To think this was our last home game for a month is crazy. Whatever your views on the World Cup, I think we can all agree that having it at this time of year, with a break of over a month, is genuinely bonkers.
That said, with our current form and performance level as it is, maybe a break is just what we need. Luton was stale and needed an injection of creativity; this game against Preston was somehow worse…
I’m not going to say Sky are ruining the game, but they are somehow ruining the game. The news in midweek that our home game against Swansea on Boxing Day was to be moved to the next day (at 5.15! Who’s going to want to come out at the time having spent the day eating and watching ‘Chicken Run’?!) was met, quite rightly, with disappointment.
As I made my way through Reading, it dawned on me that the Preston game had been scheduled for the Saturday in the first place. For me, there is nothing worse than a Friday night game and the fact it was on the telly box made it worse. As the fireworks exploded around me like a poorly made Disney film, I wondered how many people wouldn’t be in the stands. I could write a whole article on attendances, but the blame for the low number for this game lies at the door of BSkyB.
I got to the stadium around 7. I had planned to nip down to Smyths to add to my wrestling figure collection (look, if you don’t like it, I’ll fight you) but I hadn’t realised how cold it was. I realised I couldn’t be bothered so nipped into the concourse early to soak up the non-existent atmosphere. As the team news filtered through, the news of very few changes bought bemusement and surprise in the old group chats. It was disappointing to say the least, considering the tag line from Ince in recent weeks has been that “we’re tired”. This was a perfect opportunity to mix it up, especially up top.
After an absolutely shambolic minute’s silence (how hard is it to follow instructions?), the game, sadly, began. You know like when you got to a restaurant that may or not be part of a chain and you have a roast (or dinner that requires gravy) and you get the gravy and it’s too lumpy and thick and stodgy for your personal taste and so you send the gravy back and there’s a big to do about it? Well the first half was like that. We were far too slow in the transitions (considering Preston were so slow to reset themselves), we made bizarre choices out wide, we didn’t seem to have much structure and, the worst of the lot, we let them have the second balls far too often.
The second half wasn’t much better. Ched Evans put the visitors in front, which prompted a triple sub from Ince. This seemed to work as there was more energy and focus in the final third for a short time. A sort of spark, if you will. We won and converted a penalty to put us back in the game but eight minutes later we were back behind.
Luckily for me, my phone died just after the Joao goal so I couldn’t see the horror on social media or the group chats. The game fizzled out, we didn’t really force the issue and the few brave souls that were still left in the stands trudged out like forlorn seagulls being shooed away from the front of a seaside cafe. I wasn’t able to do a video post-match (lucky you) so made my way back to the car and drove home in silence.
Whichever way you spin it, this result was awful. Ince talks about performance first, result second. Well we got neither in this game. These are the kind of results, whatever your personal view on expectations this season, that start to let the doom creep in. A perfect time then to have a month-long break when players can reset their own expectations about how they want the season to continue moving forward. As someone pointed out on Twitter earlier this week, there is a wonder where the next win will come from.
From a personal point of view, in celebrating three years of this column (thanks for reading) I’m going to be taking a break. I’m hoping the World Cup is a nice distraction and that football, at least, can do the talking in this most controversial of tournaments. Take care, have a good month, and we’ll see you back at the Berkshire Arena against Coventry.
Until next time.