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View From The Dolan: Away Misery Continues

VFTD became View From The Jimmy Seed Stand as Ben made a rare away trip, which played out similarly to so many others Reading have had this season.

I have a lot of time for Charlton Athletic. Good club, difficult recent history, OK fans. Next to Pompey, it’s the away day I’ve done the most. In fact, The Valley was my first-ever away day, way back in 1994 (I don’t look old enough, I know).

Anyone who reads the column knows I don’t go away, not as much as I probably should anyway. So this game was always going to be my first venture out of Berkshire for footie this season.

The first thing to say about The Valley is that it’s a proper ground at any level, let alone in this league. They have some excellent people working for them, not least in the community trust who I’m lucky enough to work with professionally. The second thing to say is that there is a plethora of routes one could take to get there. I plumped for the Lizzie Line all the way to Abbey Wood, then a train to actual Charlton.

I was actually due to meet Sim, our editor at TTE, but he sacked me off for the more glamorous side of London and better friends. So this meant I was able to roam free around the Borough of Charlton unhindered. I found a public house named The Bugle Horn and duly went inside.

Filled with Charlton fans and the smell of stale crisps, I ordered my lager and went to sit outside with the smoking folk (I don’t smoke). No sooner had I sipped my pint than a police wagon turned up into the car park. A handful of officers entered the premises, wandered around a bit and then left, no doubt wanting to extend the tentacles of the law to any mischief makers.

After that, it was over the road to a smart-looking grill, where I had a chicken burger. Listening to hard rap while watching people eat kebabs wasn’t on my to-do list for the day but here we were. Sim eventually bothered to message and a short stroll down the hill ensued, meaning I could grab my ticket from the little chap.

I had an inkling about the team selection long before it was announced but it still didn’t make sense. Benching three to four of the most naturally talented players in the squad made about as much sense as having a football match on Christmas Eve, but that was compounded by Ruben Selles clearly playing the same formation that has let us down so badly over the past few games. Genuinely absurd.

Fans were in good voice and hearty high jinx, cheering every goal scored in the warm-up. Who would have predicted these would be the only goals we’d see? PROBABLY EVERYONE. You know you are in bits when the highlight of the day is watching Charlie Savage launch a free-kick into the net and celebrating it like a last-minute winner. Fair play, enjoy it.

The first half wasn’t too bad. And by that I mean not horrific. Starting Sam Smith was a gamble that didn’t pay off - he was caught offside more than anything else. We gave the ball away cheaply, under no pressure at times and the delivery from the wide areas was poor. Michael Craig looked OK, but needed an end product with the ball which he failed to find.

Half-time was the treat, though. They run the “hit the crossbar challenge” but with the added bonus of people being able to win actual amounts of money. This was clearly a rollover and the fella playing could win a princely sum of £1,500. He obviously hit it and the scenes were tremendous. For those asking (no one is) about our own half-time at the Berkshire Stadium, it’s in the pipeline. There’s willingness from me to continue doing it as a volunteer, but with the off-field issues, it’s felt there isn’t a demand for it at the moment.

The second half started well, then collapsed quicker than a Rishi Sunak speech. We gave the ball away very cheaply for all four goals. We weren’t outplayed, we weren’t savaged, but again we just collapsed. It’s a composure, mentality and confidence issue. Oh and having key players deliberately benched.

The facts are now that we are 23rd in the table, coming up for a year out without an away win and now have two games back at home that are, quite literally, must-win. Forget the opposition, forget their respective positions in the league, forget how hard it will be.

The bare minimum I’d expect would be to change the system and swap out some personnel. If Ruben doesn’t do that, his job’s on the line and it’s open season to call for a change. Plenty of people are already calling him out, not least for this bizarre “ritual” of standing there for prolonged periods of time at the end of away games. That, along with our current form, is absolutely pointless.

The final word goes to the pigeons on the pitch: no idea what was on the turf at The Valley, but the flying beasts were loving it. At least someone was, anyway.

Until next time.