At some point in a second half which seemed like eight hours long, I looked at my nifty smartwatch and saw that my heart rate was 110. I hadn’t felt like this in months, possibly years, watching the Royals. Looking back over that time it’s been rare for Reading to put in such a performance where the blood was pumping, with the added element of aerial threat, coupled with excited, tangible expectation.
Many away games over this time have felt like hidings to nothing, going through the motions until the home side scored and that would be that. Zero points. Maybe we can win the next game at home? That’s genuinely how it’s felt when it comes to our travels on the road. But something has been slowly changing, confidence has slowly been growing. Quietly, purposefully, calmly, we’re seeing the beating heart of this remarkable squad.
Just days after a hard-fought point against the triangles up the road, this next challenge against high-flyers Stevenage would initially seem to be a step too far. With just a few days gap, surely the legs couldn’t cope with all the odds stacked against them? By jingo, no! Far from it!
In conditions that never abated from the first minute until the last, we were at it. The tempo was there, the bite in the tackles was there, we still managed to play a little bit of football too versus Stevenage’s aerial onslaught, time after time.
It felt like Cheltenham Town away all over again, but worse due to the conditions and the better quality of player at Stevenage’s disposal.
Considering that our back four had never played together before, considering the opposition, considering the conditions: it was an almost flawless defensive performance. We didn’t seem too flappy, we marked their men purposefully, never giving them an inch. Nothing felt panicked but everything was in control. Considering the players that couldn’t play or we no longer have, this made it all the more sweeter.
Previously maligned players such as Amadou Mbengue and Clinton Mola put in stellar shifts that showed maturity and composure. Mbengue’s usual uncontrollable whirlwind seemed to be calmed and measured in the twister-like conditions. Despite Mola’s previous showings where he looked out of place just being on the pitch, he finally slotted into the puzzle like he’d been there forever. It was a very strange thing to witness.
But all of the defence to a man deserve a huge amount of applause for sticking to a task that is a handful for most sides in the division. It’s the type of football you don’t necessarily like to see but the effectiveness is undeniable.
You have to work hard to come away with anything here. Stevenage had not even conceded the first goal at home since Good Friday last year. Only one other side had beaten them at home this season prior to our visit. These majestic three points earned had to be well and truly earned.
Ruben Selles is now proving himself as a manager and leader. Despite everything this season has thrown at him and his players, to drag themselves out of the bottom four with such a showing is a testament to himself and how he carries himself. How he has galvanised this unit to fight and not be outfought is quite incredible.
We all thought he was out of his depth, too stubborn in his ways, too set on something that was never going to work. But he’s learned and adapted as the season has progressed and the players clearly will run through walls for him now. He’s stood by them while everything else has crumbled and still has proven that we can go toe-to-toe with those at the very top of the standings.
There’s no doubt that he deserves a huge amount of credit for motivating this group of players that has been flung together to be better than the sum of its parts. The fight, the sheer desire - all the things we want to see in a Reading team - he’s pulling it all together in such difficult environment to thrive in. If the Great Escape is achieved in April then this result will go down as one of his finest.
Attitudes, togetherness and a spirit that’s becoming unbreakable of late is something we can all get behind and be proud of. It’s not over yet, nobody can be complacent, but the turnaround from abject performances such as Port Vale away to this fine win in dreadful conditions at Stevenage proves that we’re on the right track. Selles can be one proud manager, very proud.
Onwards we return to the SCL to take on Charlton Athletic which, on paper, looks to be a foregone conclusion with the visitors being winless in their last 12 fixtures with their last victory coming in November. But we all know that won’t be the case as the visitors have a new manager in Nathan Jones. Hopefully his philosophies will take a little longer to come into force and we can continue their awful run.
If Reading win and other results go our away, we could jump several places up the table into the heady heights of lower-mid-table. Imagine that! As the much-used phrase goes, this result will count for nothing if we don’t cash in against a side that’s well out of form.
There’s nothing to suggest we can’t win, but we’ve all seen enough football to know how fate can conspire against you. However, we can allow ourselves to bask in the soggy afterglow of this result. Our first midweek away win in literally years and years. It was wet, it was mighty, it was pure unadulterated joy.