Point-pinching Reading still finding ways to win
Jimmy Kebe set Reading fans’ pulses racing recently when he joked on twitter that he was joining Newcastle because he was about the only French-born player not being signed up at St.James’ Park. On Saturday against Sunderland he was at it again. Only this time it was his goals that were the reason for the exploding blood pressures at the Madjeski Stadium.
Kebe’s two strikes, one after seven minutes and another, the winner, four minutes from time gave Reading a deserved victory - their fourth in six matches - and increased clout in the growing belief that the club can stay in the Premier League.
It is a belief that deserves to be taken seriously too. Although they are impressive enough, statistics can sometimes only tell half the tale. It looks like that is the case with the Royals.
They are now two points clear of the bottom three and sitting on a run of form that has seen them take 13 points from a possible 18. But, more important that that, it is whether the manner of their performances tell us enough about their chances of survival. Are they confident enough? are they resilient enough? do they believe enough? On the evidence of recent weeks, it has to be three yeses.
Survival invariably does not distill down to a simple question of whether a team is good enough. A lot of the time you do not have to be, you just have to back yourselves and, at the moment, Reading are the kings at doing that. We saw it last season in the Championship and now they are at it again.
A quick scan of their recent work shows just what adept point pinchers they have become.
Two-nil down with 8 minutes to go against West Brom turned into a 3-2 win.
One nil down with 19 to go against Newcastle turned into a 2-1 win.
Two-nil down with three minutes to go against Chelsea turned into an unbelievable draw and a precious point.
And being held by Sunderland, despite being vastly superior, they simply believed themselves to another winner. It is some record and some trait. What Paul Lambert and Harry Redknapp would give for it.
Talking of managers, Brian McDermott deserves to take his share of the credit. He has patiently and intelligently nurtured, cajoled and driven his side to this current revival. Plainly it has been a rough ride. Their first win did not come until half way through November and was immediately followed by an non-magnificent seven straight defeats as Reading were battered like fish. But rather than leaping from the fryer into the nearest furnace, Reading now appear to have landed on something much more friendly to their survival hopes - their fortitude.
McDermott plays a canny card too. Take his handling of Adam Le Fondre. After scoring 6 times as a substitute, including 5 in his last 4 appearances, he has the label as the most potent replacement since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer nailed down and the temptation to give the saviour against Chelsea a run from the the start against Sunderland must have been overwhelming. Most observers thought he would do it. McDermott, though, kept Le Fondre where he was. That took some bottle. But McDermott revealed afterwards the self-sacrificial ethos within the camp made the decision a little less fraught.
“I had a chat with Adam. He’s the ultimate team player, he’ll do whatever is right for the team.
“He understands that. We’ve got a good relationship and he’s a top class guy,” McDermott explained afterwards.
Le Fondre’s day from the start will inevitable come but, for now, it is the continued evolution of the team that is taking centre stage - a development perfectly summed up by their manager: “We always felt we could get the results with our philosophy. We had to find a way to win...and the boys are finding a way to win now.”