Never Say Die II: The Great Escape?
Back in November I wrote a post called "Never Say Die" about the Royals, saying that the one thing this team will give you is a fight right to the final whistle. And that resolve is exactly what helped get the third win of the season on the board, coming from 2-0 down to beat West Bromwich Albion.
January 14th, 2013
But at 4.30pm, it didn’t look at all like Reading would get a point. Two goals from Romelu Lukaku could and perhaps should have been four or five, as he hit the post, then the bar, and had the ball in the net but for an offside flag. The fans were leaving the stadium, Brian McDermott was cutting a forlorn figure in the dugout and his substitutions seemed to mirror the mentality of a man who had lost the plot. That was until one sub crossed, another dummied, and the mercurial Jimmy Kebe dived in to head home. Adam Le Fondre was that second sub and his penalty tied things up, before one stalwart of the Reading side, homegrown centre-back Alex Pearce, headed the ball on to big-money summer signing Pavel Pogrebnyak to rifle home.
So much has been said, by myself included, about the questionable team spirit of this side, with numerous players being dropped as a result of one dispute or another. Pearce, still in contract limbo with his deal expiring in the summer, was wielding the corner flag like an emperor’s staff when the whole team bundled in the corner after the third went in. And Danny Guthrie, so maligned by the Reading support for his arguments with McDermott, was right at the bottom of the pile, engulfed in the pandemonium that hit the stadium. A man who just three months ago was tweeting negative feelings about the club, took to the social network to declare that final fifteen minutes the best he had ever experienced. That moment just before the final whistle is the type of moment that can turn a season around.
And if Reading do surprise the critics and escape relegation this season, it won’t come as much of a shock to the Royals faithful. This is a team which took nearly 2/3 of their points last season in the second half of the campaign, including eight on the bounce from the end of January. It was the same in Brian McDermott’s first full season in charge, as they lost only three games after New Year’s Day 2011. FA Cup runs have been a staple of the Reading manager’s time in the job – it was an extra-time victory at Anfield against Liverpool which got him the full-time contract, and that season Reading reached the quarter-finals, only to lose to Aston Villa. The next season it was the final 8 again, but Manchester City were finally able to break Reading dreams of a date at Wembley. This year it’s Sheffield United in the 4th Round – a cup run might bring some much needed confidence to this side.
That tie is at home, at Fortress Madejski – as it was once christened. This year it hasn’t quite lived up to that billing, but it’s worth noting that Reading are unbeaten in three League games at the Mad Stad after that incredible comeback against West Brom. And with Southampton, Aston Villa, Wigan, QPR and Sunderland still to visit Berkshire this season, those are five eminently winnable games, and all six-pointers in terms of the league standings. Survival won’t be easy by any means, but those last-minute heroics pointed to a new leaf being turned over in the remarkable recent history book of Reading Football Club.