If you walked into my house (which you won’t anytime soon, according to Boris), you wouldn’t know I was a Reading fan of boy-to-man timeline proportions.
The only tell-tale sign (away from my signed shirts in the downstairs toilet and the boxes of very neatly stored programmes in the garage) is a Reading FC truck/lorry thing which I bought for a measly £4 in the January sale at the Megastore this year.
Such was my anticipation for an actual, real-life promotion charge back then that I needed some sort of symbol to keep me focused during those winter months.
During the lockdown period (the actual lockdown, not the go-to-Bournemouth-beach-coz-that’s-allowed-now-but-actually-don’t-coz-it’s-bad lockdown), it was the only thing that reminded me of happier days footballing wise. Fast forward a few months, now that football is “sort of” back and I wish I had thrown the bloody thing in the bin...
The thought of playing Derby didn’t really fill me with any great joy or excitement. For me, they’ve become everything I don’t like about the Championship: ex-Premier League players on a final pay day (Wayne Rooney), apparent heavy drinkers (Tom Lawrence) and managers thinking that their first foray into English footie management will be easy (Phillip Cocu).
So yeah, I wanted to win, but knew we probably wouldn’t. That said, I hoped that football would prove to be a big distraction from a very difficult week in the town and I hoped that a good performance would lift the mood slightly.
Having been scorching hot towards the latter part of the week, it seemed only fitting that the weather decided to prat around and flit between heavy rain, glorious sunshine, light rain and grey cloud.
Much like a terrible metaphor for our on/off form throughout the season, it wouldn’t settle into any sort of consistency. As the 1pm (yes, 1pm!) kick off approached, it became clear that I would be able to sit outside and watch the game, which was lovely.
With a non-alcoholic lager in hand, I settled down for the pre match “banter” between the co-hosts of the audio commentary. I’d toyed with the idea of turning it to mute after last week’s nonsense, but I gave them another go to make amends.
“No Ben” - I thought to myself.
“Give them another chance. It’s a new week and they might have spent the time between games listening to how proper commentators do their job (literally anyone who doesn’t work for BT would do)”.
So far so good in the warm up. Nothing nonsensical or controversial or downright cringeworthy was said. I’d made the right choice.
Kick-off quickly came round. On a serious note, I was incredibly disappointed and upset there was no minute silence for the victims of the atrocity from last Saturday. I felt it was really very poor, seeing as the whole squad were wearing black armbands.
I know there will be an acknowledgement at the Brentford game on Tuesday, but I felt that there should have been something, anything, before this game to mark what happened.
Reading settled well into the game. The shape of the team didn’t look bad, but Puscas on his own up front meant that there would be nothing contributed by him for certainly the first 45 minutes.
He must have read the team sheet and muttered loudly under his breath, showing the same level of frustration as a shop assistant/security guard trying to close a shop at closing time as a new customer approaches and asks to come in.
There is literally no point in playing him in this formation. None whatsoever. He needs to be supported up top.
I took another swig, albeit aggressively at the disgust of this tactical decision, of my non-alcoholic lager (Heineken 0.0%, factually the best non-alcoholic lager on the market currently) and tried to stay positive.
Of course, we had to wait until 31 minutes to have an actual shot on their actual goal. 31 minutes. During this time, Dellor and Gooding repeatedly bemoaned the fact that Puscas hadn’t won anything in the air. Well, no. He’s about 5’8 (would need to check this on Google for accuracy), so how on earth would he?
In addition to this, Dellor went on a mini-monologue about Chris Gunter. The very man he’s spent the last two years effectively slating every game.
Disclaimer: the following conversation might be slightly embellished and worded slightly differently to what was actually said because I didn’t write it down and didn’t want to rewind the live feed as I wanted the full live experience to be uninterrupted...
Tim and Mick’s mutterings (I should Trademark this):
Dellor: I tell you what Mick, if Gunter doesn’t stay beyond this season, whichever club gets him will be getting a fine professional.
Gooding: Well yeah, there’s not much else to say about him.
Dellor: He still has a lot to offer to a team.
Gooding: He does.
Dellor: I really like him, Mick.
Gooding: Me too.
Honestly, the audacity of him to say this, at this time, after a bang average clearance from the man himself just struck me as, and forgive the rhetoric, bum licking. Make no mistake, I’m a big Chris Gunter fan.
I’ve felt he has had a rough ride from fans and certain managers over the years, but for me he’s excellent to have around the club and is always a solid seven out of ten in the ratings charts. He’s also taken a fairly large portion of stick from the BBC Berks team over the last two years, so it just struck me as rank hypocrisy.
Reading were beginning to get involved in the game and contribute fully, but then of course that little weasel Lawrence banged in the opener after some stand-offish defending. 90 seconds later (or something like that) saw Derby get a chance to double their lead from the big white spot on the floor as Moore was adjudged to have felled Waghorn.
Admittedly, he went down like a tree being sliced from its trunk by a lumberjack with a big beard and checked shirt. Rooney, who a year to the day had scored from inside his own half to help D.C United beat Orlando, stepped up and tucked it away. 2-0 at the interval and the Royals were in free fall.
I watched as the team trudged off. No one said a word or motioned to one another. Nothing. And then, in that moment, I subscribed to a theory that I hadn’t done before, one I’d tried to ignore for a while: we did indeed have no leaders on the pitch.
In fact, it would be appear that we have no leaders in the team full stop. Just like last week, we’d failed to see out the closing stages of a game (or in this case, half a game) and that it was becoming an ugly, recurring theme in our play.
The weather overhead turned chilly and I went inside. I’d actually bought some Rocky bars for the interval, but I was so annoyed I didn’t eat them (I wasn’t going to eat all of them as it was a multi-pack, but I certainly would have done two). I sat there, in stony silence, quietly seething.
The second half started a little better with Bowen making no changes in either personnel or system. Maybe he thought the players couldn’t embarrass themselves anymore than they already had.
Gunter showed some good pace down the right and a telling cross was met by absolutely no one because the main striker was too deep, doing the work that Swift should have been doing. At this point, I slapped the breakfast bar (I was sitting at it, I didn’t just walk up to it and hit it randomly- I’m not a psycho) in disgust and turned the commentary to mute.
On 62 minutes, Ben Hamer (an ex Royal) made the kind of goalkeeping error I make when I go in goal during our five-a-side warm ups and gifted Rinomhota a goal, a terrible and unnecessary punch which was headed back towards goal by the up until that point non-existent number eight.
Reading then huffed and puffed but to no avail and Derby were able to do the stuff that we seemingly cannot do: close out games. My laptop battery gave out on the 93rd minute and switched itself off (again, an ugly metaphor for the game/season) which meant I missed the literal handbags between Miazga and Lawrence.
Lawrence had been on the wind up all day and had clashed with Miazga earlier on in the half. I am no fan of the Derby number ten as I may have alluded to earlier on, but the American should have handled himself better and kept his cool, not least because that slap will now be mocked widely on Twitter and other popular social media platforms.
Understandably, the ref gave them both major felony cards and one would imagine a potential added ban to boot in the form of retrospective punishment by the FA, for violent conduct and breaking the social distancing rule, which of course is as farcical a rule as you are likely to get in football right now.
After the game, Bowen explained that we deserved more from the game. He’s being polite and respectful here; what he really means is that unless we stop giving goals away and behaving like we don’t have to work to win games, we will get dragged into the messy end of things towards the foot of the table.
You’d like to think he went ballistic (from a socially acceptable distance) at half time, but he’ll also know that two winnable games have passed us by and we’ve gained one point from them. Brentford at home next means that the Royals could well find themselves winless in three since the restart and that kind of form can set in long term.
It’s fair to say that like my toy truck, the play off charge is well and truly out of petrol and going nowhere very quickly.
Until next time.