The difference between our performances in the league and in cup competitions is simply baffling. It goes to show the amount of pressure that is on the shoulders of the players during the league, judging by the Jekyll and Hyde showings.
Tonight, again, we were a lot better. I mean, it couldn’t have got a lot worse from Saturday when we hit a new rock bottom. But, anyhow, it was a better performance and we were rewarded for it.
As I opened up iFollow just as the teams were walking out, the first thing I noticed was just how sparse the ground was. Obviously a match against Arsenal’s under-21s in the Pizza Papa Johns Meat Feast With Extra Cheese Cup Trophy, when both teams have already qualified, was never going to draw a mammoth attendance - but still it was pretty telling just how much our recent form has affected the fans.
In any case, it was Reading who took the game by the scruff of the neck and got on the front foot. Within 25 minutes they were two up through Big Kelvin and Vickers, the latter of whom was, again, our brightest creative spark all evening. It is a bit baffling why or how he’s been left out in the cold by Ruben Selles for seemingly no reason in recent times.
Arsenal began to get back into it though. Both Reiss Nelson and Fabio Vieira played for the Gunners tonight and were clearly far too good for this kind of fixture - particularly Nelson who had Nesta Guinness-Walker on toast all game and showed plenty of Premier League quality.
They got one back through a penalty before Kelvin notched another to restore the two-goal cushion before half-time. In the second half, Kelvin missed a penalty for his hat-trick; Arsenal pulled another back to make it 3-2; Harvey Knibbs scored to make it 4-2; Arsenal missed a penalty of their own and had a man sent off; and Sam Smith capped it off with a goal for himself.
So, a bit of a bonkers game really. Trademark Pizza Papa Johns Bristol Street Motors Cars Trophy Cup, some might say.
In all seriousness though, it was nice to watch Reading play relatively well, show a bit of flair and expression, and get another comprehensive win. If only these players could play with this kind of freedom and confidence in the league.
And that’s where we need to be seeing such performances, really. Games like this are entertaining, but the league is our priority and the league is where we need to step up to the plate and start showing this kind of football.
We’ve now scored four more goals in this competition than we have in our entire league campaign. For context, we’ve played three games in this competition and 16 in the league. I know that is skewed by a somewhat freak game against Exeter City when we scored nine, but it shows what these players can do.
The league campaign is taking its toll on the players, it's pretty clear, and Selles looks a bit out of his depth in League One as well. But this competition is a bit of a free hit: let's be honest, none of us would really care if we weren’t winning in it.
A baffling game but an entertaining watch, and hopefully a good confidence boost for the players going back into league football a week on Saturday. Hopefully they can take this performance into the league, but we’ve said that before, haven’t we?