There’s a brilliant line in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ when Leia says to Han:
“This bucket of bolts is never gonna get us past that blockade.”
At times this season, I’ve often thought we were “the bucket of bolts” and the opposition was “the blockade”. After two clean sheets in a row, I’m slowly thinking that it might be the other way round. After taking in a disgusting loss, a thumping win and a bore draw in the space of a week, it appeared that Reading were finally secured of their Championship status for another year. Saturday was all about another solid performance and, hopefully, another clean sheet against the Lee Bowyer (who I actually believe is a petulant child: never liked him as a player, certainly don’t like him as a manager) led Addicks.
I’d spent the morning in the toy shop with my children (not the whole morning, that would be mental) but enough time to know that life is seemingly slowly returning to normal, whatever normal is. As we left the retail park, I gave a wistful look to the left towards the stadium, whilst still maintaining a perfect connection with the road and continuing to steer in a straight line.
It seemed odd to me that I could wander around a massive shop filled with small people who couldn’t social distance, grabbing anything in sight and yet I couldn’t sit in a sparsely populated Dolan. Purists will say that this thought was irrelevant on this particular day as we were away anyway, but in that moment, I longed to buy a printed programme I’d never read, maybe purchase some goalkeeping socks I’d never wear from the Fanstore and eat a stale Twix I’d moan about.
As the KO was early, I needed to get set swiftly and effectively. I lunched on pancakes and fruit - odd choice I know, but my 5k and footie training that morning (I know, I’m an athlete: don’t go on about it...) was fuelled by granola and I wanted another breakfast item inside me.
Mark Bowen received (unjust IMO) criticism from the Twitterati on Tuesday for “being too negative”. I don’t buy that. He set the team up to get points and yeah, attacking wise the forward players looked tired, but it was another clean sheet and this divine right that some fans have to excellent and fulfilling football really irks me. More on that later.
With the pancakes consumed, I settled down for the first 45. No real shocks in the team formation or personnel. Olise coming in gave us a bit more creative and attacking prowess, but other than that, the team picked itself (and if I’m honest, I’m enjoying saying this at the moment). Rino looked like a man on a mission from the off and quickly earned a 12-yard death kick. George stepped up and tucked it into the onion bag like a mother (or a father #2020 #equality) tucking in a freshly washed toddler into bed for the night.
The next 15 minutes saw Reading dominate the home side and could and maybe should have had a second goal. Charlton scored but it was judged to be offside and Bowyer threw his toys out of the pram (lols). We managed to get to half time with our noses in front after nullifying some fairly heavy weather in the form of red-shirted aggressors. If I had to chose the type of weather they most similar to, here and now, I’d say fog/snow.
The interval left me no time to grab a beer or snack as I promised my children I’d put up the tent in the garden on the condition that they wouldn’t disturb me for the second half. The tent itself was a dream to put up - it’s one of those pop-up ones that you literally just take out of the bag and it’s up, no questions asked. Getting it down however is a bit more of a hassle, but I didn’t need to worry about that at that exact moment.
The second half was a little bit more of a chore. Charlton were beginning to threaten Reading in the same way that the BBC threatens elderly people with a non-free TV license (ooh, political AND topical) and, depending on who you ask, should have had a 12-yard death kick. It wasn’t awarded and this allowed Bowyer to lose his handbags (mega, proper lols) at the fourth official.
In a move I’ve literally never seen before, Bowen decided to fill the team with defenders, taking off anyone capable of attacking and replacing them with chaps paid to stop goals going in. To highlight this, I will now refer you to a tweet from our own site comparing the defenders on the pitch with the number of goals scored by Baldock:
Reading now have more defenders on the pitch than lone striker Sam Baldock has goals this season (7-5).— The Tilehurst End (@TheTilehurstEnd) July 11, 2020
It really was all quite hilarious and amusing. I’d be livid if I were a Charlton fan, but I thank my lucky stars everyday I’m not as they are useless, pointless and basically irrelevant. Bowen’s boys managed to hold out, despite seven minutes of added time, and take the W back to the Royal County. Delightful. I cracked open a beer, walked out into the sunlight and enjoyed my Saturday afternoon, watching my own children effectively destroy the tent I’d put up roughly 50 minutes beforehand. Glorious.
The bottom line to this is that we are now unbeaten in three games, with three clean sheets to boot. The team is settled, a style (of such) is developing and if this were the start of a new season, the indications would be that we’d be in for a play-off push. And yet, Bowen is being criticised for a whole host of reasons that I simply can’t fathom. It’s boring. It’s not a good style of play. He’s too defensive (I mean, can’t argue on that one with THAT second half).
At this stage of the season, what is he supposed to do? We’ve won away from home against a team scrapping away to stay in the league and kept another clean sheet. More importantly, we’ve won ugly: something that fans and local ‘pundits’ have accused the team of not doing this season. GIVE THE MAN A FOUR-FINGER KIT KAT AND CHILL OUT!
The players are still playing as if there is something to play for and a look at the table since Bowen took over the team puts us in fifth place on 48 points. He’s doing what he can in front of a backdrop of financial chaos and a large group of players uncertain of where they will be next season. And yet, he’s somehow managed to carve out a consistent team that is, currently, picking up points. Anyone want to swap with Stoke/Huddersfield/Boro/Hull? Nah, didn’t think so.
What he needs is some headspace in the summer (whatever and whenever that is now) before the new season starts again to fully assess the squad and shape it how he wants to.
And maybe, just maybe, he will be able to build his own empire, ready to strike back...
...I’m sorry! I had to have some sign off!
Until next time.