Well, well, well. If it isn’t Old Saint Nick dropping by the Royal County two days early with our mega monster of a Christmas present: three succulent points. Whatever travesties await me under the tree on Christmas morn in terms of presents, I feel I’ve already had my “main” one in the shape of this big fat W.
Having undertaken an enforced absence over the last few home games (and by enforced, I mean I forced myself not to go), I was ready and willing to see out the year of hell at this club one final time at the Reading Stadium. In essence, I got over myself and stopped sulking, because that is what I was doing previously.
I saw a few people say/suggest that this game against the Latics was a must-win. Correct. If we had any suggestion of attempting to stay in this league (or at least start to attempt to stay in this league) we had/have to be beating teams like Wigan. And that’s not meant as any disrespect at all, but they are/were 17th and in indifferent form, so the onus was on us to get a result. As myself and Ross said on the pod, the festive period contains three very winnable games, with this being the first bite of the mince pie to get some points up.
Crowd numbers remain a major concern for this club. Arriving at 1.30 to a basically empty car park, fan store and ticket office, on a Saturday before Christmas when, in my opinion, footie should be top of everyone’s “to do” list, was sad but unsurprising. Despite the club’s best efforts (bring a mate for £10, which I thought was a decent initiative) the attendance was still low and will continue to drop (completely understandably) while the mess off the pitch rumbles on. I’d love to do a survey of people who used to come but now don’t and ask the reasons why.
Pre-match, I was able to meet up with Robbie Savage (please excuse me, I’ve dropped something… A NAME!). Before that though, I experienced what I can only describe as beer trauma. I’d asked for Heineken Silver (#ad) but when I sipped it, it tasted like cider, even though the badge on the line specifically said Heineken Silver. Both my dad and my mate had the same issue.
Well, the bar chap was flabbergasted! We must have sipped at least three pints each before he switched sides to try the other pump. Upon commencement of pouring, all three of us, almost in unison, said “that’s it! That’s the correct colour!”. Well, the bar tender fell about laughing, as did his colleagues. By this point, other punters had got involved and we all said, to a man, that something must be wrong with the lines.
Cheeky calls for free pints were dismissed because, get this, the beer pourer said we’d basically had a free one each through taste testing them! If I tell you people laughed, that would be underselling the scenes. Honestly, first-class banter, it really was.
Anyway, moving on. Robbie was good value to be fair. He’d left some nice comments of the pod and our articles on TTE and it was good to talk to him. At the end of the day, he’s just a dad who wants the best for his son, which all parents can understand. While we were chatting, I was amazed at how no one had spotted him. Then one lady and her son came up and asked for an autograph and the floodgates opened. And fair play, he took every single picture and signed every book and chatted to a lot of people.
Meet-and-greet done, it was time to head into the seated bowl. Say what you want about STAR and the club, but the montage of fans we lost this year was genuinely excellent and I hope their families were there to see it all. A lovely moment in awful circumstances.
The four of us were the only ones in our row, which just compounded my feelings about the attendance. We all know it won’t improve until the club turns a corner, but when that will be is anyone’s guess.
On the pitch, we started reasonably well, but these games, particularly at home, take on the same narrative each time where visiting teams look like they are trying their best not to lose and we are trying to work out how to win. We were sloppy in midfield, isolated up top and generally pretty pedestrian.
Cue Femi Azeez. Much like the goal against Eastleigh, he caught the ball as sweetly as a varied selection box and slapped it into the net from range. From that point on, we didn’t look like losing the game and the most handsome man in Berkshire doubled the lead shortly after the interval, bucking my theory of “never go back”.
Various players had good games: Amadou Mbengue, Michael Craig, Tom Holmes, Harvey Knibbs to name four. Wigan weren’t up to much but we can only beat what’s in front of us.
Starting this block of games with three points was absolutely vital and as such sets us up for a tricky game against the Posh on Boxing Day. With Cheltenham Town and Exeter City to come, the goal has to be nine points from 12 to see us into the New Year in developing form. We have to keep going now and solidify this form. Number one objective for 2024? Stay in this league.
I’ll be back on Boxing Day, but thank you for reading this column over the course of the year. I’ve no idea how many people read it, but if you do, thank you. Have a great break over the next few days, look after yourself and take care.
Until next time.