Surprisingly, I actually got over Wednesday’s shambles pretty quickly. I think because, heading into this season, my expectations of how the team would fare were so low that they’ve already surpassed my predictions in terms of table position and quality of performance.
The Brum game was disappointing, make no mistake. It’s a game that, given the context of the season so far, we should be winning. The problem for us is that other teams around us have hit their stride and are stringing results together, come what may. This is still a “new” team: we had no idea who Pauno was when he joined and if I’d been told that Omar Richards would end up joining Bayern Munich at the end of the season, I’d have told you to get off the Sherry and go to bed.
But here we are: a manager who wants to be positive, who in a very short space of time has understood the club and the community and is clear on how he wants to set his players up. And as for Richards, there won’t be a Reading fan who isn’t proud and doesn’t wish him well. So yeah, expectations = smashed.
Of course, not making the playoffs would be disappointing given the league position we’ve occupied for most of this season and, because of Wednesday, this game turned into a season-defining moment. We were back at the Whitley Bowl for the savage hoops derby against QPHAHAHAHA. In reality, it’s not really a derby and I’m pretty sure no one from either team’s fanbase gives a stuff until we actually play against each other.
My family had left me alone (not permanently) for the game and to my absolute horror, the other adult that I live with had put a wash on. Nothing dramatic about that Ben, I hear you whisper at me, but the end of each cycle is basically GBH to the ears. I started the game therefore massively distracted by the mechanical monster in my kitchen and was unable to hear the comms (thank you baby Jesus). The cycle stopped just in time for me to hear Tim and then Mick say Rafael had not yet touched the ball... which would be accurate, had the Brazilian not just kicked it upfield.
We’d started well, looked expansive and were peppering the visitor’s goal without having anything concrete on target. At that point, my thoughts verbalised themselves as I said to myself “we really need to score here”. Had I been at the South Reading Arena, I would have kept my counsel and said nothing, whilst shaking my head gently so that those around could see, but not hear, my frustration.
And then QPHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA scored and I was livid. One of my children had left a Lego figure on the breakfast bar and that got a full whack across the chops as I sent it flying across the room with a savage karate chop. How the hell no one in a blue shirt had seen the overlap was beyond me and whilst it looked like Holmes was at fault, replays showed that he was caught between a rock and a very hard place as to whether to go with the man or track the runner.
You could hear the Yiadom-ites literally sharpening their claws (not claws, but maybe fingers) getting ready to slap up Twitter with how Holmes was rubbish and how Yiadom wasn’t. Look, Holmes is not a right back, it’s as simple as fam. He’s doing his best - he’s a young player and he knows his way around a trainer shop (although I’m not suggesting he’s broken lockdown to pursue his hobby), so let’s just give him the space to grow and remember he is playing out of position.
The goal was a proper hammer blow (or another heavy hitting tool if a hammer is not available) and left me feeling very, very, very stressed at the interval. To calm my nerves, I poured a small coffee and nibbled, then gobbled a Crunchie bar: I needed that Friday feeling. It would have been a Yorkie, but seeing as they’ve now been cancelled like everything else from 1998, I played it safe with the honeycomb treat that is neither political or sexist, just yummy.
We were much, much better in the first period of the second half. Moore tucked the ball in after some quite absurd footwork from Ejaria but the goal was disqualified due to Moore (allegedly) misjudging the penalty zone scrimmage gap. I disagreed and gave the officials a massively large piece of my mind. They couldn’t hear me, of course they couldn’t, but I felt better for it. By this point, my heart rate was all over the place and if I’d been hooked up to a machine that measures such things (they should really invent one) it would have resembled the heights of various mountains around the world.
Yaks (who else) then broke free and slotted home the leveller which was made much better when he proceeded to celebrate like he’d forgotten there were no fans in the ground. So funny. I chuckled heartily like the captain of a pirate ship who’d just hatched a plan to recover some ancient treasure from a desolate Caribbean island. But then my mood turned sour as Joao wasted a large chance to take the lead. A fully formed expletive fell out of my mouth like a mouldy plum from... well, a plum bush. Actually, that’s a lie: five, maybe 21 swear words escaped my brain and at this point I walked out of the kitchen and into the living room with my T-shirt over my head.
As the game wore on, we were increasingly what football managers born in London call “under the cosh”. On 84 minutes, the visitors were really turning the screw and I trumped a few times to ease my own bodily tension. In the end and in truth, we held on for the draw (side note: earlier, I said that plums grow in bushes. They don’t, they grow on trees. I’m sorry for misleading you).
I don’t know how I feel anymore. About this season, not life. What I do know is that I’m glad there is an international break and I can relax a bit. But part of me just wants the games to keep coming so that we can build some momentum. The next time we play will be in April and that really is crunch time.
As I said at the start of this column, the team have already passed anything I thought we’d do this year. But the more this season rolls on and the more we keep dropping points, the more I want us to make the PO’s. Buckle up my friends: this next lot of eight games will make all our hearts beat a little faster.
Until next time.