In the lead-up to this game I spoke to the wonderful folks at The Boro Breakdown Podcast and basically said we needed to be defensively solid. In complete contrast to that, I predicted a 2-2 draw, so that gives you a little glimpse as to where my head was at or rather, wasn’t.
After the heroics of Wednesday (and they were heroics - don’t let any disgruntled Lancashire person tell you differently), could we do it again? It was unlikely that we’d score three once more, but a clean sheet? Possible, but not definite.
This thought consumed me as I awoke for the day and prepared myself physically and mentally for another battle at the Mad Stad. I wasn’t hugely hungry so opted for a late breakfast. Again, once I arrived at the first meal of the day (around 10am) I still wasn’t hugely ravenous, so just had a pain au raisin, two pieces of toast, a banana, some natural yoghurt and two coffees. As I said, not hugely hungry at that point.
The journey to the ground was seamless. Out of sheer interest, I plugged into Waze (the premium free travel app) to determine the best journey. Interestingly, it took me out of central Reading and onto Britain’s best motorway, the M4. As a result of the advice, I arrived in my parking spot in exactly 17 minutes, which ain’t half bad.
Clearly more people had jumped on the away-shirt bandwagon (I will probably buy one now) as they milled around the exterior of the stadium like pink-clad ants covering a fallen ice cream. A speedy pre-match continental lager was foiled by the absence of the upstairs bar in Voco being open so we joined the never-ending queue downstairs to get our 4% lagers in.
As with all the games so far this month, it was noticeably quieter than usual (but quite what “usual” is I don’t know) and I suppose, probably naively, I’d imagined Wednesday’s result being some sort of catalyst to higher attendances. Still, construct it and they will arrive, as the ancient proverb goes. It takes time to build momentum.
I’d planned for the column for this game to be a tactical analysis on Mamadou Loum (and please do reply in the comments if a) this is something you’d like in future and b) if you’d prefer a different player to be analysed), but a severe amount of faffing on the concourse (not by me) scuppered that as I arrived in my seat at 3.03pm and by then he’d probably touched the ball at least six times… and also because I’d forgotten my notepad and pen to actually do the analysis because I’m old-school and I won’t cut corners to provide sharp-end journalism for a fansite for a Championship-level soccer club.
Half time was tense. I’d already had the Boro fan who was “booked” for the half-time show pull out as his train from London was cancelled (DON’T GO TO LONDON THEN! Always said that...), I couldn’t have Kingsley for the game, I wasn’t allowed to use the goal and only had the use of the one ball. So, it was the old faithful “hit the corner flag” again. Bear with me: it’s not my plan to do the same game over and over, but needs must. We’ll get there.
In terms of the game, by the end of it I was sweaty, a bit emotional, physically quite weak and just relieved. My heart was thudding and my knees had gone to jelly. I’m not being a hypochondriac but I was unable to stand for a good few moments at the final from sheer exhaustion. John Clarke’s block will stay with me for a long time - that was a proper, proper challenge. We didn’t do anything incredible or earth-shattering, just got on with the job like 11 beavers gnawing some wood to build a dam on a fresh-water river or tributary.
It’s rare to walk away with a smile on your face after watching the Biscuitmen in recent years, but to be able to do that twice in four days is phenomenal. Beating Boro, the way we did, was a huge result which shows we are capable of doing the rough stuff to get the points. We’ll have critics of this win (which is essentially liquid off a water-dwelling bird’s back), it wasn’t as entertaining as Wednesday, but you ask anyone who still calls John Lewis in Broad Street “Heelas” and they won’t care. We won, we got the three points and we are on the move.
Until next time.