After a comfortable win on Tuesday night, the Royals travelled north of Westeros and beyond The Wall to face The Night’s King and his army of White Walkers. Say what you want about Preston (bleak, northern, cold) and its inhabitants (bleak, northern, cold), but the fact they are (probably) one of the Championship’s longest-serving teams gives us a healthy dose of consistency every season.
Of course, we had our own “winter is coming” moment down in balmy Berkshire as snow blanketed the ground in Upper Tilehurst like a duvet covering a hungover 20-something male who’d had too many ‘posh ciders’ and ‘craft lagers’ the night before (and I’m not suggesting for one second this chap broke the lockdown rules, no way. I imagine he enjoyed the drinks on his own whilst taking part in a shared Zoom call with his arty friends watching a foreign film with subtitles about European politics).
Indeed, my own morning plans (read the paper, have a coffee, ignore everyone) were jettisoned as I had to take part in snow activities with my over-excited children. Luckily, when you live where we live, you don’t have to go far to find a hill to go sledging (not abuse fellow cricket players, but sit on a bit of plastic and go down a hill in snow).
I won’t bore you with the details because this column is about football and I always want to keep it that way. I hate it when you start reading something that you believed the piece of literature in question should be about and then the writer just prattles on about things that are completely unrelated to the topic in question, which is effectively literary fraud.
You know, you’ve begun reading this because you want my views on the game, not because you want to hear about the amount of people in the park, or how varying the slope degrees were or how exhausting it was to pull my children around on their sleds to and from the park, or how cold it was or how many ‘man-children’ I saw taking part in what is essentially a child’s activity. No, you want to hear about the mighty Biscuitmen and that’s what I’m going to tell you about now.
The early kick-off threw me again, to the point where I had to hurry everyone (not everyone, you know what I mean) home in order to meet the KO demands. I genuinely can’t tell you how much I love watching us on Sky, and watching The Prutton give us praise through gritted teeth. I really felt sorry for those who had to listen to the game on BBC Berks and listen to Tick and Mim (I’ve changed their first initials round!) go on about how much snow “we’d had back home” like they had travelled to bloody Tunisia or something (must check if the travel ban to there is still in place, actually).
Olise was not in the starting XI, which I assumed was to do with his shoulder injury and not because I’d upset him on Twitter in mid-week. Apart from that, it was another expected line-up in a game that would be tough and difficult. I have to say that, out of all the grounds I’ve visited (and I don’t count them because I’ve got better things to do and I don’t like spreadsheets) Deepdale is a proper football ground, steeped in history, even if the locals drink beef-dripping in pints.
We started pretty badly. Sinclair (it’s always him, always) had a shot on target within 40 seconds and I began to panic. The game settled down into a groove and it became clear we’d have little to none of the ball for a while. We had to wait until the 26th minute for a cheeky bit of controversy (the French word for ‘drama’) when a blatant handball from a Preston defender’s hand (can’t remember his name) should have resulted in a 12-yard death kick. It was ignored and the visitors were left to rue their chickens as the game melted into half time.
As the whistle blew, I felt hot and uncomfortable, almost like I was coming down with some form of respiratory viral infection. Luckily, I remembered I had still my Under Armour leggings on (it’s 2021, I can do what I want) from the snow escapades I took part in earlier in the day which I forgot to mention in this article, meaning I didn’t have to stick a swab up my nose to make sure I wasn’t ill and that I was still allowed out of my house to do essential things like exercise and play in the snow.
We came out in the second half a changed beast. More focus, more drive, more directness, which saw a flurry of shots pepper the home side’s goal. Ejaria, McIntyre and Aluko all came close to breaking the deadlock in quick succession. On 68 minutes, McIntyre forced a great save from the keeper but the move was ruled to be offside and wouldn’t have counted anyway. You got the sense that we weren’t far away from netting the opener.
And then came the big chance. The ball was whipped in by Swift and Rafferty, who had been reasonably solid all game, had his paws all over Lucas Joao. A penalty was given and to be honest, I felt a major felony card should have been shown to the Preston defender as well. Joao, who had been un-Joao-like all game, stepped up. The strike was clean but he managed to drag the ball wide of the post and out towards the empty stand in front of him.
The game fizzled out and the points were shared, with both Pauno and Joao cutting frustrated figures at the final whistle. If I’m honest, I’m not massively disappointed with the result or the performance. Of course, three is better than one, but you ask any Reading fan who’s seen us lose up there in the flesh and they will tell you it’s a tough old place to get points. The clean sheet and the point keep us ticking over and that’s all you can ask for.
All eyes now look greedily at Friday’s fixture against the Cherries. If we can take the defensive solidity we’ve demonstrated in the last few games and be more potent moving forward, we’ve got as good a chance as anyone else in the league at taking them on. The fixture itself will go a long way to confirming how good we are and how seriously we can push for the top six. In my mind, we are already there, but we need to start beating teams around us to really cement our quality.
Until next time.