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View From The Dolan: Unpopular Opinions

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Milky Bar buttons, purple socks and Game of Thrones metal feature in Ben’s wrap-up of Reading’s Good Friday draw in Yorkshire.

PA Images via Getty Images

You’re going to read some things here that you might not like, but it’s my column and I can say what I want. They might even come under the ‘unpopular opinion’ category, so enter at your peril.

Without being that awful, lower-tier, ‘woe is me’ fan, I’d say over the course of my relationship (and it is a relationship) with the club, there’s been more downs than ups. I’m writing this just after the game and I’m on a downer. Not a wholly unusual feeling in light of the last few years, but it’s a downer and a disappointment because we are not showing what we can do in the biggest games. And that really, really pisses me off.

Pre-game I did that air-punch fist thing (like some sort of meme) at the thought of our front four players just having an absolute field day against a Barnsley side that, yeah, have done alright, but are very beatable. Beatable if you front up to them and stand up and play the game the way you want to play the game.

Before I get into that, I’ll give you some titbits (oooh, cheeky) from my day:

  1. I did a Covid test - I’m not ill, but I have to do it twice a week for my employers who care deeply about me. It was negative, but positive for good looks and banter.
  2. I cannot fathom why Sky Sports bother with Lee Trundle-Wheel as a pundit. I need subtitles to understand him.
  3. I gave The Second Tier podcast a listen - specifically, the episode with Mark Bowen. Fascinating stuff and I like him even more than I did before - well worth a listen.

I did feel confident heading into the game. Was I looking forward to it? No. Not sure how you can enjoy the last eight games of any season, unless you are certs for promotion, let alone a team that is clinging to a place in the POs where they’ve been all season. I just felt we had enough to win.

Barnsley, with their players Callum, Cauley, Carlton, another Callum, Clarke and Connor and their manager who sounds like a precious metal from Westeros, have defied description this season, but I hate them because they are Barnsley and they are stupid and smelly.

I think I just had ‘big team’ syndrome heading into the game, like “how the hell are we playing Barnsley and it’s such a big game?” type mentality. I still don’t really understand how they’ve got where they’ve got, I can’t name one of their players who doesn’t have a forename not beginning with ‘C’ and I still thought Neil Redfearn was playing for them. Still, such is life and the game at Oakwell proved to be our biggest of the season thus far.

Barnsley v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

It appeared that the Tykes (stupid nickname) were treating the occasion with frivolity as they turned up wearing purple socks. The commentator started to explain why and I literally shouted “I COULDN’T CARE LESS MATE”. It then transpired that it was for charity and I felt pretty crummy after that. Moral of the story? Always let the commentators finish their sentences.

Meite had the first real chance of the game, but the ball ended up ballooning over the bar like a middle-aged dad’s stomach at an ‘all you can eat global buffet’. Lots of discussion was had about the bobble on the pitch, but that’s what happens when you build a stadium on top of a derelict northern coal mine. I felt we needed a little bit more composure as the half wore on and we got it in the shape of a massive long ball which was caressed by Ejaria and smashed home to open the scoring. A well-taken goal at a really important time.

Half time arrived and I tucked into the Milky Bar buttons, which are my favourite hand-held chocolate snack by far. These ones were extra milky and white and tender on the tongue. If I was a mum who liked social media, I probably would have tweeted or Facebooked a picture of them with the phrase ‘nom nom’ but I’m not so I enjoyed them privately.

And this is where the unpopular opinions will now commence...

We all know how the second half went and if you don’t, you shouldn’t really be reading this. We don’t have match winners in the team at the moment and haven’t for a while. I felt like we were bullied out of the game and only a handful of players (Moore, Holmes, Laurent, Rino) really stood up. There were two really awful individual errors which, in truth, cost us three points at different stages of the game.

With Joao, I think he’s done for the season now. The body language after the miss just smacked of “get me out of here” (without an Australian Jungle/Welsh castle or Ant or Dec involved). I’m not saying drop him, but I think his form is over for the year. I hope I’m wrong, I really do. But there is a player absolutely bereft of any confidence and is basically anonymous in matches.

And this one is the real painful one: I think the team has achieved what it was going to achieve this year, beyond that actually. What I’m saying is that we are looking at a side whose race is potentially run. Again, I hope I’m wrong: I’d love us to finish in the POs because if we don’t, it will be a huge disservice to the players and the staff who have done so well this year.

But realistically, this game was more than three points - it was about the confidence that a win would bring against our closest rivals in the league. We couldn’t hold the lead, we couldn’t get the lead back and we ended up with just the one point. Ultimately, we couldn’t take our chances and that’s been a theme for a while now. The team has reached its peak and I can’t see us going on any sort of run that would be consistent and secure us the finish we’d want.

I feel like we are all dressed up with nowhere to go right now. And honestly, I’m fine with that, I really am. We may still make the top six and I can look back on this article and tweet it with the “this aged well” line with some sort of sarcastic emoji. I really hope I can do that. But sadly, I don’t think I will and I’ll look back on this game (and article) with a very sad face indeed.

Until next time.