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View From The Dolan: Another Game, Another Defeat

Ben’s take on a seven-goal thriller that continued Reading’s losing streak.

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That was a spicy one, wasn’t it?! Absolute carnage on the pitch, which was a welcome change from the stain on the eyes that was Wednesday. Of course, this game yielded the same result, but at least there was a bit more football on offer.

Games against Huddersfield always bring back those horrid memories at Wembley, the last time I cried in public actually. With the Terriers in form, it was easy to just mentally give them the points beforehand. Indeed, most of the fanbase had already decided our fate and, a as wise man said pre-game, “sometimes people get so far down the rabbit hole with negativity that positivity seems alien to them”. (It was Sim, he said that). However, I was confident that we’d at least show a bit more fight.

Before the match I carried out all the stuff I couldn’t/didn’t want to do in the week. Pet supplies, the purchasing of some middle-class ingredients from a supermarket that shall not be named for legal/advertising reasons and general faffing around the house. The time disappeared quicker than a dropped ice cream on a very hot pavement.

Sure enough, 1pm rolled around and the chauffeur arrived (my Dad - he picked both myself and my son up). There was a small argument about who would sit in the front, but in the end I showed maturity and restraint and let my six-year-old take the shotgun space (in a car seat, before anyone from the social rings me up).

Car park six was barren. Well, not barren, but at 1.20 on a Saturday matchday, I would have expected it to be busier. My dad proceeded to run through all the reasons why people weren’t in attendance and ended with a “still, it’s where we are isn’t it?”. I got a text from Milan, my friend, asking what drinks we wanted from the hotel bar, with the exclamation that upstairs was open. Perhaps there would be a big crowd after all! Alas, upon entering the over dramatic foyer of Voco (stupid name), it was evident that the ground would be as quiet as in-town nightclub on a Thursday night.

It didn’t take long for the inquisition about the meeting I attended with the club the previous day to start. I just gave my views, as I have done with anyone up until this point: I felt the club listened, were open and honest. How they go about making the changes and heading forward is ultimately up to them.

With drinks guzzled, we headed back out into the chill winter air for some football and pure banter. I couldn’t get the Covid pass to load and when I did, the steward explained that they weren’t checking them. Inside I was livid but, on the outside, I presented as a calm and collected individual, like a swan on a picturesque lake, still on the top, paddling furiously on the bottom.

Upon entering the seated bowl I could again smell the apathy wafting around the stadium. I noticed a banner protruding out of Club 1871 and at that point, I nearly dropped my pre-packed quinoa salad. A banner?! At the club?! Was this a protest?! I couldn’t believe my hazel-coloured eyes, so I applied some hand cream to my very dry hands and tutted, covering my son’s eyes to the appalling language that was contained on the blue tarpaulin.

In all seriousness, fair play to them. I think anyone who criticises someone else’s right to an opinion is an idiot. Do I think it was needed? Maybe. Do I think it was well timed and accurate? I do. The fact it was down during play was positive for the players, but I can also understand those who want to make more of a statement to those on the pitch and elsewhere. The reality is that we need to stay up and for me, that outweighs any form of negativity, even though it’s easy to fall into that trap right now.

“No desire. No drive. No direction”

The game started quickly. Very quickly. With the two up top, it was clear we were going for it in the final third. We scored within five minutes through a well-taken goal from Lucas. My son was delighted - the face he has and the excitement he shows when we score is really great to see.

Then the game descended into farce and anarchy, to things I cannot stand on a football pitch. Defensively it was shambolic from both sides, with each team looking likely to score with every attack. By half time I’d aged beyond my years (like some low-budget, opposite Benjamin Button). Milan leaned across and said to Toby, my son, “if this finishes 5-5, you can have £20”. Secretly, I wished he’d put a proper figure up, like, I don’t know, £200, but I kept my counsel and wandered off to buy some lagers and sweets.

Somehow, from somewhere, those cardboard clappers from 2015 had re-emerged and were being thrown around like confetti at a traditional weeding. Perhaps the stewards wanted the Dolan to descend into chaos, perhaps they hate parents - I don’t know. Either way, every child in B13 and B14 had got hold of them and the noise was deafening (sort of). Huddersfield scored another goal which again was defensively poor. Take nothing away from the strike, but I felt it could have been prevented. We did look capable of getting back into the game but failed to do so and the game slipped away once again.

It’s incredibly difficult to judge the game. Of course, scoring three times and having both strikers net is good. But yet again, we’ve conceded too many goals and in the cold light of day (I’ve never understood that phrase - it doesn’t make sense, does it?), we’ve lost again.

Looking at the run-in, we do have enough games to get out of this mess. But ultimately, the longer we go on without a +3, the harder it will get to break the cycle. We have players coming back from injury to help, I still think the club will bring in players between now and next week, but they have to make a difference and the players on the pitch need to get going very, very quickly.

If Pauno can work with this shape and this group of players, keep them fighting in the process and making sure they understand the seriousness of the situation by showing fight and aptitude for the tests ahead, we might have a chance.

Until next time.