Mez Chris everyone! And if you don’t celebrate the arrival of Jesus, I hope you have enjoyed the endless stream of bank holidays.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t hugely up for the game. It meant leaving the confines of my house, not eating dehydrated party food for at least three hours and swapping the second part of “Vardy v Rooney: A Courtroom Drama” for some belated Boxing Day football fare. I’d also slipped into what I’d call a nap shortly before leaving the house, so all in all, sitting in the pouring rain at The Reading International Arena watching two mid-table monsters battle to the death (actually, that’s a lie - I don’t sit in the rain because my seat is perfectly positioned to avoid any precipitation, even with a strong wind behind it. It’s why I chose it all those years ago).
What I had forgotten was that Joe Allen was due to feature for the visitors, a man so exquisitely talented (and a personal hero of mine) that wild horses or a selection box of Pringles couldn’t keep me away from watching him live, in the flesh. I grabbed a handful of Heroes (the best Xmas choc), a stale mince pie and off I went into the chilly Berkshire evening.
The traffic around the ground wasn’t ideal. Cars resembled ants at a BBQ, scurrying to collect morsels of food/parking spaces, which lead to congestion that I hadn’t seen since my son had a nasty cold. Of course, I don’t have to indulge those stresses as I have my own space (big time) but that still didn’t stop me arriving at the ground much before half an hour until KO. It’s funny how these bizarre start times mess with routines, isn’t it?
I did manage to catch the latter part of the warm-ups and cast an eye over any new footwear the players might have received from old Saint Nick (and yes I’m fully aware the players get given their boots, I’m not an idiot, I just like the idea of Big Andy unwrapping a pair of fluorescent size 14s underneath his massive tree in deepest darkest Essex).
We started well but the Swans were pinging it around for fun. Allen didn’t give the ball away once - I know this because I just stared at him for the first 15 minutes. The opening came from some delicious pressure from Meite to win the free-kick which was rifled in and the large Northern lad was able to convert. A well deserved lead under our belts was almost doubled after the referee spotted an infringement and gave us the opportunity to score a free goal shot. Meite stepped and sent the ball over and high. I’m not sure I’ve seen a penalty as bad as that for a while and I’m pretty sure the ball reached the paint aisle in B&Q.
The large question at the half was whether we’d come out swinging, having had the setback of the missed penalty. As the rain intensified, the pressure from us did too. A second was added to the tally not long after the restart, and at that point you felt the +3 was staying in Reading. The South Wales Mega Swans converted to reduce the deficit but we never looked in danger of losing the game.
At the final whistle, Russell Martin embarrassed himself even more after he went for the Patron Saint of Reading, Joe Lumley. It’s honestly so cringey when managers try to fight opposing players and this was no different. Forget that fact that Lumley is probably the most annoying player for opposing fans and teams, or the fact he’s quickly becoming one of my favourite Reading keepers ever, it’s just pointless to moan and scrap after the game is done.
Martin is just such an unlikeable bloke and it’s sad in a way because those of us who remember those glory teams at Swansea under Rod***s and Laudrup etc will remember great football, decorum and respect. You don’t get any of that with that clown in charge and I feel sorry for their fans who by and large are good eggs.
A decent and thoroughly enjoyable performance from us confirms what we are starting to expect from this Ince side: strong at home, iffy away, destined for a finish anywhere between 10th and 15th. A growing blend of resilience, determination and ugliness means that we have a team which is miles away from where we were this time last year.
I feel happy enough to now starting comparing this team with what Ince has done and not his predecessors and, heading into 2023, I’m not going to speak about last year, last season etc. This team have earned the right to be judged on what they are capable of, not what previous teams have (or rather haven’t) done.
Have a great New Year, keep safe and I’ll be back for the Watford game.
Until next time.