January does strange things to people. Diets, personal endurance tests which normally involve abstaining from something, binging on crime dramas and, of course, resolutions. Another thing it does is get the football calendar back to normal after the craziness of December.
Having had a quite stunning festive period, we were given a breather in the shape of the cup last week. The only positive to the weekend’s results was that we have a potential home tie against opposition we can beat (probably). How far we go in the competition largely depends on the team selection this coming Tuesday when we travel to the North for the replay.
Much has been said about the line up from last week and, with the start of the window, we’ve already seen two players depart with the club confirming its stance on any more players leaving before the end of the month, ie ‘it ain’t gonna happen unless we got top dollar for them’. Likewise, plenty of column inches have been written about both Virginia and Barrett going. I won’t add to them too much but IMO they both needed to leave.
Furthermore, the EFL announced the league’s manager and player of the month nominees and subsequent winners. Getting political and ‘gritty’ for a moment, how the hell Our Saviour Mark Bowen didn’t win is beyond me. Giving it to Woodgate (‘Woody’ to his mates and Northern morons) just smacks of sucking up to the ‘big’ names. Aside from the win at WBA, they weren’t exactly pulling up any trees with their results. Anyway, I’m not bitter and I’m sure Mark isn’t either, but I will love it if we finish higher than them. Love it (#kevinkeegan).
To say I was excited for this weekend is a bit like saying that January isn’t a long month: it is and I was. In a week that was dominated by another Royal family (sooooo over that), I was eager to get back to my own. When Reading fans think of Forest, they instantly recall ‘that’ night, when a goal from Mikele confirmed our second promotion to the big boys’ league. But things have moved on since that April night eight years ago for both sides and in often contrasting directions.
At this present moment, the chaps from Nottingham are still pinching themselves at their lofty position and we are still wondering if we’ll sneak into the play offs. In terms of all that, it’s still very early days but with the midway point of the season now past, we are already reaching ‘crunch’ games in our quest for the ultimate turnaround to get sixth or higher. Every point counts as we attempt to make up ground on the teams currently occupying the positions we desire.
My morning was ruined by the realisation I’d run out of almond milk (no, I’m not doing veganuary, I was into almond milk before it was cool) and the kind of rain that falls as slowly and pointlessly as water out of a broken fountain in a dilapidated pond. So my walk to Tilehurst station was a welcome distraction as I caught the 1.26 (13.26 for those that enjoy GMT) to Reading Town. I knew my dependable old friend Milan was waiting for me in The Monk’s, so as I left the train I text him directly and simply: “Pint. Now.” Call me demanding, but I expect my friends to arrive before me at an agreed venue and have a cold pint waiting for me. It’s just who I am. And as I’ve mentioned, my friend Milan is very punctual and dependable.
He wasn’t there. A short text back read “Still the on train. Get me one”. I won’t repeat what I sent back because my dad and people I work with read these articles, but it’s fair to say I had a face like a grieving cod. A couple of golden American lagers later and I was fine. As we boarded the bus after leaving the pub, I checked the food options for the day’s game on FB (I can call it that because I celebrated my 13th anniversary of being on the social media site this week) and I realised I had basically won the lottery: Anonymous had moved to outside the Dolan! Winning. At. Life.
A cheeky cappuccino from the finest purveyors of coffee beans in Reading, a quick glance at the programme (which featured the wonderful Pele on the cover this week) and that was it: show time. KO. Go time. As the first few minutes rolled away, I was suddenly struck by the imperious nature of Forest’s goal tender: an illuminous, gigantic object with shoulders the size of the goal frame. Massive bloke.
The early exchanges showed the visitor’s defence to have more holes in it than cartoon cheese, but we failed to snatch the lead. The ‘problem’ with Reading right now is that we are blessed with plenty of attacking options, a bit like a child turning up to a buffet with too many desert choices and not knowing which one to go for. The Hoops struggled for cohesion and the Whitley Bowl became huffy and impatient. We were giving away cheap free kicks willy nilly and were lucky to avoid any minor felony cards from the ref. Bowen became more and more agitated on the side line and the Reds’ travelling contingent became more and more vocal.
Around the 35 mark, things got spicy. Ejaria kicked into life and Meite had a shot well saved. Adam started to boss it in midfield and free kicks were thrown around like confetti. Swift started to skill people up (as the kids would say) and my nerves became shredded like a finely cooked piece of hoisin crispy duck. Would the breakthrough come before the half was out? No one was budging from the Dolan, that’s for sure. Brice (Brice!!), the Forest GK, told the Dolan to “chill out” with a simple but effective hand gesture after some eight year-olds at the front of the stand questioned his time-keeping skills.
My Dad and Milan broke into a gentle argument about who wanted to pay £5 for a flat alcoholic drink and the first 45 ended 0-0. My dad complained that he couldn’t read the programme I’d bought as he left his glasses at home. We drank our pints (me - Amstel, Milan - Guinness, Dad - Amstel) and discussed the differences between Halal and Kosher meats (don’t ask).
The second half started with aplomb. And what aplomb! Tyler hit the post and both goals were peppered with reasonable attempts. The action got too much for someone in and around row W/X in B13 as a massive fart wafted around like an unwelcome ghost. Reading pushed forward and made all the right noises but didn’t really threaten Brice (Brice!!). As the clocked ticked down, it became clear the game would end in a stalemate.
On 94 minutes, we made the critical and crucial decision to leave. And I want to emphasise the point, very clearly, that it was 94 minutes. 94 minutes of a game that, after injury time, was due to run for 95 minutes. A quick look up on the TV screen in the concourse as I left gate five informed me that Forest had earned a corner. So what? Just a bloody corner, nothing to write home about. Clearly, that corner was converted into a goal. “Bloody typical” shouted an elderly chap at me, as if it was my fault. I was so angry I swore (footnote: not at the elderly chap, but at the fact that I’d left and that Forest had scored a goal they didn’t deserve).
No sooner had we made our way past the buses and an equaliser appeared to have gone in. On 97 minutes. 97. Of a 95 minute game. Madness. The car park attendant politely enquired to the generic group of people leaving the ground as to what was going on. No one could tell her, for obvious reasons. I imagined the Dolan politely clapping the result but at the same lambasting the officials for their flippant use of minutes, the extra time added on in the game potentially causing unnecessary life admin in the shape of an extra wait in the car park or bus queue. That said, at least they saw the goals, which is more than can be said for me.
Aside from the fact that I went to the game and missed both goals which came well after closing hours, the result itself was the minimum we deserved. Club 1871 were in full voice and to be honest, I can’t commend them enough. What they have done in a very short space of time is wonderful and they’ve turned an underused and barren space into the go-to stand at the ground. As a seasoned Royal, I want to thank them for that. I won’t be joining them (obvs) as my heart is in the Dolan and probably always will be, but they’ve been instrumental in changing the game-day atmosphere in recent months.
In terms of the team, we’ve made huge strides. To concede a goal in the 95th minute and still get something positive shows an improving mental strength, heaps of belief and above all, perseverance. All basics needed for a team to have any kind of success you might argue, but ones we’ve lacked collectively over the last few years. Forest didn’t deserve three points, and a draw - on balance - was probably fair.
MOTM has to be Blackett who was simply phenomenal and was unlucky not to break the deadlock early in the second half. Pele made a mockery of Sim’s fine article in the week by having a shocker of a game and Meite continues to impress and frustrate in equal measure. It was also decent to see George back after a lengthy absence and he looked lively. Above all, the point keeps us looking up rather than down and as we approach a tough run in, that’s no bad thing.
If Bowen keeps this up, he’ll earn himself a new contract, but more importantly a Wales Day to celebrate just how great he is. Now there’s a thought...
Until next time.