Brian McDermott’s team have now picked up four points from two very tough away fixtures over the past few days. The Walkers Stadium has proved a difficult place to go this season and no visiting team had left with the three points since December, a record that shows just how well the Royals have done to grab the win. The Foxes emerged from the Madejski Stadium in October with a 1-0 victory against the run of play, with Reading wasting chance after chance in a performance that summed up much of the frustration under Brendan Rodgers. On this occasion, a less-profligate Reading came away with the win they had earned, and yet again there was late drama and a show of composure from Gylfi Sigurdsson. With last gasp penalties earned and scored at Anfield in the FA Cup and at home to QPR recently, the spot kick against Leicester was by no means the first time Reading had struck late in the day. This is not a case of the Royals getting lucky. This is McDermott inspiring his side to keep battling until the final whistle and a late winner is no less worthy than a lead won early and held.
Yet again there was a fine display from the reborn Jimmy Kebe and the Malian winger is converting his doubters into believers with every passing game. The same fans that criticised him regularly on internet forums are now queuing up to start threads apologising to him for not having faith. This writer must confess to having slated Kebe in this column previously and has been very impressed with the turnaround displayed by a player who looked to have established himself as little more than a show pony. Credit must surely go to McDermott whose leadership has got the best out of a highly talented player who seemed to lack any idea of how to harness his ability once on the pitch. McDermott has also more than shown up those who were alarmed by his appointment, proving to be worth the opportunity he had spent a decade earning behind the scenes. At the time it seemed surprising that Sir John Madejski opted for a man not deemed worthy of the job last summer but McDermott and his assistant Nigel Gibbs have turned the fortunes of the club around dramatically. As recently as January, the Royals were four points adrift of safety, and now there appears more chance of the play offs than relegation. The boss is sensibly deflecting talk of the top six but is happy to admit that such conjecture is an acknowledgement of how far the team has come.
A lot was expected of the likes of Alex Pearce, Scott Davies and Hal Robson-Kanu after their exciting pre-season performances and previous spells out on loan but it has been Sigurdsson who has risen from the youth team to make by far the biggest impact. The 20-year-old had previously stood out among his contemporaries only for being an Icelander among a mostly British set of young prospects, and even his loan spells at Crewe Alexandra and Shrewsbury had not put him too heavily on the Reading radar. If little was expected of him when he broke in to the first team this season, much has been delivered and he has proved to be a man to be relied on when the pressure is mounting. His succession of late penalties have exhibited a calmness and maturity beyond his years, with the exceptionally cool strike at Anfield coming under about as much pressure as could be imagined for a Reading player. From his thunderous long range strike against Burton in the League Cup to open his Royals account, each of Gylfi’s 14 goals this season have seen his stature grow.
This weekend sees another huge test with the visit of second placed West Brom to Berkshire. Reading may have proved the victors over two games in the FA Cup, again with some late drama, but the league is a different matter and the Royals will do well to prolong their excellent form. McDermott will have to cope without Jay Tabb who sprained his ankle against Leicester, whilst Ivar Ingimarsson is now out for the rest of the season with hamstring surgery scheduled for the weekend. The skipper has played his part alongside Matt Mills in the recent resurgence but Zurab Khizanishvili has already proved himself a more than capable deputy. The Baggies will prove a tough task but Reading will be keen to win it for the absent Ingimarsson.