Tuesday, 02 March 2021

Joao can fire club into Premiership

EVENINGS where everything goes right seem increasingly rare for any of us. Typically, we are either left exhausted from juggling home-schooling and work, or fed up being cooped up surrounded by the same four walls, or maybe missing friends and family, or perhaps it is simply catching the news on the television. Even by January standards, it’s not a laugh a minute right now.

Tuesday evening bucked the trend for Reading fans. The team’s games are all on the telly at the moment, so more people can enjoy their wins. Modesty forbids me from mentioning they are also all on the radio.

Everything went right for Reading. Coventry squandered a couple of early chances before Lucas Joao showed brilliance again to give Reading the lead after 16 minutes. Andy Rinohmota scored straight after half time to mark his 100th appearance for the club and immediately after the opposition were reduced to 10 men. John Swift struck a beauty of a free kick into the top corner.

All that put Reading into fourth in the table, just three points behind Swansea in the second automatic promotion spot, with 22 games left. It was a fabulous performance after 17 days away from Championship football. Another 10 performances like that should get them into the play-offs but, privately, the squad will hold loftier ambitions.

This Reading team really is stacked full of ability. On an evening when they scored three and looked such a threat going forward it was young central defender Tom McIntyre who bagged the man of the match award. That ignores the claim of the excellent goalkeeper Rafael, who has now kept 10 clean sheets in the Championship this season. Everywhere you look on the pitch there are players putting in big shifts.

The real star of the show is Joao. In the 1951/52 season Ronnie Blackman scored an incredible 39 league goals. Joao now has 14 in the league and 17 in total. His goals are only part of it. He set up the second goal on Tuesday night with some strong hold-up play, an agile turn and neat pass.

Everyone is asking me whether Reading could get themselves back into the Premier League for the first time since 2013. The answer is straightforward. If Joao stays fit and plays regularly between now and May 8, then this team will be playing in the Premier League next season.

The games coming up will be more demanding. Preston at Deepdale on Sunday is followed by Bournemouth, Stoke and Brentford. All these teams scored at least three goals when beating Reading before Christmas.

The playing surface has improved, the weather was classic January evening football stuff, the players and manager were all on good form post-match and there was no traffic leaving the stadium afterwards. Kick-off was the rather bizarre time of 6pm, so we even got home at a sensible time. Just in time to catch the 10 o’clock news, in fact. Welcome back to the real world.

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