Reading searching for a win has been akin to a spotty teenager seeking out a bottle of Prime “drink” (honestly, have you tasted it? Genuinely horrendous). Entertaining Rotherham United at home on Valentine’s Day was the next opportunity to try and find that elusive three points.
Sunderland was pretty dreadful. We’ve all seen the stats, highlights, maybe even the full game from Saturday, but we all realise we are currently watching a team struggle to create chances. On top of that, pressure is intensifying on a manager who looks increasingly like he has no plan B (some might even argue that there’s no plan A, either).
Whichever way you painted the picture, the game against the Millers was a must-win. By hook or by crook, we had to make it five wins in 20 and put some sort of distance between us and the chasing pack below.
Imagine my absolute chagrin, then, when the team was announced pre-kick-off (as it literally always is) and there were no changes whatsoever. If I’d been eating, let’s say a packet of crisps or bag of Maltesers at the time, one would have fallen out of my mouth. Incredible scenes. How Ince Snr looked at Saturday and thought “that’s ok, that” is quite beyond my realism of comprehension. Even if it sort of worked (it didn’t) they still lost: imagine what tone that sets and the message it sends to the players who weren’t involved or worse, were bought on when we were losing the game.
We started mildly ok and by mild, I mean Nando’s sauce mild (the one that’s got lemons in it). Like it was vanilla. The very basic you’d expect from a team in good “home form” against a side who haven’t won in Berkshire since 1977 or something.
And then of course it unravelled quicker than the plot of a terrible crime drama. Rotherham had been in the ascendancy for probably the 10/12 minutes prior to their goal. That pressure told and they deservedly took the lead. It could well have been their second goal, having hit the crossbar earlier in the half.
Honestly, I’ve watched some trash at this club over the past six/seven seasons. Hell, we all have. But that 45 plus whatever injury time the ref (who was pretty decent) added on for morbid curiosity. The worst part of it all was that I wasn’t actually that annoyed at the players; I couldn’t blame them as such. There was a reluctance to go forward, to spread the play, to have sensible distances in transition when we did have the ball (which was rare). All of it, literally all of it, was a symptom of whatever system we were supposed to be playing.
At half time, once I’d done my bit on the pitch, I went down for a pint and I just felt really sad. I think, ultimately, I’m just so fed up of the way we’ve been playing the last few years. As Marc pointed out on the pod, we’ve had a succession of not very good managers, basically. That’s what it boils down to. And he’s right: they’ve all been pretty rubbish.
The second half was slightly better. I was still in the concourse when AC scored and up until that point, I’d told myself that once I’d finished my flat, spineless, continental lager, I’d just go. But for whatever reason, the goal gave me hope.
That hope diminished quicker than a light on a counterfeit Yankee Candle. For reasons unknown to me, I just sat there, the only human in my row, letting the game float over me. Fornah popped up with the winner very late on and honestly, my first response was to feel sorry for both the Rotherham players and their fans as they didn’t deserve to lose.
We won a must-win game that we didn’t deserve to win and somehow are up to 13th in the table. The way the league is going, if (big if) we win on Friday, we are probably safe, having won, hypothetically, six games in 21. That’s the Championship for you.
I drove the long way home just to have a think. It might sound dramatic but I just needed to work out how I felt. I still don’t really know. As I turned into my road, a cracking-looking fox sauntered across the road. A sign perhaps? F*** knows. I don’t think any of us know anymore.
Until next time.