Sometimes there are matches that will be remembered for a ridiculous number of goals or for an outstanding individual performance, or, as is most likely with Reading in recent history, remembered for all the wrong reasons.
This was not one of those nights. Everything good that we have learned about this group over the months showed up in spades. It was as complete a performance that we’ve seen this season, without shadow of a doubt.
Some sage fellow said to me before the game: “It’s the kind of game that we’ll just go and win” - despite the wind, rain and that Derby County could have gone to the top of the table if they had won. Despite everything, that win could be remembered as something quite defining.
If we are to talk about individuals though, then one just about shone above everyone else: our Luton Town loanee (I know, it’s odd, right?) Tom Holmes. If anyone had thought that Holmes had checked out on the club after his move that didn’t move, then think again.
He put in a colossal shift for the entire 90 minutes. The sheer determination and will to win was a joy to see. This was not a performance from a player who didn’t want to be here and not fight for the cause. He celebrated at the end as you would expect from a man who’s only known to be at this football club for his entire career to date. His heart is still truly in Berkshire. Holmes is where the heart is.
But it wasn’t just Holmes that shone: many performances were worthy of note across the board.
Charlie Savage started and certainly put in a shift. While it has been difficult for him to find a starting berth of late, none of that showed as he slotted in next to Lewis Wing. On paper, swapping out the combative Michael Craig for Savage could have been seen as a risk, considering how pivotal Craig’s form has been of late, but much to Savage’s credit he stuck at the task and did a fine job against, supposedly, one of the league’s best sides.
In truth, everyone to a man had a very decent game; there were certainly no passengers here. Even David Button, who did ever so well to avoid being booked for time-wasting countless times, kept a clean sheet. Even better than that was that the defence did not have to worry about a single shot on target! That’s got to be something for Ruben Selles to be very proud of indeed.
Pizza Cup Paul turned into Penalty Spot Poacher Paul to deliciously slot home the winner. All game he was a menace to the Derby back line. He’s clearly a player that feeds off confidence and hopefully this result will give him more of that going forwards.
Manager of the opposition, Paul Warne, decried that we were fitter and had more intensity about our play. That must be music to Selles’ ears considering that most of this XI play week in, week out with very few tweaks and tinkers. But it’s true to say that this bunch have a unique kind of togetherness that saw this result over the line. That said, much like our game against Wigan Athletic, Derby could have played all night and not scored!
It’s that togetherness which is a remarkable thing to see. Despite all the off-field shenanigans, lies and double-speak, this team can still surprise you. Despite the swirling wind and rain, which made the game a really fun spectacle in honesty, they never gave up, were completely up to the task and were well worth the win in the end.
It’s this kind of grit and determination that was the foundation for the win. We’ll need to see more of this steel in the weeks to come, but this result is a superb marker to look back on. While we’re still in the relegation zone, the gap between ourselves and the teams above is shrinking week on week.
We’re currently 10th in the form table and, despite the Wigan no-show, consistently picking up wins, whereas the bottom two can barely buy a win. The gap between ourselves and being out of the relegation zone is still four points, but we do have two games in hand.
Above us, there are teams such as Charlton Athletic and Shrewsbury Town who are in free-fall. We’re only five points from Cambridge United who sit in 14th! League One is a crazy division and there’s only one bad reason why we can’t keep on climbing into safety. And we all know who that is.