There’s a great quote in the film ‘Moneyball’, a film which portrays the Oakland Atheltics baseball team and their record breaking season, where Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, reminds the players that “it’s a process”, a quote used to describe their journey and their results.
At this point in the film, they are in the middle of a long losing streak and Beane, the GM, uses the term to remind them that they aren’t rubbish and that they are there for a reason. With the result against Hull City at the weekend, it would seem certain fans, pundits and indeed, players, need reminding of this. Suffice to say, the game on Saturday was instantly forgotten, the matchday programme going straight into the box without me even reading it, such was the forgettable nature of the whole day.
With Saturday done and dusted and watching the throstles (a ye olden nickname for WBA, which is actually a type of bird?!) dismantle Millwall at the weekend, I wasn’t holding out much hope for this one. Typically, the weather decided to get extra cold (unlike a delicious pint of Carling lager) and really keep the attendance figures at bay. I seriously (and I mean seriously) contemplated not going to the game, instead swapping the Dolan for my sofa as the game was live on the telly box, but that would have made this article redundant and fraud-like and I wasn’t prepared to sink to those levels of journalism. No, I reminded myself, you’re in this for the long haul Ben and weather and attitude be damned: you shall go to the Berkshire Arena!
And so off I went. I jumped in the VW (T-Roc, 1.6 diesel), turned the heating up and chucked on a CD by a chap called Sam Fender. I stopped off on Berkeley Avenue to pick up a snack made by a fine British confectionary company who may or may not be based in and around the Midland area, a bottle of sugar-free Ribena (still battling that cold) and made my way past Matalan towards the bright lights of Southern Reading’s number-one sports venue.
The car park was once again littered with time wasters intent on using contactless to pay their ‘entrance fee’. I went for a crisp £10 note. As I gave it to the steward, he snorted and said “we don’t see many of these anymore!”. “What do you mean?” I replied. “The notes”. It was at this point that I heavily contemplated getting out of the car to challenge him further, intent on sharing my views on the new contactless system. But then I realised it would be bacon off a pig’s back to him and he wasn’t worth the extra vocal noise that I could summon (my throat is still incredibly sore from the coughing from last week). No, instead I drove off, leaving him standing there with a face like an unnecessary email.
Upon leaving the warmth and comfort of my German-made car, thoughts turned to the challenge ahead. We were rocked by the news of Chris Gunter the bionic man’s injury, the Welshman being added to a growing list of absentees in the treatment room. West Brom were in fine fettle having won their last two under Bilic who I for one am a big fan of. Despite looking like a chap who was rejected from numerous Eastern European mafia films, he has always struck me as a man who has carried himself impeccably and done well with the teams he has managed.
The game also saw HRK return. Whatever you think of him, he was a decent servant to the club, scored some good goals and gave his all. He ironically had his best ever phase while “at the club” when he featured for Wales scoring THAT goal against Belgium at the Euros in 2016. Despite being out of contract after that tournament, he was still listed as a Reading player. To my shame, I was once involved in a physical altercation over Hal with a fellow fan. It was Pompey away in the League Cup and a chap in the row behind me consistently booed and berated Hal, which led to some choice words about being Welsh and I just lost it then. Luckily my brother in law got between us as the chap would have been absolutely battered, believe me!
Anyway, back to the game. West Brom came prepared with a bench loaded with goals and attack minded presence: Austin, Grosicki and Phillips all posing a potential threat. In terms of the Royals, more chopping and changing with the line-up left me particularly baffled with Puscas starting ahead of Sam. Nothing against George, but Bowen must have seen something recently that no one else has. In addition, starting Felipe seemed like a wild card choice, especially ahead of the more tactically astute Adam who has found himself hard done by to not be starting in recent weeks.
Obviously George then had to go and score the first goal! A 12-yard death kick was awarded after an infraction in the goal zone, which lead to a minor felony card. Puscas tucked it away confidently, his swagger unbefitting of a man who is grossly out of form. WBA slowly worked their way back into the game, the referee taking a full part in the game by chucking around yellow cards like confetti at an underfunded wedding to all and sundry. A decent point blank save from Rafa wasn’t enough to keep the visitors from scoring a close range effort, which was then followed up by a delicious period of pure Championship football where both teams did their best to keep their possession percentages down by throwing the ball around at will.
Half-time approached and I was in a serious quandary. My voice had gone the same way as Mark Bowen’s hairline, but I needed to eat/drink something. Perusing the concourse fare (as Anonymous don’t bloody do midweek games), everything seemed a danger to me. Lactose? Nah. Salt? You’re mental mate! Hot food stuffs? No chance. All of the products contained the ingredients/temperatures listed above, all of which would strip my vocal chords of any remaining noise. And so I took the only option available to me: water.
To say half-time wasn’t miserable is a bit like saying Brexit hasn’t caused a few problems: it was and it has. Honestly, I sometimes feel like I’m in the middle of a conspiracy theory where the marketing department (what’s left of them) have decided the only way the club can make money is to literally force people down to the concourses to spend money on edible merchandise so they don’t have to listen to the avalanche of awful music or watch players from both sides go through the motions incredibly slowly and lethargically. If I could make one change at the club, it would be to completely revamp half time. I’d do it for free, I really would.
Four minutes into the second period and WBA scored to take the lead. In truth, it had been coming since we’d taken the lead, a lead we’d never looked like holding or building on. The Welsh Pep got into a mini-scuffle with the visiting right back and continued to enjoy lengthy conversations with both the fourth official and Bilic. Adam was bought on and instantly validated the sub by pinging a long ball into the box which Meite connected with, sending a looping header over the WBA GK (OMG!). Scenes ensued until the linesman raised his flag to signal the offside decision. Hideous.
As injury time kicked in, I took my leave and began strolling down the steps of the Dolan. As I passed human after human, sarcastic riddled comments and expletives fizzed into the air like the bubbles in a glass of an alcoholic drink mainly enjoyed by middle class women. More booing was reserved for the referee, who by this point had gone from pantomime villain to complete village idiot. The chaps from the midlands held out to take all three points back up to West Brom.
The inclusion of Adam must now be a dead cert for Saturday. The team are lacking creativity in midfield and have reverted to type in recent weeks. Likewise, Meite must be played through the middle in order to bring the physicality and aggression back into our forward play. Additionally, Araruna does not look ready for Champ football just yet and throwing him into central midfield against the top side in the division was perhaps an oversight on the part of Bowen.
The team is still in its infancy, ditto Bowen in his managerial career. To be unhappy with recent results suggests a lack of understanding of the bigger picture: a team that can play, knows how to play, but sometimes lacks the nous and cohesion to do so. Bowen is still unsure of his best XI and the consistent tweaking of the midfield highlights this. Furthermore, Reading are in no real danger of doing anything other than reaching the quarter-finals of the cup and on balance of the last few years, this is no bad thing.
Finally, the concourse must do something about the offering of food for people who are struggling with throat related problems. A bag of mints would be a good start in this respect and perhaps some herbal tea. If they can serve up vegan fair, the least they can do is provide the fans with beverages and food items to see off colds and viruses (not THAT virus) with.
The facts are that we haven’t won a league game since New Years Day, but we have continued to pick up points in the shape of draws and be defensively resolute - two traits that were lacking at the start of the year. The team isn’t quite there yet on a number of levels which is largely down to the developing experience of the manager. The green shoots are there for better days to come and everyone connected with the club must recognise that. As Billy Beane explained, it’s a process...
Until next time!