In a week that has been dominated by “road maps”, “routes out” and “clear and precise information”, I wondered how Pauno would have continued to share his “road map” with the players as this game proved a massive opportunity to put some “very clear and precise” football points between the play-off spaces and the chasing pack. Would we be able to continue to plot our “route out” of the most unpredictable and competitive league in the world? Read on to find out...
Having slotted a fresh £10 note (electronically) into the sweaty and probably greasy hands of the executives at iFollow (side note: does anyone else feel like they’ve spent more on iFollow than the cost of their actual season ticket? I’m not complaining as we’ve been lucky with the Sky games, but is £10 too much? Is it about right? Answers on a post card...) at around 2pm, I spent the next hour in the lead-up to kick-off looking at the stats of our team so far this year. I won’t repeat them because I’m not a database and this isn’t a stats-based article or column, but the fact that Lucas Joao is the quickest player this century to reach 25 goals for Reading is incredible.
A game against Neil Warnock’s Middlesborough (side note two: I cannot bear Neil Warnock. He is simply an awful human being who is overly aggressive and just genuinely unpleasant. On top of that, he always acts as if he’s right, all of the time and I hate people like that. And if you don’t agree with me regarding my thoughts that I think he thinks he’s always right, I will fight you, because I’m right) was, on paper, not the most horrific game for us considering that we’ve been out of form over the past few games with differing results. You’d struggle to find a team worse than Bristol City were on Tuesday night and the three points, once we’d scored first, were never in doubt. I was hoping it would be the same with our visitors from the very north of England.
Team news-wise, I was sad that our sweet young Portuguese Prince missed out, but having Josh Laurent back, a man who covers the other 29% of the Earth’s surface that isn’t covered by water, was most splendid.
From the visitors’ perspective, they have a random collection of players that have had a myriad (side note three: not sure if that word makes sense in this context, but I don’t care because I like it and it’s nice- say it to yourself in the mirror a few times, go on. Let the sounds and letters roll around your mouth. Say it in some different accents if you want, but don’t be stereotypical about it...) of careers and as such, have had a reasonable season for a team that has a genuine lunatic as a manager (see side note two a few paragraphs up).
With the team news in the bag, I poured a hearty pint (well, not exactly a pint, but just below the line on the glass that says “pint”) of a brew called ‘Sunset to the Skies’ which I had delivered from The Nag’s Head yesterday. Full of aroma and hops, it really was a full-bodied drinking experience.
The first thing that struck me early on was T Mac’s delicious hair. He really does suit a pony tail and full credit to him for pulling it off. We looked bright to begin with, Rino going close around the 11-minute mark. The team seemed up for it and Warnock going literally mental on the touch line cheered me greatly. And then of course, all hell broke loose.
A seemingly innocuous ball forward from a free kick wasn’t picked up twice and Boro, somehow, against the run of play were a goal up. There didn’t seem any reason to panic at that point. Until of course they doubled their lead with a potshot from just outside the area which found its way into the top of the net in front of a barren yet despairing Dolan Stand. Honestly, you could hear the seats gasping at this point. Ultimate disaster!
Despite that fact that Boro had offered little and had failed to calculate the goal-line scrimmage zone on numerous occasions which had resulted in the line attendant flagging repeatedly, they somehow found themselves with a juicy, plump cushion of a two-goal lead. Awful. The smug look on Warnock’s face made me want to physically expel solids from my stomach and I spent the interval in quiet silence sulking.
The second half began with two subs which I predicted would have little to no impact on the game. And I was right. Nothing much happened, we began to look frustrated, Pauno cut a dejected figure in the dugout and the half-time score became the full-time score. Luckily for us, the teams around us ended up wetting the bed too and so the result didn’t change our position in terms of place in the league.
Had we won and Cardiff lost, we would have been 11 points clear of both the Bluebirds and Boro. Even if we had won and Cardiff had picked up the +3, we would have still had a lovely, massive gap to play with. Alas, it was a result all of our own doing (not the Cardiff one - nothing we could do about that) and now the league is looking increasingly open once again.
The fact that I am already calorie counting in terms of what other teams are doing and not doing will do nothing for my seeping pattern or stress levels (not really stress, but you know what I mean). We know full well as a fanbase that it’s the hope that kills us in these situations. If we don’t make the play-offs, it will be a genuine travesty, but one that, quite clearly, we are very much in control of.
Pauno will need a much clearer and more concise “road map” if we are to get back to winning ways on Tuesday night in Buckinghamshire.
Until next time.