Look, it was better. A kind of “I managed to reduce my parking ticket fine by a third” better. Changes made the difference in this lower-table clash (Yakou Meite mainly), but it was pretty clear everyone connected with the club knew this was a must-win game without actually saying it was a must-win game. Here’s how it panned out…
Most of the talk pre-match was around the increased attendance and the increased capacity of Club 1871. I’m not quite sure what happened on the latter but it was basically the same, save the away fans being bunched up like they were in a regular-class coach of a GWR train service (am I right though?!). All a bit odd.
Of course, the Dolan was rocking and there seemed to be plenty more blue seats populated with actual people, which in all honesty was delicious to see. Compare that to the barren wasteland of the last game against Rotherham United and you’d take an increased population inside the seated ball any day of the week.
Lunch and alcohol all passed me by in the lead-up to the game. Travel time, logistics and half-time prep meant I was looking at people holding pints and eating cylinder-shaped meat products with absolute envy as I strolled through the crowded concourse with half of Decathlon’s football-based stockroom.
I hadn’t even had time to check the team selection, although whispers (WhatsApp messages) had filtered through about the Yaks starting. We still don’t know our best team, largely because Paul Ince doesn’t, but mixing it up in the striker department was the bare minimum after the horror show in South Wales a week prior. Tom McIntyre was yet again filling his “everyman” role, starting at left back.
There was some chat in the week about Nesta Guinness-Walker staying on. I think when you basically restructure the team in two departments to NOT play the only natural left-sided player we have available, that probably tells you your time is up, so unless the dugout changes, he’s probably off in May.
You can promote all the cheap tickets you want, think of every initiative under the sun to get people through the turnstiles, but when you’ve shifted around 5,000 extra tickets and the team you are promoting score within 13 minutes of the half starting, it basically makes your marketing department redundant. Four years ago, I would have actively avoided these type of games, but I look at it now as the next generation of fans coming through.
The kids around me were hooked from that point and I’d happily take a few clap banners made into planes to the face if they came back again. Obviously not to sit near me, of course not. The Dolan is a big place - go down the other end please. In all seriousness, getting families out to games was always the “go to” strategy of this club and I’m pleased we are doing it again. It’s important innit.
Back on the pitch, Blackpool were making a good go of being the most in control, fluid passing team they could be - except they literally had nothing up front. Nothing. I’ve never seen finishing (or lack of it) like it. In essence, any other team would have been 3-0/4-0 up by half time. Defensively we were messy and lazy so how we managed to get to the interval with a clean sheet was both lucky and baffling.
Kudos to the Everson bros at half time - we went big on the game and they delivered. Hopefully it was decent viewing.
You also banged in a few like a seasoned striker #signhimup pic.twitter.com/78L5EPg7gD— EPR (@ElmParkRoyals) February 25, 2023
I’m conscious not to go on about it, but what I will say is that the club called my bluff on this. Having told them last season that stuff needed to change on game days, I was happy to put my money where my mouth was and do something. It’s not perfect, I know, but whether it’s me or someone else driving it, as a fan I’d always want something “going on” on the pitch to watch for a few minutes or so.
I don’t get paid for it by the way (although I do get parking, largely because if I’m bringing balls and other equipment, it’s tricky to take all that up the hill from the greyhound stadium car park) and I’m going anyway, so might as well make myself useful.
And going back to the school tickets etc, whilst I personally am not delighted with stuff on the pitch, off the pitch the club are working really hard to change and improve things for fans. Again, still work to be done of course, but compare it to the last few seasons and it’s improving slowly (save for Blue Collar missing).
You could see some of the fans starting to flag in the second half, which was about as Championship as you could get. Luckily then, big AC converted a 12-yard death kick on 70 minutes was really well won by chap of the match Yaks. How a major felony card didn’t follow was beyond me - a clear red card procedure should have been followed at that point.
Ince Jnr knocked in another one and it was party time at the South Reading Colosseum. A few more planes floated down, one hitting a steward on the back of head, which resulted in him storming up the steps of B13 to confront the aggressor. A few shouts of “no”, “stop it” and “do you have any idea how much these cost to produce” quickly put an end to the tomfoolery and the rest of the game passed without any crowd incident. The North West Oranges did convert in the dying embers of the game, but by then the three points were staying in Berkshire.
At the end of this “crunch” period, we’ve taken six from nine. I would argue that, although we didn’t deserve it, a point was coming against Cardiff City until it… well, wasn’t. The issue for us now is that the next few games are vile and you’d expect, based on the balance of the season, we’d pick up very little if anything out of them.
The general consensus is that 50 points will be enough (we’re on 44 now), and with 13 games remaining, you’d wager we’d get at least another two wins. The quicker we do that, the better. I’d love nothing for us to be on the beach by the end of March, but we all know how this league goes. You’d also look to the teams below us - will one of them really close the 13-point gap we currently have? Unlikely. But in this league, you never know.
Shout-out to Yaks, Mbengue and, to be fair to him, Casadei. Thomas was obviously Thomas once again and we can all be grateful for him I’m sure. Certain players need a rest (Hoillet - sad face emoji) and others are just about getting by with this kind of opposition (Sarr, Dann) in front of them. We passed the PR exercise and scraped the football side of things. The race to 50 points is on.
Until next time.