Reading extended their unbeaten run to five Championship games on Saturday as they beat a high-flying Barnsley team 2-1. Garath McCleary handed Reading the lead early on after John Swift was brought down for a penalty. Despite seeing his penalty saved initially by Adam Davies in the Barnsley goal, the Jamaican international slotted home to make it 1-0. The second came just before the half-hour mark with a nicely taken goal by Swift himself from distance.
The game took a turn when McCleary was sent off in the closing stages of the first half. Despite a well taken goal for Barnsley late on from Adam Armstrong, the Royals were able to hold on to all three points.
It was a resolute performance for the majority by ten-man Reading and here are some of the things that came out of the 2-1 win.
Team Spirit Is High
Reading’s performance on Saturday was an impressive one because it continued their new-found form away from the Madejski this season. More importantly, it also seemed to show a new found mental strength that Reading teams have been lacking in recent years. While Garath McCleary’s actions were not advisable, it did at least demonstrate how the Reading players are wanting to stand up for their teammates.
Whereas the team in previous seasons will have often lost concentration late on and conceded scrappy goals, the Reading team stood firm and held onto the win. While Jaap Stam’s tactics have come under some criticism in recent games, it was the perfect plan to prevent Barnsley from grabbing a late equaliser.
The moment that epitomised the self-belief that exists in the squad currently was after the final whistle had blown. As captured, Stam was keen to celebrate with his players a win that will have done wonders for the team. Not everything went to plan, but the bond between the players continues to grow and they are playing all the better for it.
Swift Is Key
The absence of John Swift from the Reading squad in recent times through injury was one that was met with much concern by the fans. Swift has increasingly become an important part of the team, especially in an attacking capacity. The midfielder is currently Reading’s joint top goalscorer having added to his tally at the weekend.
The Royals scored twice against Barnsley and Swift played a part in both of them, winning the penalty for the first and scoring the second. Reading have been missing a cutting edge with his absence- in particular against Birmingham- and having him back is a major boost to the team. You need only take a glance at social media an hour before kick off to have a look at how much he is respected by the fanbase. If he is in the team, the fans have faith that the game will go well.
So far their faith and the faith of the manager is being repaid with some very impressive performances.
Reading Now Have Strength In Depth
Much has already been said about Garath McCleary’s indiscretions during Saturday’s game and the midfielder has already apologised for his actions. Prior to the red card, the winger was a handful for the Barnsley defence and a key player for the team going forward. Coping without him for the next three games is therefore not ideal, especially when the Royals are taking on some high-flying opposition.
That being said, however, thanks to a busy summer period the Royals now have cover in a variety of positions. Callum Harriott, who has often looked impressive in the substitute appearances he has made, will now have the opportunity to make a push for the first team in McCleary’s absence. The continued rotation of Jordan Obita and Tyler Blackett also shows the multitude of options available to Stam. While currently you can say that the striker is an area where Reading are still lacking- largely due to injury- Reading look capable of coping with absences.
Al-Habsi Continues Good Form
While Ali Al-Habsi has had his fair share of blunders in the past, the goalkeeper put in another impressive performance against Barnsley. The Reading stopper is currently in the top three for saves in the Championship so far this season and his late save on Saturday kept the Royals on course for all three points.
Having won player of the season last season, the fans are already aware of the importance of his inclusion in the team. The goalkeeper continues to often be the difference when it comes to seeing through games and taking the maximum points available. Fans may not always be happy about the number of times Al-Habsi receives the ball at his feet during games these days but they can surely have no complaint about the calibre of his shot-stopping in recent times.