Slow out of the blocks
It was obvious from kick off that Reading had three things in mind: to sit back and defend, to stop us playing, and to waste time hoping to get something from the game.
Given that they hadn’t won since the 27th December, that approach was understandable, but the Lads didn’t do a lot to nullify their three-pronged approach in the first half.
The first forty five minutes was a forgettable affair during which neither side could really turn possession into meaningful chances.
Dan Ballard and Aji Alese put a couple of headers over the bar and Joe Gelhardt also connected with a header, but Reading goalkeeper Joe Lumley collected it with ease.
I’m not sure if the laborious start to the game was down to tired legs or tired minds from midweek, or simply down to Reading executing their game plan better than ourselves, but it was as dull as ditchwater.
Missed chances early in the second half
Tony Mowbray clearly put some ideas into the minds of the players at the interval, and we stepped things up significantly when we came out for the second half.
Within five minutes of the restart, Gelhardt was put through on goal and tried to slot the ball into the bottom corner, only see it roll wide of the post.
He did well to get the shot away at all, such was the pressure from the Reading defender, but the signs were positive.
Shortly afterwards, Alese was unlucky not to open the scoring as a ball over the top was brought down with the deft touch of a seasoned attacker, only for him to lift it over both the goalkeeper and the bar.
The ever-improving Trai Hume also had a great opportunity, shooting too close to Lumley when cutting it to the right might’ve led to a certain tap-in for Gelhardt.
In general, we were now operating at a higher level and Reading were starting to feel the pressure. However, an hour into the game we were still at 0-0 and most fans were possibly wondering if we would convert one of our chances.
Mowbray’s substitutes change the game
When Alex Pritchard eventually came on for Amad, I have to confess I was scratching my head.
If anyone was going to come up with a moment of magic in a game where we were struggling to make the breakthrough, the diminutive attacker was likely to be that person.
However, as was the case during the midweek replay at home to Fulham, Pritchard really made an impact and took us up a gear.
Within a couple of minutes, Alese was unlucky not to score after a rasping strike from Roberts was parried into his path, but he couldn’t control it well enough in order to get it over the line.
Seven or eight minutes later, I was left with my head in my hands as a great ball into the box was cleared straight into the path of Edouard Michut.
Perhaps with more time than he thought, he absolutely smashed his shot but it whistled over the crossbar. Given how Reading were approaching the game, the fans were doubtless starting to wonder how on Earth we would get another chance as good as that.
Mowbray then reacted with one of the bravest moves of the season, bringing on Isaac Lihadji and Luke O’Nien for Gelhardt and Dan Neil.
It was a big gamble but thankfully one that paid off within ten minutes, after Jewison Bennette replaced Jack Clarke and Abdoullah Ba came on for Michut.
Roberts almost put us ahead with a left-footed shot from the edge of the box as Bennette warmed up- a warning sign that he wasn’t done yet.
Persistence pays off
The determination and never-say-die attitude of Roberts made the difference in the eighty fourth minute.
After some typically complex interplay on the edge of the Reading box, he chased down a ball that he had very little right to win.
Not to be denied, Roberts won it back, sat down the nearest defender and drilled the ball past the keeper.
The stadium went mad, we were 1-0 up with around six minutes left to play, and after taking the lead, we controlled the final stages reasonably well.
Lihadji showed some nice pace and some good touches, demonstrating that he’s willing to sit on the shoulder of the last man and to take them on should the chance arise.
Other than the scare of another knock to Ballard- who was immense at the back alongside Danny Batth- the game ended in a fair result, with a gritty and hard-fought win for the team who wanted the victory and to play football the most.
Alese playing up front was bold but it worked.
It was good innovation by Mowbray and the team to find ways of creating attacking momentum when we have only one striker. Gelhardt will improve but is still finding his way in red and white.
Other than missing our best chance of the game, Michut was class and Bennette was also great when he came on. Elsewhere, Lihadji looked good and Ba helped us to see the game out.
Complimenting that, the experience of Pritchard was once again a significant and noticeable factor.
I really don’t know how the gaffer will pick his side for QPR, with all these lads doing so well!