It’s been 15 days since Reading last kicked a ball in competitive action. It may as well be 15 months. When the suspension came, it wasn’t a surprise. I suppose the only thing that baffled me was the limited timeframe, originally booked in for a 3rd of April return. Since then the league has been suspended indefinitely, which of course throws up a number of options which I won’t go into here. Literally anything could happen with regards to the league and it wouldn’t affect us, as we are safely and non-descriptively nestled in 14th place, nine points off the relegation zone and eight off the play-offs. About as middle of the road as a continuous white dashed line.
To get my ‘mojo’ back for writing, I re-read a couple of the articles I’d done this season (yes, I’m an absolute egotistical monster) and for some of the games, I literally had to force myself to go, such was the apathy creeping in. I look back on those feelings now and I literally want to slap myself in the chops. What I wouldn’t give for a sparsely populated Dolan, a queue on the concourse that backs up to the toilets because of the incredibly slow service at the cashless tills, the smell of a freshly printed matchday programme, even the sound of the truly awful (and he is awful) pitchside announcer patronising everybody within ear shot of the seated bowl. Anything, and I mean anything, football related would be ideal right now.
The fact that we would have had nothing to play for for the rest of the season is irrelevant. But, what if we did have something to cling to? What if we were looking up rather than preparing to make our nest in mid table? What if we became ‘that’ team that comes out of nowhere in the last nine games to clinch a play-off berth? With that optimism, expectancy and downright lunacy, read on to discover our fate over the remainder of the season...
After the savaging of Brum, it was a great week both on and off the pitch. The Covid-19 disease just disappeared (DON’T ask me how) and The Welsh Pep made his intentions clear with his squad, unofficially jettisoning all the players who hadn’t featured over the last few weeks and, while publicly telling the local talking heads (BBC Berks, Get Reading etc) that they “were still part of the team”, privately they were asked to re-paint areas of Hogwood and wash staff and players’ cars, meaning that Bowen could concentrate on his ever-improving base of consistent players who weren’t crap and on inflated contracts.
The arrival of Stoke City to RG2 came at a great time as tails were up, confidence was brewing like a well-tended-to lager and a crowd of 18k, buoyed by not being threatened by a deadly virus, were expectant of a +3 for the Biscuitmen. And how they got it! Swifty settled early nerves with a 25-yard death ball kick which floated over the wall and into the net. 1-0. Meite made it two before HT and the game was done and dusted.
Olise put the nail in the coffin midway through the second half and for the second time in seven days, Reading had scored three goals in a single game. Rampant! After the game, Bowen was clear on his new expectations: “I’ve heard a lot of people, mainly David Prutton, write us off this year. But what has Prutton ever done? Nothing. And we, as club, are determined to not be like him this season. See you Wednesday Derby County and bring your A-game.”
As Saturday rolled into Wednesday, a trip to the Midlands was, for once, greeted with glee. Reading were in form, scoring freely and smashing the bits off everyone. Even Wayne Rooney was scared before the game, noting the impact of our front players and consistent team selection as a particular strength. Derby, who were literally on the beach (the pitch was heavily sanded due to some unseasonal frost that had blighted the area over the days proceeding the game) weren’t up for it.
In a big fat twist, Derby actually took the lead, a defensive mix-up allowing Rooney to snuggle the ball away. Reading responded early in the second period with a well-worked goal from George P. As the game wore on, Bowen knew it was a must-win game (it wasn’t). In a radical departure, he decided to play with four strikers, throwing Moore up front with George, Meite and the (very) advanced Swift. This bamboozled the Rams defence and Meite poked home the winner three minutes from the end of the game. Absolute delirium from the away fans who began chanting obscenities at Frank Lampard before quickly realising that he was actually managing Chelsea. Sooooo embarrassing!
As a result of this result, Reading found themselves in ninth place (largely down to results and circumstances that I can’t be bothered/don’t have the capacity to work out). So ninth was where they found themselves heading into the local derby against Brentford and that’s all you need to know. Ninth place: nothing more, nothing less.
In the build-up to the game, Bowen was asked where Lucas Boye had gone: “He’s gone home. We didn’t think he was that good so we asked him to leave early. Lucas himself was happy to go as he didn’t like Reading, largely because he’d got himself a little flat on Kennet Island and said it smelt funny. Nigel and I both warned him against it but he was adamant he wanted an urban setting with luxurious surroundings. He then complained about the smell from the dump but his landlord wouldn’t let him break the rental agreement, so he ate up the hefty deposit and went back to Italy.”
Brentford proved to be very Brentford. Their front three were in complete control and two early goals gave them a very big edge heading into half time. They’d brought quite a few down for the game and the 15-minute interval saw a hilarious game of beachball volley. The biggest issue with this was that there was only one ball and the away fans had to choose whether they were throwing to the East Stand or Club 1871. They choose 1871 as they’d “heard about them on Twitter”. And what a game it was! Lots of back and forth resulted in a continuous rally of at least 16 hits. Club 1871 were victorious in the end, a well-timed volley hitting the upper echelons of the South Stand and leaving the away fans scrambling for the ball before the inflatable hit the concrete floor.
Back on the pitch, Olise was able to pull one back with a volley of his own, but it was to no avail as the Bees held on to take the points back down the M4 (London bound). The bad blood from the volleyball game spilled over at full time, with stewards having to separate both sets of fans from gentle handshakes and some well-mannered hugs (remember Covid-19 no longer exists...).
Results elsewhere still left Reading in ninth place, four points off the play-offs. Again, that’s all you need to know. Don’t tell me that Swansea were in good form and winning because they weren’t, ok? Which means we were in ninth place. End of. The heat was well and truly turned on and, despite the loss, both the fans and the players rubbed their hands with absolute glee at the upcoming games: Luton (a), Huddersfield (h), Charlton (a).
To be continued...