Since the Covid-19 outbreak brought football to a halt, Ben Thomas has been imagining what may have happened if coronavirus had never been a thing.You can find parts one, two, three and four at these links.
I wanted to leave it a bit before I wrote the next part of this season ‘review’. The main reason was that, for all my optimism, I thought football would be back by now. I miss it, as I’m sure you do. Once I realised that this wasn’t going to be the case any time soon, I thought I’d pause for dramatic effect before I began the recap of the next stage of our season that we “definitely made”. So buckle up, take care of your heart rate and join me as we head deep into the emotional torment and football torture that is the end-of-season festival of chaos: the play offs.
After a positive result against the South Wales Soccer Swans, Reading were thrown into the end-of-season mixer with gusto and aplomb. Arriving like a well-dressed, well-educated but very late guest to an incredibly upmarket party where they serve martinis on tap, the boys from Berkshire were undoubtedly the form team. Indeed, professional windbag David Prutton was forced to eat his very wrong and shortsighted comments live on air as he was reminded repeatedly by his co-anchor Scott Minto of his rather disparaging remarks, saying that there was “no way in hell Reading would ever make the playoffs”. Well, we did David, so suck an egg!
As the sixth-placed team, we were ‘drawn’ against the third-placed finisher as per league regulations and rules. This happened to be those chaps from West London, the Brentford Bees (most ridiculous nickname in the Championship). Brentford were the team that were the most consistent across the season in terms of the play-off places, never really dipping away from the top end of the table, but not quite having enough to force their way into the top two.
The accolade of automatic promotion went to West Brom and Leeds. And good riddance to the latter, let me tell you. The other play-off fixture pitted Fulham and those idiots from the-sort-of-Midlands, Forest. For Reading, the two-legged affair was due to take place on the Thursday and Sunday, with the home tie taking place as the last leg. Due to the locality and fierceness of the rivalry (in a way), tickets for the away leg were at an absolute premium. And as luck/down right irritation would have it, the game was due to be the last ever played at Griffin Park.
Squeezing in only 10k seemed like an absolute farce and for once, demand for tickets from the Royals fans was well over the allocation, a measly 1,500. So, in scenes reminiscent of yesteryear when the team, managed by a young Alan Pardew, travelled to take on Steve Coppell’s Brentford way back in 2002 to clinch promotion, the masterminds at the club’s commercial department once again decided to stream the game live back into the MadStad just as they had done when Cureton fired the Royals back in to Division One (now called The Championship for younger readers), having brokered a plea deal with Sky as an apology for David Prutton’s appalling behaviour.
With the away following packed snugly into the visiting stand and at least 4,000 more at the Berkshire Arena, plus literally hundreds more watching at home and in pubs (no Covid-19!), the scene was ripe for the boys in blue to smash and grab, much like they had done in the latter stages of the season.
The squad remained largely unchanged and incredibly, no new injuries or knocks prevented Our Saviour Mark Bowen from having to shuffle his pack. He did include Lucas Boye however, who was back from long-term injury and had shown his guile in training by scoring some goals and providing doughnuts to his team mates during the week. When asked about this in the lead up to the game, Bowen explained: “Lucas has been out for a long time. A lot of the squad kept in touch with him and we’d been doing some zooms with him whilst he was back in Italy. Gunts and McCleary had been sending him copies of ‘Top Gear’ magazine too and he wanted to thank us all by buying us doughnuts. He went for it too: he had 60 Krispy Kremes sent to the training ground. My selection has nothing to do with that. He’s a good player who is honest and really does pas-try”.
With the added attacking impetus on the bench, Reading lined up ready to take the game to the Bees (still a stupid name). A packed Griffin Park was littered with balloons and the sound of happy clappers (not hippies but those cardboard things that are given to children and Swindon fans to keep them entertained for 90 minutes) filled the air like the smell of onions frying in a small kitchen. As the early-May evening began to cool a little, the temperature on the pitch rose to a mighty boil (some dramatic language there for you!).
This heat quickly turned into an icy and disgusting chill as Brentford scored within four minutes. This sent both Reading and the visiting fans into stunned silence and the home side doubled the lead shortly after with a fine goal from Benrahamamamamamamama on 11 minutes. A pensive Bowen instructed the team to keep it tight until half time. He knew that another goal would see the game and tie pretty much done with. As the klaxon blew to signal the end of the first 45, the visiting players raced down the tunnel, with Bowen and his staff following them in what looked like some sort of bizarre Tom and Jerry cartoon chase.
The Welsh Pep refused to shuffle his pack during the interval, but did re-jig the formation, settling back into a 4-4-2. This proved to be the correct decision as it made the team less open and as a result, Reading pulled one back through Yakou on 49 minutes. Brentford then sat back and absorbed the increasing pressure while Reading huffed and puffed, but nothing came of it and the score was locked at 2-1 as the 80th minute approached.
Lucas Boye’s patience and doughnut purchasing paid off and he was bought on around the 83 minute mark. Bowen put him straight up front to challenge the tiring legs of the Bees defence (maybe called the hive?! LOLs). As the clock ticked down like a forlorn egg timer, the Royals looked set to leave West London with the loss and have it all to do back in Berkshire.
Three minutes of time were added on and Reading still pressed. Adam was taken out just outside the penalty area and a free kick was awarded. Swift pounced on the ball and immediately set his sights on goal. Players flooded into the box to take up position. Boye hovered to left of the box, with George in the wall and Yakou off to the right. It looked for all the world as if Swift would strike on target. But he didn’t! A chip over the wall fell to an unmarked Lucas Boye to side foot in to the onion bag! Cue absolute raptures in the visiting dugout, the away end, back at the Mad Stad and in The Monks on Friar Street.
A late, late goal had allowed Reading to head back to Berkshire with it all to play for and home advantage to boot. The possibility of a trip to Wembley and of course promotion were still very much on the proverbial cards.