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View From The Dolan: 2023’s Final Act

Ben’s take on a 2-2 take at Cheltenham Town which brought Reading’s 2023 league action to a close.

PA Images via Getty Images

It was a struggle to remember what day of the week it was, let alone that there was a game to be devoured. But would we be the devourer or the devouree in this particular game of association football?

With the chocolate stash down to the bare minimum (and by that, I mean down to the ones that you wouldn’t even give to your worst enemy) and the turkey carcass finally polished off, I made the decision pre-game that I wouldn’t touch a snack or alcoholic beverage while watching the game on Royals TV.

In theory, that was fine, good and well meaning, but in practice, it was pretty tricky. I’m not sure what your house is like, but mine is covered with what looks like cast-offs from a combination of Willy Wonka’s factory and a bankrupt savoury snack warehouse. Ie: temptation in every crevice.

You’d struggle to find a stranger name for a stadium than The Completely Suzuki Stadium - I like the idea that you might have a Suzuki (I genuinely thought they’d gone bust) that wasn’t complete. Like a half-Suzuki, half-Mitsubishi hybrid.

What was also strange was seeing Luke Southwood in goal. Look, I know we’ve seen him lining up in the oppo goal before, but I still think we could have handled it differently. He was a good guy at a weird time for the club and, personally, I wish him all the best.

Within moments, I realised that I needed to mute the comms on the feed. No problems with Charlie Estcourt (Welsh international) but having both Tim Dellor and Mick Gooding competing to cut her off was exhausting. Silence was easy at this point, trust me.

A little note on the team selection: I was disappointed with how Big E was used on Tuesday and how he was, in some fans’ eyes, made a scapegoat for the first-half performance. He didn’t have a good game, but it’s like asking a tiger to live in the Antarctic: unfair. I still think there’s more to come from him but it goes back to my age-old gripe about formations. Anywho, the Smithster came in for what was otherwise an unchanged squad.

The opening stages were frenetic with the home side having the Robin’s share of the crumbs. We weren’t quite set as far as stability was concerned and the defence was called upon repeatedly within the first 15 minutes.

The nerves inside me were growing like a well attended sunflower but I did have a chuckle at The Robins Grill workers who were just busily going about their business, serving up their skin-on fries amid a huge cloud of steam while the punters leant against the advertising boards on the legal side of the terrace. Proper old-school ground, this.

A cat appeared in the room (it’s OK, he lives with me) to remind me that it was feeding time and that the last of the Christmas salmon wasn’t going to eat itself. In the commotion, cat number two arrived and the job took twice as long as it needed to (a bit like a David Button goal kick WAHEY!). House lions fed and watered, it was back to my nest on the sofa, just in time to see Amadou Mbengue commit another foul throw.

It wasn’t too long before the opening goal appeared and, again, you have to ask questions of the defence. You have to. It’s just basics, plain and simple. To go full “Sunday league”, they didn’t clear their lines, didn’t follow the man/men and didn’t put a foot in. As I said, it’s basics.

And then of course, the pain was doubled. A truly awful goal to concede, both from a technical and visual point of view. The only surprise, really, was that the lead wasn’t more by this point in the game. Couldn’t get forward, couldn’t defend. There was no outlet from midfield at all. Zero.

And then, from somewhere, we found two goals. Just like that. The first was good, the second was better. Football eh? WHAT A FUNNY OLD GAME! You know how I said I wasn’t going to drink during the game? I had two beers at half-time. And the snacking? I found half a tube of Pringles. Football isn’t good for your health, is it?

I won’t give you the blow-by-blow of the second half, but we were better, despite not making any changes at the break. Say what you want about Ruben Selles, but he clearly trusts the players he likes and will let them get out of a hole. We looked a bit more stable but still well off the pace in terms of our attack.

The most frustrating thing about this team is that there is so much potential in the squad but yet also so much waste. We could be quite good but struggle to live up to it because we don’t play to our strengths.

The positives are that it’s now no losses in five. The flip side of course is that it’s only one win in that stretch too. It’s up to you which one you focus on, but we need to start turning these single points into three. If only that potential was our reality, eh?

Have a great New Year and take care.

Until next time.