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Five Things From A Resilient Draw At Cheltenham Town

Bobbins analyses a game at Cheltenham in which the Royals fought back from 2-0 down to secure a 2-2 draw.

Resilience

So, there we have it. 2023 has been consigned to those (non)-fictional history books that you hear about but nobody ever sees. Another year that we’d rather see the back of. Similar to the year before that, the year before that and likely the year before that too.

But, unlike in other years, we still managed to show some kind of an uptick in the points accumulated column, even if the performance wasn’t quite there. Well, that’s being kind: the performance wasn’t there at all bar a couple of bits of magic from Lewis Wing to rescue the situation.

If it weren’t for him we would have most certainly returned down the M4 (other routes, such as the A4074, are available) with bugger all. Showing some kind of resilience on the road has long since been a mystery but there’s been a new-found consistency to not get beaten that will be very much needed when we tick over into 2024.

As it has been with most of the campaign so far, we are showing signs of a team that’s coming together and not one that’s ready to fall apart at the first signs of failure.

Bombarded

At 2-0, however, nothing but failure looked likely. Cheltenham Town had the vast majority of possession, even if most of it was generated in the air. If Reading have any weakness that’s worth exploiting it’s defending crosses, and crosses is what we were bombarded with endlessly. Maybe one day we’ll find a way of stopping some of these crosses into the box, but we don’t have the players or a defined set-up that prevents this from happening.

With both full-backs not being full-backs it’s a tricky one to solve. That said, even if we did have our defined full-backs available I’m not sure that they are necessarily adept at stopping crosses either, but that’s down to a myriad of other factors that we’re all bored of talking about.

But, to our credit, we somehow managed to avoid going into half-time in arrears. It seemed it would be 2-0 or worse after Reading had typically conceded the first and then comically contrived to concede a second when Amadou Mbengue fired off an unstoppable shot which ricocheted off David Button and into the onion bag. 2023, in a nutshell, right there, right?

Influence

Enter stage right, Mr Lewis Wing. In just two minutes, his wand-like right foot had rescued an unlikely point for the Royals. In fact, most of anything that we did well came via him. His influence on the team has grown hugely over the last few months and none more so than in this fixture.

He almost bagged one himself - if it weren't for Luke Southwood tipping his sublime free-kick wide late in the game. A Wing that is fit and firing is a cut above for the position we find ourselves in. It’s just a shame that, in this game at least, we seemed to want to avoid midfield altogether and resort to utter panic stations and hoof the ball away at every opportunity.

For a team that looks so much better when the ball is at their feet, we spent the vast majority of the game launching the ball down to a lonely Sam Smith. The key element missing for this is composure on the ball and we didn’t exhibit any of that.

To be fair to Reading, to play through the multitudinous identikit Cheltenham players would have been a tall order as their press was pretty high. Just to mix it up a little bit would have been nice, but we couldn’t find the space or generate any movement that could have provided another option. But y’know, reasons and all that.

Develop

If there are any wishes to be doled out for 2024, it’s that we learn how to react to situations better and be more composed in possession when we get it, especially away from home. It’s easier said than done with the squad situation that we have, however.

The temptation, after being subjected to an onslaught of aerial action, is just to launch it downfield and wherever it lands just might be toward a player or two that are bedecked in blue and white, or in this case, purple.

We live in hope that we can develop our play to be a little bit better than just defaulting to the most rudimentary of escape routes. When we could counter with a bit more fluidity and precision we looked so much better for it. It’s difficult, but it can be done, surely?

So, there are my wishes for 2024: stop the crosses and find more composure. Not too much to ask, is it? Is it?

Hopeful

And so we head into 2024 with a must-win home game versus Exeter City, who themselves are slowly recovering out of a nasty run. After a home draw against league leaders Portsmouth, they will have been buoyed by that result.

So this one is no gimme by any means. But a win is essential to our survival, a draw is of little use bar maintaining our unbeaten streak and a defeat is just unthinkable.

In the wider picture, we can only hope for a brighter and happier 2024. Hopefully, the ownership situation will be finally resolved and we can celebrate the dawn of a new, hopeful, adventurous but stable era.

And lastly, thank you to all my colleagues at TTE for allowing me to infiltrate their fine portal via words and podcasts. You’re all legends, to a man.

Happy New Year, Royals!

Bobbs.