The international break came at just the right time. Results had been trailing off, injuries were mounting and I for one was emotionally drained from the absurd highs and the ludicrously low lows that the team had put me through. At the close of play of the international games on Wednesday, my thoughts quickly switched to the game against the Cherries (awful nickname). As game day approached, my brain was full up with questions:
- What would the team selection be?
- Who was fit and who wasn’t fit?
- Had Pauno had a chance to really affirm his intentions with the team?
- Would the curse of Sky TV haunt us again?
On the morning of the game, these questions tumbled around my head like some TicTacs in a massive mouth.
Bournemouth away was a game that I would 110% had gone to, despite what my friends in my 5-a-side team would say (just because I haven’t been to many games since I’ve known them, it doesn’t actually mean I don’t “go away”, I’ve just been selective in my away fixtures in recent years).
As I already sort of mentioned with one of my personal questions (posed to myself), the game was on Sky, saving me the trouble of inputting my card details, handing over (electronically) £10 and allowing my ears some respite from the incessant nonsense that BBC Berks give us when the game is on iFollow.
The trade-off for this was that once again we were “treated” to the expertise of Matt Mills. Now, I never liked him, even before he started physically swearing at his own fans because he couldn’t pass a ball. I’ve never really forgotten his arrogance or his demeanour or his snarky face and for that, I was deeply, deeply troubled to see him once again at Sky HQ and in my house (via the TV).
As far as the team selection went, sticking Moore and Ejaria in made perfect sense. I felt sure, absolutely sure, that the defensive problems that had blighted the team like a rogue robin picking at a potato field (and robins do eat potatoes) would be long gone. As the managers shook hands (or fist bumped or touched elbows or whatever) I couldn’t help but notice that Jason Tindall, the Cherries’ (really, really stupid nickname) coach, looked like an estate agent, the type who tries to let a one-bedroom flat, complete with wet room, to an unsuspecting young professional who is looking for a pace of their own for the very first time having graduated from a B-list university for the princely sum of £1400 a month. The location of this flat? It doesn’t matter because he’s already ripped you off mate! Yeah, he wasn’t for me.
Within minutes, it was quite clear that the old Reading were back to set fire (not literally, they aren’t Vikings) to the rest of the Championship. Some football gravy from Semedo resulted in an awardation (new word alert!) of a 12-yard death kick, which was dispatched cleanly and safely by Lucas Joao, the man all Reading fans want to be.
Defensive solidity and some daring escapades up front put the Royals firmly in the driving seat and just before half time, Aluko finished off a fine move to notch the scoreboard up to two for the visitors. A lot has been said about Aluko, but he has begun to take the chance he has been given with both hands and he richly deserved his goal. It was very difficult to see a way back into the game for the Cherries (honestly, the more I say it, the more I just want to be sick) and the chaps from Berkshire skipped down the tunnel for the half-time debrief.
I myself had a decision to make for my half time snackeroo: beer and crisps or a coffee and a mince pie. I went with the later because even though I wasn’t going anywhere, I still felt like Father Christmas would be judging me if I’d cracked open a cold one that early on in the day. The general consensus from the Twitterati was that we were well good and were gonna win the game 4-0 innit. At that point, it was hard to disagree, so I tucked into my foreign hot drink and my British Christmas snack and felt good about absolutely everything.
And then the second half happened. I have no idea what Pauno said at half time, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t say “go and pratt around for 45 minutes, make basic errors and defend like you’ve just met each other in the car park of a Little Chef at a service station in the South West of England”. Which, incredibly, is what they chose to do.
When they scored to make it 2-1, all that needed to happen was to get through the next 5-10 minutes unscathed. At 2-2, literally three minutes later, they just needed to shut up shop and/or press ahead to score a third goal. They did neither. At 3-2, it was then about trying extra hard to equalise. Admittedly, an incredible save from Begovic after a Joao header stopped this from happening, but even so there were large gaps of play where we did nothing with the ball or our shape.
When Bournemouth made it 4-2 (and if you haven’t seen the goal, don’t - it’s horrific to watch), the coach just needed to be started up and headed back down the M3. An utter, utter shambles of a half that will be almost impossible to unpick or forget. Once our net was made to ripple for a fourth time, I turned the TV off and went and cleaned our inside windows with my window vac (made by Karcher, it’s a great piece of equipment and would make a perfect Christmas, or Life Day if you don’t believe in Jesus, present for the house proud person in your life).
The game served up a sobering reminder that as yet, we’ve done nothing in this league. It also reminded us that we are the victims of our downfall, as we have been for the last three games. No team is taking us apart, we are taking ourselves apart. There is literally no point changing the system and personnel if the players on the pitch don’t do the basics, take some pride and prevent sloppy goals from being conceded.
Wednesday is now a must-win game from a mental and confidence point of view. We haven’t lost four games in a row for four years. Let’s not make it five. That would make us all wish we were still on an international break and that can never be a good thing to hope for.
Until next time.