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View From The Dolan: A Tough One To Take

Ben’s take on a disappointing defeat to second-placed Watford, which sets up a tough finish to the season.

PA Images via Getty Images

Football does funny things to people. Take the build-up to this game: I had literally no intention of sorting out one of our sheds when I woke up on Friday morning, but by 11am I needed a focus beyond perusing Lego sets I couldn’t afford online and googling the average cost to transport and then care for pandas in zoos (it’s half a million dollars annually, FYI). But there I was, at 11.30, rifling through stuff that didn’t need to be kept and putting things in order in the most British of all garden structures.

To be fair to Watford, Lego and pandas, the nerves had got to me by midweek. Even though we’d played on Monday, the time it took to get to Friday evening seemed longer than ever. I don’t know why I was so nervous. As I’d made clear on both The Andrew Peach Breakfast Show (don’t go on about it) and my tweet pre-game, I felt that this wasn’t a must-win match. I wanted us to do well, but I felt that the next block of games would really be make or break for Pauno’s squad.

Pre-game, I’d chilled my beers (some pale ales from Double Barrelled), stocked up on snacks (err, Nobby’s Nuts please and thank you) and made a safe space for myself where I wouldn’t be disturbed/asked to do something/or generally communicated with. Because if there’s one thing I hate, it’s being interrupted when my team (who have spent all season in the play-off spots) are playing another team who are almost dead certs to go up automatically and there is a potentially strong chance that they’d drop out of the play-offs should they lose. Yeah, I hate that.

I also hate it when you’ve spent almost all week reminding the other adult in your house that you have “plans” for Friday which involve not being interrupted or disturbed at all between the hours of 7.30pm and, depending on the result, 10.30pm OR (worst case scenario) 6.30pm of the next day and they ask, at least three times on the same day of those plans, what I’m doing that night. I hate that too.

As the clocked ticked down towards KO, I anxiously awaited the team news. Puscas was in, Joao was still on the bench and Gibson was trusted to start from the off. As I looked out on to the garden (I’d cut the grass earlier in the week) I spotted a fox hovering about (well, it wasn’t hovering, it was just in the garden) until it was disturbed by my presence at the kitchen doors and ran off. Was this an omen of things to come? Would our own Romanian fox in the box pounce in Watford’s garden? Or would our foxes (Reading) be scared off by me (Watford)?

Side note: actually, they are both absolute nonsense in terms of omens. If we were playing Leicester (the Foxes) this would make much more sense. And why would I scare my own team? Absolute twaddle. Ignore.

At 7.20pm, I seriously contemplated opening a beer. After a brief but brutal tug of war with myself, I won and cracked open a can. Ahhh. Flick on the telly and rela... PRUTTON! And Kenny Jackett?! WTF?! Ugh. And then Curtis Davies started putting Olise on the free market like some sort of Canary Wharf sandwich salesman. They discussed Olise’s celebration from Monday which, if I’m honest, wound me up no end and I felt it was unnecessary of Michael to do that.

As the teams strode out, it was clear only one side got the memo about not wearing a truly horrific and disturbing kit. It’s like the makers of Watford’s strip ran out of colours at the shirt shop. Awful shirt which made me feel quite unwell to look at.

Watford v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

The foul-uniformed men took the lead early with a very good goal which forced a large and plump swear word out of my mouth and out into the ether. And then it was two shortly after. At that point, I turned round to look out the living room window mournfully, like a child who had just been sent away to live with his hairy-lipped auntie, gazing out of a dusty train window. Basically, at this point, the game was over: we couldn’t commit men forward as they’d exploit the space, we couldn’t play deep because that would invite more pressure, so we were in no-person’s land.

I contemplated putting a film on where a giant gorilla and a fictional lizard fight each other, which I felt was more believable than a Reading comeback at this point. We had some delectable chances but fluffed them all and went into the break on the wrong side of the score line. At half time, I ate a Kinder egg to drown my sorrows and “visited the facilities”. I contemplated making a sandwich but realised I couldn’t really be bothered/didn’t need it and slunk back into the confines of the living room.

The second half was really flat, with two teams effectively giving their 90 minutes in the first 45. We huffed and puffed but in reality didn’t come close to breaking our duck in the same way we did in the first half. The game fizzled out and that was that.

A really tough one to take, this. Aside from those two minutes, we actually did alright. The first half was very good (minus the goals) and the reality now is that we are chasing the other teams for the first time in a long time. This is new territory for this team: how they respond next will set the tone for the rest of the season and where we eventually end up. It has to be maximum points or bust in the next game - that’s the reality.

As for me, I can take comfort in the fact that at least it’s Wrestlemania weekend - that’ll stop me from clearing out the other shed.

Until next time.