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View From The Dolan: What A Difference A Year Makes

From relegation battlers in October 2019 to five points clear at the top in October 2020, it’s been quite the turnaround for Reading.

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I’ve been doing this column for just over a year now and if you’d told me when I started where we’d be now, I would have slapped you (gently) in the face and told you to go to bed early because you were clearly delusional and had a high temperature (which a year ago wasn’t sinister).

The changes both on and off and then on the pitch have been quite staggering. I won’t list them all as I can’t be bothered, but I can’t get across how proud and delighted I am to be a Reading fan right now. “Don’t be like that Ben” I can hear you whisper. “You should be proud all the time”. Well, no. Watching Reading over the last few years has been a massive chore and one that I’ve treated like cutting the grass or emptying a compost bin (I don’t like gardening): essential but not enjoyable.

Talking of enjoyable things, I took my son to get his first ever pair of football boots on the morning of the game. I remember when I got my first pair, but things have moved on ever so slightly in terms of boot technology. Having had to buy a new pair for myself over the summer (Nike Tiempos, for the wider-footed player thank you) I knew what kind of storm I was walking into.

Sports Direct is never the easiest or best place to shop, global virus or not. I know the sales assistants take great pride in their craft and work hard for their money, but it’s still proper chaos in there. My son was quite up for a coloured pair, but I calmly and rationally explained that he’d done nothing in the game so far and therefore he’d get the blackest pair possible. We settled on some Nike Phantoms and he was quite chuffed with them.

Back at the chateau (that’s French for house), the minutes ticked down to kick off. The changes to the team were not unexpected but slightly harsh on young Tom Holmes I felt. Dellor and Gooding prattled on about the Rotherham net-tender’s hair and how the visitors wearing black shorts was weird. Honestly, it defies description that they get paid for this twaddle.

Halfway through the first half and my wife came down to show me a Next order she was about to put through for new onesies for our kids. Firstly, I hate onesies, I really do. Secondly, I had to remind her (politely and respectfully) that the game was in motion and that under no circumstances should I be disturbed, unless something was wrong with one of the cats and even then it would have to be an emergency of the highest order.

Reading were copying my level of perseverance (them being defensively solid, me not being deeply offensive) and stayed resolute during an onslaught by the Millers. We couldn’t get players on the ball and it really was the most nervous I’d been watching us so far this season.

And then, out of nowhere, Yakou popped up with a cheeky goal that seeped through the keeper’s legs like outside moisture through a piece of ancient tarpaulin. Time seemed to stand still as he bought the ball down gently and stroked it into the net. A goal that we really didn’t deserve, but then title winners in waiting always find a way, don’t they?

Reading v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship - Madejski Stadium Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images

Half time allowed me to gather the air in my breathing organs, apply some hand cream (the incessant use of hand sanitiser has really left them battered) and crack open an actual lager made with actual alcohol (a lovely brew from Thornbridge brewery which was purchased during the summer from our visit to Sheffield).

Dellor complained that he hadn’t see any video footage or still images of the goal (side note: still images?! What did you expect? One of the work experience bods to nip down to Snappy Snaps and print some pictures out?!) and so couldn’t tell whether it was offside or not. Although I’m pretty sure it’s his job to know, I let him off this one time.

The second period started much the same as the first: pretty boring and dire. The commentating team kept going on about the weather conditions (another side note: listen lads, if I want to know about the weather, I’ll watch videos of Michael Fish on YouTube pointing to a cardboard cutout of the UK (and Ireland) making preposterous claims about hurricanes in Swansea) and I wished they’d just stick to calling the action on the pitch.

And then things really went up a notch. Meite and Olise failed to complete a square ball situation, Esteves hit a rocket from 25 yards out which was tipped onto the bar and Meite, on 79 minutes, converted his second with half a Leroy Lita scissor kick. It was a superbly taken goal that all but sealed the result for the home team.

Olise hit a cheeky free kick against the cross bar and a 12-yard death kick was inserted by Joao, after a gentle inquiry from Yakou as to whether he could take it to complete his hat-trick. He was denied but Joao wasn’t and the two had a kiss and cuddle afterwards. Lovely stuff.

Another win in this already stunning season was only bettered by another clean sheet. We honestly don’t look like conceding a goal, such is the defensive solidity currently on show. The games are coming thick and fast now and the team look up for it. To be five points clear of the rest is also mind blowing: we really are going places now.

I genuinely do wonder where we will be this time next year. If we are even half as good as we are now, I will still be bloody delighted. And if I can keep having positive endings to my column, I’ll be even more joyous.

Until next time.