A grind of a game, but a gutsy victory
After a stern examination against Millwall last weekend and a breathless midweek FA Cup tie against Fulham, the question was whether we could summon enough vitality and spark to emerge victorious against an opponent who we beat comfortably (without a striker, no less) in the reverse fixture.
Pre-match, I was worried about a potential slip-up, and the first half seemed to suggest that this might’ve been a game too far for Tony Mowbray’s team.
Energy levels appeared to be low and we were disjointed in our passing and unable to pose any sustained threat in the face of a frankly hideous but effective tactical performance by Paul Ince’s visitors. There was no lack of application, but it just wasn’t quite clicking for us.
The second half was a huge improvement. We picked up the tempo, began to stretch the visitors with more success, and carved out some excellent chances- one of which was eventually taken by a big-game player in Patrick Roberts.
In a strange way, this was just as satisfying a victory as the 3-0 hammering in Berkshire.
Earning the points after ninety minutes of hard work showed that this group of players will never, ever give up, no matter how much frustration they encounter along the way.
Edouard Michut continues to shine
I’m not the kind of person who would implore the club to ‘pay whatever it takes’ in order to retain the services of a player at the end of a loan deal but in Michut’s case, I might make an exception- especially if he continues on his current trajectory.
This wasn’t his most impressive display in terms of passing, flair or outright skill, but he showed a superb level of composure in the midst of a midfield battle that was often about grunt and graft rather than razzle-dazzle football.
The willowy Frenchman rose to the challenge magnificently, and what I particularly liked about his performance was that he never shied away from getting on the ball and having the confidence to back himself.
It’s important to remember that this league is a world away from what he’s been used to, but he’s definitely settling in and getting attuned to the English style of play.
From being labelled as ‘too slight for the rigours of Championship football’ the PSG prodigy is showing the class that convinced us to swoop for him, and he’s definitely got a lot more to offer.
If he joins us permanently and continues to develop physically, this lad could be the fulcrum of our midfield for years to come. Here’s hoping he does!
We improvised and adapted in the absence of key players
This is not an attempt at throwing Kristjaan Speakman and company under the bus, but during the early stages of the game, you couldn’t overlook the Ross Stewart-shaped void at the top of the pitch.
The loss of the Scot without a like-for-like replacement has left us without our talisman, and there were times in the first half when the likes of Dan Ballard appeared to be shaping up to play a long ball to where Stewart would've been, only to keep it on the ground having realised that such passes to Joe Gelhardt would bring us no joy.
On the other hand, we do have plenty of attacking options and it was great to see Roberts chip in with a vital goal, as well as a promising debut for Isaac Lihadji. When we keep the ball on the deck and our passing game clicks, we’re a match for anyone, and that’ll be tested regularly during the remaining games.
These lads are going to have to deliver on a weekly basis if we’re to soften the blow of Stewart’s absence whilst maintaining our push for the playoffs.
Reading’s mix n’ match squad leave empty-handed…thankfully!
The Royals’ team reminded me of the kind of group that we might’ve cobbled together four or five years ago: a selection of once-decent players mixed with some absolute dross and certain names who really should’ve retired years ago.
To witness Andy Carroll’s lumbering, lifeless performance was to watch a player whose career simply never recovered from his disastrous spell at Liverpool, and quite how the ex-Newcastle striker is still deemed good enough for this level is difficult to fathom.
Throw the likes of Jeff Hendrick, Shane Long and Scott Dann into the mix, and it’s impossible to see any real plan or structure being utilised by Ince’s team, and the contrast between our tightly-knitted and well-drilled group of players and theirs was stark.
To make matters worse, their style of football was truly woeful to watch, with an approach that consisted of little more than lumping it to Carroll and Long and hoping for the best.
In addition, their time wasting tactics were straight out of the League One playbook, and they’re a team I’d be very glad not to play again for a long time.