Another home game, another opportunity to get some points on the board and pull away from the bottom three, right? WRONG!
I’d missed the Brum game and so had been building up the excitement levels all week in my head about the game against the Lions. I arose early, mainly to continue some decorating (don’t ask) and as I expertly sawed pieces of coving, I pondered the implications of not winning, or worse: losing.
I reasoned that we had still had time to pick up points but a quick glance at the fixture list in between coats of gloss paint told me that this game had higher implications of more than just a +3. Over the next few weeks, the games become harder and with an international break hovering over the league like an unpaid car parking fine, a W was basically imperative.
I’d agreed to meet my mate in town around 1ish so caught the bus from Upper Tilehurst into ‘Ding town centre. At exactly 12.57, as I was walking down Friar Street, I received a text from said mate stating he was running late and that he’d meet me at the hotel. Ideal. I doubled back on myself and went to The Grumpy Goat (the perfect destination for all your cheers and beer needs). I grabbed a coffee and a grilled cheese (so American) and made my way past the M’ll fans who were being ably assisted by the best the police have to offer. And then disaster struck.
I was pretty confident I’d be the last one on the bus in front of me, meaning a quick departure was imminent. However, the person in front of me was the last to board that bus and so I ended up being the first person on the next empty bus. This took at least 17 minutes to fill up and I was fuming to be honest. Personal bus etiquette tells me that eating and drinking on a packed bus is wrong so I waited to get out at the Berkshire Arena. By that time, my entire meal was cold. I was convinced that if I’d made the first bus, lunch would have been better.
Upon arrival at the hotel, I was greeted with a fizzy lager and an apology. I won’t go into detail, but what I can say is that my mate Milan is a hideous creature who had spent the morning, in his words, loafing around, had lost track of time and had then had to get a lift direct to the stadium because he’d missed the boat (not literally) to get into town. Useless. Things got even more wild when a Dairy Milk was produced. I’m all for mixing stuff up, but Amstel and chocolate is not the one.
We entered the seated bowl just in time to hear the Millwall fans boo the knee, which was lovely of course. Set-up wise, we weren’t hugely different. No unexpected starters, although you could argue that Tom McIntyre should have started in place of Tom Holmes and Kelvin Abrefa could have stepped in at right back.
Defensively, we looked a little more solid than previous outings - until of course we conceded from another set piece (which, using my mental calculator, I believe to be either the seventh or eighth time this season). Holmes lost his man (had to be Jake Cooper) who headed the Lions into the lead.
What happened next was contentious: Cooper proceeded to celebrate in front of the Dolan for a prolonged period of time, pointing to the sky for most of that. Several fans reacted, one throwing what looked like a Jelly Baby into the air. As the sugary treat fell silently and tragically to the ground, I wondered whether he was doing this as a man of respect to the man who gave him his chance in football and therefore was showing gratitude rather than gloating.
Things took a while to calm down after that: a child was told to sit down, a lady readjusted her scarf. The half fizzled out like an experiment performed with mentos and coke by a lazy primary school teacher and I headed down to the bar (the concourse) for some more lager and a sausage roll (which was absolutely delightful).
The second half got no better, I won’t lie. We controlled the game reasonably well, with the visitors not really making moves to double their lead. In fact, Southwood in goal was a virtual spectator. A chap behind me shouted “make some subs Ince!” and others around me nodded.
Subs are subs, right? Designed to help change the game. I felt that with Ovie Ejaria and Yakou Meite on the bench, we had something to mix it up a bit. When the subs did come, it was too late. Millwall had set into a low block and were gobbling up any and all attacks. The game wound down and it was yet another opportunity that had passed us by.
The home form could potentially cost us a place in this league. You could argue that we deserved a point, based on the fact that Millwall had one clear-cut chance and took it, not because we made any strides to gain that point. Were we defensively more solid? Yeah, but was that because they didn’t threaten so much?
Had it have been me in the trench coat on the touch line, I’d have gone two up top fairly early in the second half. At least then it would have shown some willing and urgency to get a positive from a game which will be forgotten by Monday from an aesthetic point of view but could well have huge ramifications come early May.
Until next time.