Ah, The Bucks/Berks Derby (or The Berks/Bucks Derby if you are following the alphabetic rule). A fixture that was first created and thus implemented in 1632 when the Vikings first invaded Berkshire and took it upon themselves to walk the long, well-cemented Ye Olden Bathe Road (now the Bath Road) towards Wycombe (the town felt the need to keep the silent ‘e’ on the end of the word moving forward) to challenge local villagers and fishermen to a game of something that didn’t result in bloodshed.
Using the bladder of a crocodile (which were of course native to this green and pleasant land at that time), they gave the local men a game that closely resembled what would later become what we know today as soccer. Using the local children as goal posts, the aim was to kick the bladder between the children, thus scoring a point (or goal).
Of course, the Berkshire Vikings won and set a glorious form precedent that has lasted the test of time and to this very day, with Reading winning every single time they have played the villagers (Wycombe). And no amount of historic archives, fixture lists or results will change my mind about how well we’ve done in these games or indeed, how the fixture first came to pass.
Now of course, it is affectionately known as ‘The G-Mac Death Bowl’. Of course, I’m referring to Garath McCleary, our ex-winger who tends to split opinion between the fan base just as much as when the ‘New Kingsley’ was introduced to the Whitley Bowl’s faithful all those years ago. For what it’s worth, I’m a big fan of G Mac and always was. He did very well for us over a period of time where managers came and went more regularly than I change my cereal choice (currently on Fruit & Fibre, FYI).
Of course, the other yellow elephant in the room is the role of Jordan Obita, a man that could and should still be at the club. I read a tweet before the game (in my head, not aloud - I don’t host a radio show or anything, although I should) that suggested we sign Obita in the summer as a replacement for Richards. And to be honest, I wasn’t massively offended by that idea. So, whoever you were, great tweet and decent suggestion.
Pre-game I did my checks:
- Game on Sky? Yes.
- Minstrels? Indeed - for my money the best non-bar-based chocolate there is.
- Coffee? For sure.
No alcohol for me on account of the fact that I look like a tubby ghost and according to Boris, I’ve basically got a month to make myself presentable to the outside world, having effectively hibernated like a bear (or denning, which is what Black Bears do - my fave type of bear) for the last four months. The 7.45 KO was kind as I was able to put the children to bed and cram in another episode of Narcos (on season three now!) and the fact I had a break from spending money on iFollow was splendid.
A quick check on the Twitterati suggested that the game was a must-win. Nah. Nooooooo way. Not in February. There are too many matches still to play, too many points still to grab and a lot of sludge to pass under the bridge, as they say. (Still thinking about that radio host thing. I think if I was going to do it, I’d go for the early morning slot of 7-10am and I’d do a paper review, talk about sport a bit, I’d defo do a featured called ‘animal of the day’ where I give out facts about that creature and I’d probably read an ancient myth to close the show. It would all be quite light-hearted, I’d play some choice tracks from my CD collection/Spotify and maybe have the odd guest on. I think it would be good to be fair).
The team news provided the same type of warming feeling that champagne gives my throat and upper chest. McIntyre staying in even though Moore was back was a huge plus point. Having Holmes back in too made me feel glad and the rest of the team picked itself. Puscas isn’t ready to start but I’m glad he was on the bench. The general feeling was that it was too defensive, but in reality what else is currently available with the squad that is suitable and ready to start?
The early exchanges were scrappy and very much in Wycombe’s favour. We were struggling to match them in what I call ‘chaos football’ tactics and had no real foothold in possession. As the half wore on, we grew into the shape of the game and began to turn the tide in terms of chances. A horrible-looking challenge should have resulted in a major felony card for the hosts and you could tell the ice-cream-backed Buckinghamshire side were becoming frustrated. I felt that we were turning the screw at precisely the wrong time - another five minutes in the first half and we would have scored, no doubt about that.
During the interval I began scrolling Sports Direct’s website for all things football related. No idea why. It was like I’d been subjected to massive banners advertising their latest offer or something... In normal circumstances I would have turned the channel over instead of looking at the aggressive red screen telling me that the coverage would continue “shortly” but I left it on as the PA system at the ground was playing some proper decent records, like a muffled juke box in a run-down American diner that had seen sales plummet because of Uber Eats.
I read a fun article in the Guardian about cronyism and how the UK had basically turned into a “banana republic”. Not my words, the words of Polly Toynbee. Good piece, which made me think quite hard and if you don’t like the government or rich people, but like the idea of suggested corruption in the awarding of large-scale public contracts, I suggest you read it.
The second half could not have started any worse. We failed to clear the ball and it ended up in the back of the onion bag. 1-0 Wycombe. Defensively, up until that point, we hadn’t been too bad. But in terms of attacking options, we had been poor save for that little spell before half time. To be fair, they kept at it and had an opportunity to get back into the game with a 12-yard death kick that was blasted against the crossbar. Wycombe had been reduced to 10 men as a result of the tackle and Reading really needed to get something on the board at this point.
I won’t carry on with the recap of the action - this isn’t a match report. Other stuff happened in the game but I can’t be bothered to go over it. Effectively, too many players are in bad spells right now. There will need to be a full rethink of the formation because the one which has served us so well this season is not currently working and the players and management will need to adapt. Ejaria hasn’t been good enough, nor has Joao in recent games. We need to get higher up the pitch more quickly, get Olise on the ball and give him some more options to aim for. That way, we’ll get at teams quicker and put them on the back foot.
Whatever happens with the rest of the fixtures this week, we will still be in the play-off spaces come Saturday. The team selection against Rotherham is now the biggest of Pauno’s career in Berkshire so far and he has to get it right if our play-off push is to continue. If he doesn’t, we could be looking at a third straight defeat. We’ve had worse blips than this current one already this season: we got out of that one and we can do it again, it’s just going to take a bit more thought and precision this time around.
Until next time.