating with Tom McIntyre latching on to score easily from a superb Matty Carson free-kick. We continued to score just as easily all night. Literally, all night long. Lionel would be proud. (Ask your dad!)
This was like a continuation of the Millwall away game in the other cup, but even better. The goals were great, but the overall play was simply outstanding. The energy and hunger were there from the first minute until the last, and that’s not keyboard hyperbole. They never stopped. Even at six, seven, eight goals to the good, they kept on wanting more, more, more.
The whole ethos of what Ruben Selles has impressed and instilled into the entire group (with a few notable exceptions) was exhibited gloriously. The tempo, the positioning, the press, the simplicity of our play was just a delight.
The confidence rose goal on goal; you could see the tangible growth during the entire performance. We hadn’t seen Reading play with such flow in years. Challenges (if you could call them that) were won all over the park. The defence had their pipe and slippers out from the very beginning. Coniah Boyce-Clarke saw less action than the ball boys/girls over the entire 90+ minutes.
At half-time when the score was a mere 2-0 to the Royals, you still had that nagging thought of old that we could still contrive defeat from the jaws of victory, but what came to pass in the second half blew any such thoughts away.
What we witnessed was nothing short of a clinic in finishing and relentless pressing. Exeter, who had a (slightly) older average age than ourselves, simply couldn’t cope. Once Paul Mukairu had slotted in the third with a cool finish to the top right-hand corner, all bets were off. We could have sat on that three-goal lead, ate a pasty, quaffed some cider, watched a bit of the Champions League and still be ahead by quite some distance.
Then, with the game won, Selles decided to make some changes to freshen up the proceedings. On came Harvey Knibbs, Kelvin Abrefa and Dom Ballard. If the game didn’t already have a fork in it, Ballard made sure the game was done with a blistering cameo that contained two goals and two assists in less time than it would take to cook that aforementioned pasty.
It was pure comedy beyond the 68th minute and the small band of well travelled away fans were loving it.
As much as we can gloat (but by Christ, do we deserve a little bit of gloating), we’ve got to appreciate how this grade A mullering was possible. A huge amount of props must go to Mark Bowen on many, many levels. When our academy lost its Category 1 status he made sure that it wasn’t going to suffer and sulk (unlike our degenerate owner) and continued to act as if we were a Category 1 club. This ensured that, when we were re-appraised, we’d sail the job interview.
We’ve hit the ground running now we’re back in the relative big time and the strength of our academy was proven here in spades. Add a generous sprinkling of Ruben Selles, his history with youth teams over the years and his trust in believing that, no matter how old, they can be and are good enough. Top that with a sprinkling of first-team power of Knibbs, Ben Elliott, McIntyre, Harlee Dean and the irresistible Caylan Vickers, at some point all this led to this ridiculous scoreline.
It also pours scorn on the notion that the kids can’t do it, as alluded to on many occasions by our previous inept manager, the man we shall not name. This proves, among many other things, that if you get the environment right, remove that toxicity that blighted us for far too long, that if you get in coaches who have patience, time and actually know what they are doing, then the ingredients are all there to turn in a result like this.
It doesn’t matter that it was a weakened Exeter side, it’s still relative to the competition rules. We’re still in the same boat, league-wise, after all. You’ve still got to beat what’s put in front of you. It’s how you do it that is the important thing, and we did it rather well!
And that’s what makes this result feel even sweeter: it’s the turnaround from the abject disaster of relegation last season, to putting in this kind of shift just one summer later and looking like an actual properly functioning football club, if only on the pitch at least.
It’s knowing that this proves that we’re on the right track, that ultimately you get what you deserve. For all the hammerings that we have suffered to the good of four, five and even seven, we’ve deserved all of them. When the boot is on the other foot, it’s surely allowed that we feel that we deserve this too.
Ultimately, it was so refreshing to watch a Reading side play with confidence, width, precision and the all-important finishing. We had so many options on the ball, with everyone, to a man, feeding off the experience.
We had a new academy graduate, Taylan Harris, scoring within minutes of coming on as a substitute. Vickers looked every inch the first-team player that he is, full of composure and brimming with confidence after his career opening goal against Bolton Wanderers. Elliott ran the show as we are sure to see him do in the future. Even the players who didn’t get on the scoresheet, Tivonge Rushesha and Michael Craig, contributed even if they didn’t have huge amounts to do. The key element is that they all want to work for each other and not just be disparate souls who barely want to be in each other’s company.
So, this is it. This is what we’ve been waiting for so, so long. Belief. We’ve always tried to find mitigating circumstances that belies that notion. We’ve tried to deny it, the EFL have done their very best to deny it and our hapless owner certainly has too, but we finally have that belief.
Games can’t be won 9-0 without it and our new team, our new manager, our new system have proven in one devastating match that it’s now there. Belief won’t win us games alone, we’re not dumb to the fact, but we can allow ourselves to celebrate what we saw. A club-record win doesn’t come around very often. You can’t win 9-0 by fluke; something has to be right or has had to have been corrected for this to happen.
Sterner tests lie ahead in this competition against Arsenal under-21s and in the league, obviously. But for one night only, we were simply on cloud nine.