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On The Road: Plymouth Argyle

A fan’s experience of Reading’s 4-2 cup win at Plymouth argyle in mid-week.

Plymouth Argyle v Reading - Carabao Cup Second Round Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images

This is what the Carabao Cup is all about. Running out on work at lunch to go to the seaside. Fish and chips on a Tuesday. Getting back home at 3am? Psshh, nothing a well-timed Carabao can’t fix.

It’s often a great day out in these away cup ties regardless of the score. You get the chance to visit a new ground, experience a new place and even see new players. Plymouth had all of this and more. Home Park was grander than some that League Two have to offer. The city itself was a mixed bag from my brief trip.

Seeing the Plymouth College of Art fronting onto a road filled with roadworks did feel a little symbolic. Then again, a power walk through central Reading on an overcast Tuesday evening probably doesn’t give off the best impression and we all still live here. Plymouth is definitely somewhere to visit on a southern weekend trip.

Plymouth Argyle’s Home Park
Calum Egan

Then you have starts for players like Akin Adimayo, Gabriel Osho, Teddy Howe and Michael Olise. They might not get into the first team proper, you might not see them play ever again - none of that means it’s not still fun to watch them play. There’s an endearing recklessness to most inexperienced footballers.

They have not fully transitioned into footballers yet; they are simply people on a football pitch. It’s almost like watching a baby takes their first steps. Every pass can be a struggle, every touch requires so much concentration. Sometimes the imperfections of a player can make them all the more likeable.

At the heart of it all, you have Jordan Obita. I don’t imagine many of us will ever know what it feels to undergo such a lengthy rehabilitation process. Of course, there is the physical pain. What few might realise is the mental impact such an injury can have on a person. When your life for so many years is football-centric, an enforced two-year absence must take some toll on the psyche.

I’m no expert so I would encourage you to read this piece about Man City’s Ilkay Gundogan and his personal struggles. Footballers are people and Jordan Obita is a pretty great guy. Talking of sound lads, Yakou Meite had some iconic celebrations, which you can read about here.

With the eccentric nature of the match, packed-out stadium and seaside setting, this match had a bit of the carnival about it. From talking to a couple of Argyle fans - thanks John and Peter - you can get a sense of the excitement for even a Championship cup draw. The allure of seeing “that new Inter Milan striker” raised their spirits.

Naturally, they were distraught that George Puscas hadn’t travelled - as were we all - but hopefully they were adequately sated by ex-PSG man Yakou Meite. Not that Plymouth lack things to be excited about: Ryan Lowe has them playing some slick football and they sit pretty in second place in League Two.

Gloriously, Home Park has perhaps the best lower-league ground quirk: the disappearing footballs. Often seen at grounds with low roofs (QPR) or with giant defenders (Ibrahima Sonko), the football sailing out of view is one of sport’s most underrated pleasures. Yet, Plymouth had a new spin on it. With their new grandstand under construction, all that stood between Charlie Adam and the death of a Mitre ball was a 10-foot wall. Needless to say, Plymouth were grateful for their industrial-size bag of balls.

The view from the away end at Home Park
Calum Egan

Although I’m sure few travelling supporters would admit it, Kevin Johnson’s antics in the middle embellished the occasion. Reading were finally hit with the karma they deserved for The Ghost Goal all those years ago at Vicarage Road. Injustice is the root of so much drama, which is why VAR is such a blight to the character of football - would Hamlet be such a dramatic play if the Danish government used VAR to find out Hamlet’s uncle had killed his father?

The joy of football doesn’t lie in the science of the game, it lies in the theatre. Obviously, I’d be calling for the referee’s head if Reading had been knocked out of the cup, but the Berkshire Beckham was on hand to make sure that never happened. If the match were a Shakespearean play, thankfully it was more comedy than tragedy.

It wasn’t only the referees who made some bizarre decisions. The Pilgrims seemed to have a club-wide time-wasting policy. Not only was that pesky construction site disrupting the game, but the ball boys often delayed their ball retrieval. One of them, who looked suspiciously old and spotty, was determined to incessantly hold on to the ball for an extra, awkward few seconds. For his sake, he should be grateful that Teddy Howe has a better temperament than famed ball-boy-basher Eden Hazard. Even Ryan Lowe was guilty of running the clock down.

The last time Reading scored four goals in an away match, P Clement was just a Dutch winger, Sone Aluko scored a goal and Roy Beerens was a striker. To score four at Plymouth, with the team Jose Gomes set out, is a testament to the belief at the club right now. Lower-league ties can be a poisoned chalice for managers - we all remember Stevenage - so Tuesday’s win should not be taken for granted.

Food: 7/10. Fish and chips is pretty hard to get wrong.

Away day: 8/10. Less tension than Huddersfield, but a six-goal thriller in Devon will do it for me most weeks.

Conclusion: Go to all the lower-league away grounds you can, because it’s fun to escape from the life and death reality of Championship football.