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View (Still Not) From The Dolan: Job Done

Ben looks back on Saturday’s win over Barnsley, which he watched from a “wonderfully middle class” hotel bar in Weybridge.

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It was very hard to stop thinking about last Saturday. It genuinely was one of the better performances of the last few years and we really were dominant. Naysayers (and they do exist) will say that Derby were awful but they can just go and jump in the Thames to be honest because we were amazing and brilliant and were definitely going to win the league from that point on.

Tuesday was grossly disappointing in that we never looked like winning the game. I’m in two minds about the team selection. On one hand, I can see the logic in playing other players to get a look at them etc. On the other, we wasted a good opportunity to continue to bed in players into the new system (I’m thinking Laurent and Swift in particular) and get a cash cow in the shape of Man Utd at home in the next round. Whatevs, we are out of the cup and can continue riding our juggernaut towards the title and promotion in the Championship...

It’s a weird feeling knowing that your first home game of the season is coming up and you can’t attend. It was even more frustrating knowing that awful clubs with awful facilities in awful locations (Luton, Boro, Blackpool, Hull etc) were chosen over us. Admittedly, Luton panicked and realised they wouldn’t get 1000 fans in (LOLS), but we should have been chosen to host our game with some fans in.

Consider these facts:

  • We have an out of town stadium, meaning little or no congestion in the centre.
  • Special buses could have been laid on to transport fans from the station and parking would have been easy to socially distance.
  • We have modern facilities that are perfect for social distancing (we’ve been doing it since before it was mandatory).
  • There is plenty of space around the outside of the ground for fans not to mingle and fight and be nasty to each other.
  • We hold the record, 106.

Even more annoying than that was Sky’s decision not to show any of our games in October. I wanted to keep paying £10 to watch us on iFollow anyway. So yeah, as the game approached, I was pretty annoyed.

I actually took in the game away from home. Now, before you call Boris, Priti and the rest of them, just wait. I travelled on my own, with a face mask, via train (saving the environment) to meet one friend (yes, I have one friend) in a location not currently a Covid hotspot (Weybridge). I hadn’t seen Sam (my friend) for 10 months in person and this was a decent opportunity to catch up over some continental strength lager in pubs (which had been booked well in advance).

As I entered the station, I realised I hadn’t actually been there for a while, certainly not since January. It was like a ghost town and quite odd really. I stocked up on essentials: small cappuccino (with an extra shot), water, a Hershey’s bar and a copy of Sports Illustrated (stop talking about American things!).

The train was sparsely populated. Indeed, there was more pieces of litter than actual humans in my carriage. An interesting exchange with the guard followed when he asked me why I “wasn’t wearing my mask”. He’d caught me at the exact moment I was taking a swig from my coffee. I explained that I couldn’t wear the mask while I was drinking. He just stared at me. I then said I’d been wearing it all the way through the station and that I’d been wearing it all the time whilst on the train except to drink. He reiterated that it needed to be on all the time. I felt my inner Karen bubble up. He then walked off, which was lucky for everyone involved as he was about to be on the end of an almighty tongue lashing. Look, I don’t mind masks, I actually quite like them. I have no issue whatsoever wearing them. But he was taking the right Michael and he knew it.

Verbals over, it was time to tuck in to the build up on iFollow and peruse the team sheet. Just the one change from the weekend, with Andy dropping out. I could only imagine that he was injured and in truth, I was pleased to see Araruna given a run out. We need versatile players and he is one of them currently at the club. I also had no complaints about the bench. So far, so good.

The first half was nothing special. As Sam and I wandered around the leafy suburbs of Weybridge, Reading toiled away in the late September sun. Barnsley had Helik sent off on 42 minutes and the players went in at half time knowing that they were going to be in the ascendency in the second half. The question was how patient were they likely to be in this situation? I liked the balance of the side and the fact they weren’t shrinking in the face of the challenge Barnsley were presenting in the shape of a well organised, well drilled unit. Two pints in at a wonderfully middle class hotel bar (can’t remember the name) and I was feeling positive about our chances.

As the second half began, I began to get slightly twitchy. We hadn’t scored, weren’t really pushing too hard in an attacking sense and you could feel the nervousness beginning to creep in. On 67 minutes, the deadlock was broken with one of the most Championship-like goals will you see. Meite (yours and mine), having been on the pitch for a matter minutes, nodded home. A minute later and the visitors were down to nine men, with a second yellow for Mads (I bet he was!) Andersen. The game was done and dusted a few minutes later as Olise struck from long range to nestle the ball in the corner of the onion bag. Job done and we were staying top of the table.

Some observations:

  • Losing Yiadom for what looks like a little while is a big blow. One of the problems we had last year is that when key players were injured, we didn’t have the back up to consistently step up and effectively ‘slot in’. One of the more pleasing aspects of yesterday was the performance of Araruna to play at full back.
  • I have no issues with Joao having a little strop at being subbed. He wants to score, he wants to play, he wants to be the talisman. As a result, he is going to get frustrated. I would imagine it ended in a kiss and a cuddle in the changing room and that’s ok with me.
  • I genuinely think that, had there been fans in the stadium for the game, we wouldn’t have won. That’s not a slight on our fans at all, but the frustration would have grown exponentially (love that word) in the stands the longer the game remained 0-0 and that would, by extension, have filtered down to the players. As it was, they were patient, stuck to the plan and won the game.
  • Next week is a huge yardstick for where we actually are as a team. Cardiff will pose a different kind of test to the ones Derby and Barnsley have given us. If we come away with any sort of positive result, I’ll be happy.
  • Finally, if you are looking for a low-key, chilled out vibe kind of day, may I recommend Weybridge? Take your credit card though.

Until next time.