A swashbuckling display saw Reading cruise to a 3-1 victory over fellow play-off contenders Bournemouth. In a performance build on passion, belief and desire, the hosts found themselves 3-0 up at the break thanks to goals from Laurent, McIntyre and Joao before Stanislas scored a late consolation for the Cherries.
It was the visitors who started brightest, with good territory and the first attempt of the game when Danjuma was afforded a bit too much time just outside of the area. His powerful strike was well saved by Rafael down to his left – the kind of shot he was flapping at a couple of months ago.
Reading took a while to get going and were sparked into life by a Bournemouth error on 20 minutes. Lewis Cook hideously misplaced a simple pass back to returning centre-back Mepham, which allowed Joao a free run and pick up in the box. He cut the ball back to the onrushing Swift who could only drag wide on his weaker left foot.
From here Reading kept up a sustained period of pressure and a level of control that they never let go of. A long series of set pieces eventually paid off as a Tom McIntyre knock down cause panic from an Olise corner. As the ball found its way through the crowd of players, it was Josh Laurent who reacted quickest to poke past Begovic for 1-0.
Not long after, it was 2-0. A trademark Rinomhota rampage through the middle of the park gained Reading a free-kick on the edge of the area. Olise’s tame shot was still too hot for the usually composed Begovic and yet again it was Reading who reacted quickest with Tom McIntyre slamming home from just three yards out.
Bournemouth offered some vague sense of attacking threat when Solanke tried his luck from distance, but it was to get worse for the visitors before the break.
After Richards stole possession in the middle of the park, Ejaria played an incisive pass to front-man Lucas Joao on the edge of the Bournemouth box, who had gotten on the wrong side of Rico. Joao’s turn sold Cook down the river, and the visiting skipper barely had time to land on his backside before Joao’s shot found the back of the net for 3-0.
As dominant and irresistible as Reading’s first-half performance was, it had been car crash football from the visitors and Tindall made three half time subs. Two of these linked up inside the first minute of the second half as Brooks’ corner was met firmly by Smith, but he couldn’t keep his header down.
Reading still looked to be aggressive in transition. The hosts pinned Bournemouth in with a combination of good play by Swift and Ejaria, helped by some half-hearted clearances. This enabled Ejaria to find time and space in the penalty area, and he found Swift with another lovely cut-back – Swift again failed to hit the target on his left foot.
David Brooks was just about the only bright spark for Bournemouth on a bleak Friday night, and his corners continued to cause problems. Just after the hour mark came the visitors’ best chance as his whipped delivery fell to Mepham and then King who both had their shots blocked by the body of Tom Holmes to keep the score at 3-0. The stark contrast between Homes’ body-on-the-line approach and Bournemouth’s first-half defending was there for all to see.
Moments later, Brooks again caused problems down the Bournemouth right as his delivery found Billing in the middle of the Reading penalty area. His shot forced Rafael into a fingertip save around his left post, before following up with another good save from the resulting corner.
Reading started to ring the changes and looked a real threat on the break when Semedo and Joao linked up after winning back possession. Joao couldn’t quite find Semedo in the box, and his strike from the edge of the area forced a strong save from Begovic.
Bournemouth did pull a goal back late on after Laurent felled Wilshere on the edge of the area. Stanislas lined up the free-kick and watched as the wall parted like the Red Sea as the ball sailed into the bottom corner, giving Rafael little hope. Morrison was clearly disgusted at Semedo and Joao’s lack of solidity in the wall, but with just 3 goals conceded in 6 games the stand-in skipper will be delighted with the defensive work of the side overall.
In worrying news for the rest of the league, Reading’s injury crisis seems to be nearing its end. Andy Yiadom and Yakou Meite both returned from long-term injuries for the last ten minutes, to the delight of Reading fans everywhere.
Having scored, Bournemouth failed to threaten much more and in fact it looked like the hosts would get a fourth. Esteves managed to catch the Bournemouth defence napping after Aluko’s quick free-kick. The Portuguese wing-back raced from the halfway line to the Bournemouth area and will have been disappointed to have blazed over.
Esteves wasn’t done, and clearly feels he has a point to prove. After Aluko tried to hold the ball up in the corner, he found Esteves on the edge of the area and his shot was on target this time. Begovic could only parry and Meite couldn’t quite connect with the rebound when following in.
Veljko Paunovic declared this to be the ‘perfect performance’ on what was the biggest game of Reading’s season so far, and it’s hard to argue. Tindall cut a visibly angry figure in his post-match interview and needs to sort out the Bournemouth slump before too long.
Up next for Reading, revenge month continues with a trip to Stoke on Wednesday. For Bournemouth, they host Sheffield Wednesday in a key contest at both ends of the table.