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View From The Dolan: Finally Beaten

Ben’s view as Reading’s unbeaten run comes to an end, live on Sky.

PA Images via Getty Images

I have been even more insufferable than usual since the absolute showing on Tuesday, trying to crowbar our club into any conversation with anyone I come across:

Person 1: Wow that rain is terrific today.

Me: Yeah, but not as terrific as our start to the season.

Person 2: I’m really excited for Christmas.

Me: When we will be 12 points clear no doubt.

Person 3: Ok, so in order to fix the problem, I just need to tighten this screw.

Me: Do you need to make it as tight as our defence has been, or tighter because I don’t think that’s possible.

As a result of this, to say I was buzzing for Friday was an understatement. So much so that I rounded up a group of good friends, to a ceiling of six as per current Covid legislation, and headed to an Australian-themed sports bar that began with a ‘W’ and sounded like ‘talkabout’. I won’t name the bar for legal reasons, but it was the only one that would let “groups” in for the game. More on that later.

I have great respect for Mark Robins and by extension Coventry. He is a man who has managed to forge a pretty good career in the game and get away from the “man who saved Sir Alex Ferguson” tag. He is a very sensible football man and one who has done absolute wonders with a club who have gone through the ringer in recent years. If ever there was a club I was pleased to see back in the Championship, it would be them and I hope that they manage to stay up this year.

Coventry City v Blackburn Rovers - Sky Bet Championship Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Back to the build-up. I boarded the bus safely and respectfully as the rain lashed down on the streets of Upper Tilehurst. The bus made its way through the darkness like a slow worm (Britain’s only legless lizard) through some dead leaves. I’d not been on a bus for a while (thanks, Covid) but it was a fairly inoffensive experience as it chundered along the Oxford Road and rolled into Friar Street.

The bar of choice was reasonably busy and filled with chaps (and some ladies) who were resplendent in Reading shirts of past and present. This instantly annoyed me as the guidance I was sent by the venue before attending said that no sportswear was to be worn after 7pm. Well, I’m pretty sure that a football shirt constitutes sports wear, right? Honestly, this country.

My friends, who included a Palace fan, another Reading fan, a fan of football and (you’ll spill your coffee over this) a Coventry fan, were already there (I’m always late to social events). He was actually wearing his Coventry shirt, which again gave me a chance to be annoyed in my head about the shirt rule, and this provided lots of gentle bantering between the tables in the bar. Drinks were ordered (beer tower), glasses given and with jackets off, it was time to watch the football. I was confident (but not arrogant) about our chances. I don’t want to be “that” fan, but this was a game that we should be winning.

Once the first goal had gone in, which in truth was like one of those playground goals where everything and everyone just stands still and watches the ball roll in, another tower was ordered and the topic turned to food. I was actually pretty annoyed at this point. Annoyed that we were losing, annoyed that the bar didn’t serve food “on the weekends” (listen mate: in two weeks you won’t be able stay open unless you are serving a pasty and sticky toffee pudding with your pints of Smirnoff Ice) and annoyed that we were on the proper Sky telly box for everyone to see us losing, especially the pundits who clearly hate us and want us to fail because we weren’t their top tip for promotion.

The rain was continuing to give it the beans both in Reading and at the Trillion Trophy Stadium in Birmingham. We were surrounded by servers in fancy dress for something called Halloween (never heard of it - apparently it’s a holiday made up by American sailors who wanted to scare off sea monsters along the eastern seaboard and so they dressed up in scary things like ghosts, ex-presidents and their wives) and the team was clearly surrounded by their own demons in the shape of forgetting how to play properly.

I was relieved when the half-time klaxon sounded, not least because I desperately needed the toilet and a massive packet of crisps. If you’ve never been to the toilets in the Walkabout in Reading (there you go, I’ve said the name of the bar - sue me), let me paint a picture for you: think of the worst place you’ve been to. Now, think of the place being completely tiled, but with posters promoting student nights that students can’t legally attend right now. Add a generous layer of urine to the floor of that place. Now, imagine that that place has eight taps, of which only two are working. For a final sprinkling of joy, imagine 20 chaps that are partially drunk trying to negotiate social distancing within that place. Good, right?

Safely back at my table and with a fresh tower ordered, we settled down for another 45 minutes of fluid football. Joao managed to equalise with another great goal, but Coventry then took the lead again to make it 2-1. In the spirit of the aforementioned “holiday”, Rafael did his best to do his own “scary goalie routine” with a shot that should have been parried away from the goal rather than into it and the game was all but over as the home side enjoyed a 3-1 scoreline. Puscas scored late on to reduce the gap, but it wasn’t enough to prevent us falling to our first defeat of the season.

Coventry City v Reading - Sky Bet Championship - St Andrews Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images

Look, did we deserve to win? No. Should we have got something out of the game? I think so. Full credit to Coventry who had that edge up front and whose game management was very good. I don’t think we were particularly bad, but I do feel that we weren’t comfortable within ourselves and the formation we had, for whatever reason. Coventry pushed us back quite a bit and some sloppiness in possession didn’t help our cause.

After the game, last orders were called and everyone still in the bar at 9.49pm was shooed out onto the streets. The funny thing about having a curfew of 10pm is that everyone leaves at the same time, thus making social distancing quite tricky. Amazingly, there was no bun fight for the taxis and it was all quite civilised. This new normal is a strange thing.

On the cab ride back, I checked over Twitter and the general consensus was that it was better to lose now and regroup while we still have the chance to do that. A great man once said “you don’t know how good you are until you lose and then play again on Wednesday against Preston” (it was me who said that, just now).

With injuries mounting and the weather turning, we really are into the dog days of the season and everyone has us in their sights now. The Sky Blues have proved we aren’t invincible, but now the players have to prove they are in it for the long haul with a positive result on Wednesday. As for me, it gives me an opportunity to be a little less insufferable over the next few days.

Until next time.