Well, there’s another one that few of us saw coming (apart from Stewart, who predicted 2-1 to City!)!
Arguably, this one was even more impressive that Saturday’s given the look and feel of City’s starting line-up; one that had full-backs and wide men whose age profile was 20, 20, 18 and .21.
That three of the abovementioned four have collectively had just four Championship starts between them prior to last night made the win all the more remarkable.
Yet, in addition to the old stager Jamal Lewis, Max Aarons, Emi Buendia and Todd Cantwell looked anything but rookies who are still finding their feet. Instead, they showed maturity way beyond their years and all contributed fully to City’s first away win since February. None of this ‘few nice touches’ lark – each and every one fully involved and at the heart of everything.
So credit is due to the head coach. He’s taken some stick of late – well deserved in some cases – but it took balls to flood the wide areas with youngsters when he’d conceded pre-match that it’s an area Reading would look to overload.
But identifying and developing young players is his strength – the area in which he developed his reputation as a coach – and so he trusted his judgement when Onel Hernandez’s untimely hernia left a left-sided void.
Let’s face it, even with the injuries, the one area he’s not short of options and permutations in is midfield and so to pick Dereham’s finest ahead of some more experienced names spoke volumes.
And young master Cantwell delivered – big time. And none of this ‘run your socks off for 75 minutes’ and we’ll then bring on some fresh legs. He grew in strength and stature as the game went on and finished it even stronger than he started it. Thrown in for good measure was also the small matter of being the provider for the first goal.
That Max Aarons’ steady, assured and composed performance at right-back barely warrants a mention tells us everything we need to know about how well he’s slotted seamlessly into that role in tricky circumstances. But then again, someone who Farke saw fit to hand his debut to in the white heat of an East Anglian derby is clearly fearless – and he showed it again last night.
Credit too to those around him who have given him the backing needed for an 18-year-old in the Championship, and that lovely moment in the second half when he gave the ball away in a dangerous area but was immediately offered support rather than admonishment by Buendia and Christoph Zimmermann was lost on no-one.
For an old fool like me, that was heart-warming. Good work lads.
The performance itself was far from perfect but was the epitome of what it takes to win away in the Championship: gutsy, gritty, determined, resolute and interspersed with flashes of fluidity and quality, most notably the moves that led to the two goals.
As ever, there was a rocky period to be ridden out and but for that scrappy Reading equaliser it would have been job done, yet even more impressive was the response to the home side pulling level.
My fear was that they would retreat into their shells and scrap it out for a point, but to respond as they did and edge ahead again for the second time showed a mental strength that has not always been evident.
Of course, from a technical perspective, there remains much to work on and the loose passing and giving the ball away in dangerous areas simply has to improve – especially from a side that prides itself on retaining possession – but on the night Reading were not good enough to exploit City’s foibles.
For the second game running, there were good performances scattered liberally across the park and Zimmermann, in particular, deserved the nod that Gary Field gave him earlier for a near faultless performance alongside Timm Klose. Marco Stiepermann too continued where he left off on Saturday with another energetic performance in his new attacking midfield role – his run and cross in the lead-up to Mario Vrancic’s winner being particularly timely.
And it’s worth noting that this mini-run, which started with the draw at Ipswich, has coincided with Buendia’s (and Aarons’) inclusion in the starting XI; the little Argentinian adapting quickly to a type of football he’s unlikely to have encountered before now.
So, happy days and let’s hope for once Daniel’s Friday injury bulletin is not filled with bad news and caution. QPR have improved but so have we – let’s go there with no fear.