What a week this has been. A draw against Birmingham City that felt like a loss, a capitulation to Preston North End, a managerial change and a draw against league leaders and pretenders to our record Burnley. Ok, that’s technically eight days, but you get the gist. It was an absolute haunted house of emotions which left even the most positive Royal with a face like a world-weary onion.
To be fair to my own face and emotional wellbeing, I did have a much more encouraging outlook on all things RFC from the minute that dinosaur was sacked (and from now on, in all correspondence, I shall refer to him as Paul Ince the dinosaur) and our saviour Noel Hunt (again, same with Noel moving forward, even if we get relegated) stepped into the dugout.
On the morning of the game, I met myself in the mirror with a smile, a nod and a “don’t be miserable because it’s game day, be happy instead” sort of vibe. This feeling was temporarily iced when I had to collect the shopping and, upon pulling into the little car port thing that these massive supermarkets have for collecting your online shop, another vehicle pulled up behind me, meaning I had to rush (like, really rush) to get all my stuff in the boot ASAP. It’s genuinely stressful knowing that someone else is just behind you, waiting, eyeing up your goods and you knowing they can’t do anything until you’ve gone. Yuk.
Grocery-related carnage over, it was time to mentally prepare for the biggest of the season thus far. The hotel was as crowded as a wasp’s nest in summer, but thankfully the new addition of a beer bar in the lower concourse alleviated some of the meatier queues at the more upmarket bars in the venue.
Admittedly, that little bar has been there for a few games now, but I didn’t want to mention it because the football we had been served in those games had made me sad and resentful and I didn’t think anyone needed to know about it. Well, now you do! From what I could see, three beer pumps were operated by two chaps, with the continental and pale lagers served up in plastic cups. All in all, a decent addition that will no doubt help fans of all ages (who are 18 and over) enjoy their day even more. Well done Voco.
To the football! The team selection was a lip-smacker! A balance of youth and experience was intertwined with what looked an attacking formation and ethos. Our saviour Noel Hunt wasn’t scared of these league toppers. The place was rocking from minute one, with fans taking off their traditional “blue seat uniforms” and replacing them with actual proper clothing. At least 19,000 were in the seated bowl and that was a really charming backdrop to what was an exclusively decent performance overall.
Of course, Burnley were a good side. They controlled large spells of the game with ease, seemingly content with keeping the ball, but we had a renewed sense of understanding in our formation and set-up, an organisation that had not been present for many months. Subs were made (actual, proper, meaningful subs) around the 60-minute mark and onwards, giving us a fresh impetus to go and attack.
Youth players were trusted, with Mamadi Camara in particular seemingly back from the dead/exile to come on for a small cameo. But the real star for me was Kelvin Abrefa, who was brought in on the left wing before moving to the right. Despite only playing for 20 minutes, he showed a great deal of guile and positivity to get forward, get their fullbacks on the back foot and stick in some inviting crosses.
Ultimately though, if you had to hold a piece of lamb to my face (I don’t like lamb) and force me to to choose a chap of the match, I’d go with Andy Yiadom. For what has been a really bad season for him overall, or what some fans have called “fine” in terms of performance, he stepped up yesterday and put in (and I hate the phrase) a “captain’s performance”.
You’d struggle to find any player who didn’t pull their weight yesterday. Of course, there were times when the inexperience of youth showed, but we weren’t looking at a team of no-hopers or confidence ghosts. This was a team that was well drilled, given license to play football and be fully aware of their roles within the team. Our saviour Noel Hunt has done all this in the space of a few days. And you know the frustrating thing about all this? That team was there all along, we just weren’t allowed to see it.
We head to a really large game on Wednesday now and I honestly can’t wait to get back in that stadium.
Until next time.