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View From The Dolan: Boxing Day Delight

Ben’s take as Reading’s fringe players step up in the absence of their injured teammates to see off Luton.

PA Images via Getty Images

Firstly, a very happy Christmas to all of you. I know it’s been a weird one, but I hope you’ve had a decent time regardless of who you spent it with or without.

Secondly, let’s get some purple elephants out of the room: I didn’t write anything for the Brentford game. I watched the first half (shambles, but a predictable shambles) and then Boris took over and then I had a lot of life admin and because I pride myself on quality writing, I felt I couldn’t knock out an article based on just the first half. That would be lazy and gross and I am neither of those things.

And so, with a week off, we returned to action against the Hatters with about 18 players injured. Yes, the pitch was an absolute mess, but pitches don’t win games. Yes, Olise was on the bench, but the last time I checked, 11 players made the team, not one. Yes, the Mad Stad was as barren as a turkey farm on Christmas Eve, but watching it at home was alright to be fair.

I’m not sure about your house in the aftermath of the “big day” (it wasn’t a big day), but I was surrounded by boxes, Lego, Barbie dolls, mashed vegetables and chocolate eclairs (side note: why are they even in a box of Heroes? Seriously, who even likes them? And to be honest, you wouldn’t go to Cadbury’s for an eclair would you? So don’t put them in the box!).

Once the game kicked off, I was able to find some peace and quiet and unwind into the game like a middle-aged lady in a bath full of lavender-scented bath bombs. Everyone’s favourite fan-turned-player Tom Mac hit a volley that was as sweet as a Thornton’s Chocolate-covered Brazil nut to put the Royals in front. It was a splendid strike from a player who has had very little game time this year.

Reading v Luton Town - Sky Bet Championship - Madejski Stadium Photo by Tess Derry/PA Images via Getty Images

At this point, I cracked open a lager (Adnams Dry hopped, 4.2%, thanks for asking) and chortled as the most Sunday league of all the Championship teams was put to the sword. No sooner had said beer been cracked open and all hell broke loose! One of the cats began squawking at me to be let out, the son had lost a piece of Lego from the set he was building, and the daughter appeared next to me and began making the lip balm set she’d been given for Crimbo. So yeah, my peace had been disturbed by everyone and I began tutting loudly.

My misery (not really misery) was compounded on 36 minutes when, for the 315th time in the game, the “commentary” team once again mentioned the sand on the pitch. If my face had been a picture at this point, it would have been a picture of someone who was fed up with so-called pundits with posh accents (50% of them) talking about sand on a pitch. Honestly, just shut up!!

Just before HT, the lead was doubled. A fine, fine goal was slotted in by Alfa who had been fairly quiet up until that point and that, my friends, was game, set and match. Luton had offered literally nothing in the game and had been awful whilst we had been workmanlike and disciplined in our approach.

During the interval, I made my way over to the snack cupboard, which in normal times is populated by oat cakes and fun-sized Twixes and just laughed to be honest. I laughed because I thought of all those times when I’d opened the door and just seen nothing but nonsense and things I didn’t want to eat. NOT TODAY! I didn’t know what to go for: the celebrations, the Maltesers, some crackers and cheese to make a personal cheese board, a bubbly Santa... the list was literally endless.

I settled on the small box of Hotel Chocolat chocolates, which were given to us by someone who doesn’t know us very well. I don’t mean that disrespectfully, but they were the kind of gift to give when you’ve forgotten to buy something for someone, or worse, a retaliation present when someone buys you a present but you haven’t got them one so panic and buy them posh chocolates or red wine. Anyway, they were delicious.

Nothing really happened in the second half. Swifty made his return on 65 minutes and I felt a twinge of emotion. I’d missed his hair and his tattoos and his skills. For me, he’s still one of the best players on our roster (oh, for those who aren’t American, ‘roster’ basically means squad, but like most American words is made up for no reason) and I appreciate him a lot.

Lua Lua scored what at first glance looked like a great goal out of nowhere, but on second, third and fourth glances, it just looked like terrible goalkeeping. Rafael, there are more question marks surrounding you than there are mince pies in my local Tesco right now. We held on for the three points and as we approach the second half of the season, we’ll look back on this a very fine result.

Reading v Luton Town - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

I don’t have an issue with the injuries at the moment. Yeah, it’s frustrating that pretty much all of them would be in the matchday squad, but it gives other opportunities to players on the fringes. At the moment, these players are stepping up and doing what they can. The major positive is that they seem to be continuing the ethos that set us up earlier in the season, which is to do their absolute best, play on the front foot and grind out results.

And that is why I am more invested in this group of players than I have been for years. They are likeable, they are determined and they are trying. We won’t win the league, I think that’s obvious, but we are as good as any other team in the division (when everyone is fit and well) and it looks like Pauno will continue to pull rather than push them along to greater things.

On a final note, if you have found this festive season hard or you are struggling generally, please know that you are not alone. There is always someone who will listen to you and can help you. It’s vital you talk if you are finding things hard: my direct messages are always open and from someone who’s been there, I get it, so don’t be afraid to speak up because there is always someone who can help you rescue yourself.

Enjoy the rest of the holidays.

Until next time.