Maybe it’s my own arrogance creeping in, maybe it’s the fact expectations are changing, but Steve Bruce in charge or not, I expected a big fat W against the Baggies (utterly stupid nickname). A team shorn of confidence, with one win to their name and being in transition should have meant that our beloved Royals went all out for another +3.
I actually got to the stadium phenomenally early for once. Having watched my son play his own game in deepest darkest Woodley (for those people reading this outside of the county of Berkshire, Woodley is one of those places that is best not fully described, a place where both dreams and the housing market go to die) in the morning, we made the decision to go straight to the Whitley Bowl.
As you can imagine when you turn up to a game that is sure to be unattended en masse, the key areas aren’t busy. In fact, the whole arena felt as dead as a slept-on arm. Shop = not busy. Benches outside shop = not busy. Ticket office = not busy. Hotel = not busy.
Of course, in some sort of reverse psychology project, the upstairs bar was open for the first time in centuries, which was deeply, deeply ironic because, as I’ve mentioned, there was noone there. I can’t remember the last time I’ve walked into that place and strolled straight up to the bar, ordered, paid and collected said order in less than five minutes. But it happened! Was this an omen for better things to come? No, it wasn’t.
No sooner had I drunk my Heineken Silver (quick side note: fair bloody play to their advertising team! The fact that it was served in a frosted glass, with a rebadged pump and a knowing glance from the barman, meant that I felt special, classy and every bit the modern late-30-something. Of course, it’s literally the same lager as normal Heineken, but for those brief moments before I tasted it, I literally felt like a new man) and was ready for another.
I could see the entire queuing system had collapsed quicker than Kwasi Kwarteng’s economic beliefs (another side note: regular readers will notice I’m taking regular digs at the current government: this is because I hate them) and as such, literally forced me to travel to the downstairs bar to order, pay for and collect our drinks in a quicker time than standing in the upstairs queue. This caused more issues because mixing lagers these days gives me incredibly bad heartburn. Heineken Silver + Grolsch = plenty of burping and fiery internal organs.
I couldn’t finish the second pint so off to the seated bowl it was. I’d overheard that WBA had bought 15 coaches down with them. I was pretty sure this was a lie and the away end, while comfortably populated, wasn’t full.
From the off, everything felt flat. The players, the atmosphere, the weather. It was all just odd. No Lumley, no Ince SNR, no Ovie (although that was less of a shock). It’s hard to describe but I felt like very few people wanted to be there. Maybe that was just me, I don’t know. But the fire, impetus and stamina that we’d seen previously was missing.
The visitors enjoyed a nice little spell of pressure and were making all the right noises. Even with two up top, we were finding it hard to break them down and they were playing with a renewed confidence that I guess suddenly arrives when you eject a manager that had overseen one win all season. I do worry about how we attack in these games with the two big lads up top. Are we meant to get crosses in? Play it to feet? Ask the wingbacks to carry the ball from deeper? In any case, none of these things were evident in our play and the Baggies (what even is a Baggie?) duly took the lead on 25 minutes.
The second period did see us be slightly more proactive. Alex Palmer in the visiting net player incredibly well, which was irritating because I walked past him at half time and stared him down to unsettle him. Obviously didn’t work, why would it? I mean he even looked at me and nodded. Maybe he knew he was going to play well. Either way, whatever I did didn’t work and that’s something I need to work on.
For the second goal, the midfield played a game of “can’t be arsed” and that allowed Taylor Gardner-Hickman (LEAVE SOME NAMES FOR THE REST OF US, MATE!) to smash home from about 25 yards. That, as they say in showbiz, was that.
So why am I so annoyed? I shall break these down into brief bullet points (which has been scientifically proven in some studies to help people understand things better):
1. It’s a game we should have won given our overall form and their overall… well, non-form.
2. They weren’t much better than us, aside from the two goals (you know what I mean).
3. We have to win or at least get points from our home games.
4. My own arrogance: every time I get even the slightest bit confident with this team (see Sunderland, for example), they let me (us) down. After 30 years, I still haven’t learnt my lesson.
5. The negative Nigel (apologies to any Nigels reading this) in me feels like this might be the bubble bursting. Swansea away and then Bristol at home means we could go 4 Ls on the bounce and that’s a rut/mini-crisis.
Foolishly, I’d reached the point where I felt we might be able to get into a rhythm, even if that rhythm results in mid-table mediocrity. If someone said to me, right now, you’d fall to 12th and stay there until the end of the season and it will be boring, I’d snap their nose for it. I still can’t shake this fear that we will fall down the table and struggle sooner rather than later. I’d love to be wrong, but this game has put the fear into me, I won’t lie.
Until next time.