Who knew that playing a continental team would bring continental weather?! A behind-closed-doors friendly that’s “televised” is always an exciting proposition, but playing a European powerhouse takes it to the next level.
To celebrate the start of pre-season proper, the hot weather and the fact that I finally tackled my massive bush in the garden (not a pun, you weirdos), I bought myself a large crate of the Portuguese lager Madri at a popular supermarket.
Of course, it was only when I took a chilled one from the fridge at precisely 3.58 pm that I realised the beer was actually of Spanish origin and had no bearing whatsoever on Benfica or the nation of Portugal. Reluctantly and sadly, I continued with my beverage of choice as I settled down on my sun terrace (and it is a sun terrace thank you) to watch our heroes smash it up.
The first thing that struck me was the kit: I’m pretty sure that the Select Car Leasing branding was all dark last season. Not on this shirt! The “Leasing” part was indeed coloured in white and that, to be honest, blew my mind. There were some triallists playing too but I spent more time Googling our away shirt from 21/22 to check I wasn’t going mad and that the previous comment I made about wording was correct. It was.
About eight minutes in, Ince SNR dropped the F-bomb on his son. That was lols. You could see pretty instantly that Ovie had had the shackles removed by playing second fiddle to John Swift in that number 10 role. He covered plenty of ground, tracked back and moved forward to pace which was excellent to see.
The very high line on goal kicks was also encouraging. Call me old fashioned and someone who appreciates football from the 80s, but on a stationary goal kick, you just need to leather it down field - none of this “pass from the back” nonsense. Give it some welly, son!
Commitment was there, too. A few sloppy moments in defence were tidied up by Joe Lumley but generally we looked OK. It was clear the coaches weren’t buzzing with Femi Azeez and his alleged poor movement, but all in all we were OK. As the players trudged off for their bottles of Buxton (probably) I helped myself to another Madri and perused the Twittersphere. On the whole, pretty positive there too.
The second half commenced with the dulcet tones of Alex Rae bouncing around the empty stadium like a guinea pig on a trampoline. There were mass changes to the team but I can’t be bothered to list every single one as this isn’t a match report. It didn’t seem to affect the tempo but it felt as though we were less confident with the ball and definitely gave them the squirrel’s share of the nuts in the early part of the second 45.
I looked down the garden to see 50% of our cats drinking out of the paddling pool, so charged down to stop her from a) doing that and b) falling in. I ran back just in time to see the visitors (although technically neither team was or home or away) crash one off the upright. That threatening dominance turned into a fully fledged goal on the 64 mark when two scuffed shots ended up in the back of the net (not two separate shots - one scuffed shot, then another scuffed shot with the second being a goal).
Shortly after, the lead was doubled. Another ball in from their right was tucked home by a chap in the middle who was effectively unmarked and given the keys to the manor. At this point, it was hard to tell whether second-half Benfica were considerably better than first-half Benfica or whether we’d collapsed completely. The clock ran down at SGP and the game finished as an ‘L’ for the Royals.
So, what did we learn? The first half was balanced and confident. Ovie and Lumley were both excellent, as was TMc on the left. I would be surprised if the team that lines up against Blackpool in a few weeks isn’t made up of that first-half selection. The second half ended up being messy. Dejan Tetek looked OK on the right and Tyrese Fornah was a 6/10 in the DM slot, but aside from that, nothing major to report.
The large question will be whether Ince and his team have seen enough from the triallists in training this week and in this game to make an immediate decision on their future, or whether he’ll take another week to look at them back in Berkshire. The fact we’ve had so many would indicate that maybe four or five will sign, but you never know in this game. All in all, not a bad workout.
Until next time.