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View From The Dolan: A Late Gut-Punch

Ben’s take on Wednesday’s draw with the Hatters, who snatched a point late on to deny Reading what would have been a big win.

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It’s getting to me now. The jubilation and positivity from Saturday’s thunder chap of a result quickly faded and was replaced by nerves for the fixture against the Hatters (honestly one of the most ridiculous nicknames in the league).

For most outsiders, a result against the Bedfordshire team was as likely as seeing a flying badger during a gentle walk in a shaded copse. However, despite the anxiousness, the Tuesday night spent exclusively checking results and the table every 3.5 minutes and the fact that Luton had conceded two goals in 12 hours of football, I felt like we’d win. Crazy days guys, crazy days.

In truth, I’m glad this is the last midweek game of the season. The timing does me in, I never know what to do about dinner and the roads are nightmarish. Of course, an April midweek session is far superior to one in, say, December or January, but it’s still a chore nonetheless.

Team sheet wise, big Kelv was shelved for AC, which proved to be a double-edged axe (more on that later), but as I said on the pod, all of the chaps that put in such a shift at the weekend would have been hard done by to have lost their places.

We started OK. We made some noises up top, with a glorious chance being blazed over no earlier than the second minute. This got the crowd up and going and you could see the desire, impetus and general direction Our Saviour Noel Hunt wanted us to go in, ie not backwards.

Reading v Burnley - Sky Bet Championship Photo by David Horton - CameraSport via Getty Images

We were OK without being commanding, comfortable without being first-class comfortable. And then of course, AC lost the ball, tracked back, gave away a free-kick and got booked. This proved to be the catalyst for a series of events that would come full circle in the second half. From the resulting free-kick, Luton hit the post aggressively and from that point, they were in control of the latter stages of the first 45.

To get in at the water break at 0-0 was a relief and gave us something to improve on in the second half. Luton are no mugs - a calm, well organised and impressive outfit that seemed quite content to let us have the ball and repel any sort of attacks we mustered.

It was great to see Reading FC life-saver Pippa and the chap she delivered CPR to both on the pitch at half-time. If you haven’t read the story, it’s quite a remarkable tale and one that gives faith in both humanity and football divides. I know Pippa has been driving the need for more CPR training, particularly to the general public and the incident she and David were involved in is one of the most positive aspects of this season. I know they were well looked-after by the club and rightly so.

We started the second period brightly and took the lead, perhaps unexpectedly in the overall context of the game, in the 51st minute. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the seated bowl literally took off at that point. Quite a few people in the Dolan actually stood up, such was the excitement that AC’s goal bought to the Whitley Arena. At this point, you felt we might have enough to hold on.

Cue double delirium and triple misery in one fell swoop. The ball was swung in and the big Geordie lad met it full on to place it neatly in the onion bag. Absolute scenes once again! But the Luton players were incensed! Like really, really angry. There was lots of pointing to limbs, banging heads and general stropping. They were appealing, and I’m literally being sick as I type this, hand ball.

The referee pondered, looked in the vague direction of the linesman - who must have given him the international symbol for “defo handball, give him a yellow” - and, sure as an egg is an egg, that’s what happened. It went down as deliberate handball.

Having had time to watch it back, it’s a hard sell as to whether it was accidental. Either way, the goal was correctly ruled out and you have to say as a mature person that it was good officiating. Only AC knows whether he meant to or not and honestly, I don’t care right now.

Despite our dramatic defending (which at times was first-class and physically death-defying), the Hatters managed to squeeze in an equaliser to shatter the Royals’ hearts.

On balance a draw was fair, but having been so close to three points - even with 10 men, for so long - conceding late on was an absolute gut-punch to the lower regions. The main issue, apart from being in the bottom three, is that results this week haven’t gone our way. Yes, we are picking up points and have grabbed two from games we probably wouldn’t have been expecting to - against top-three sides - but we have 270 minutes (plus injury time) to stay in the league.

In my heart of hearts, I feel this is going to the final day. The only positive I can muster is that the team on the pitch and in the dugout are giving it their all, but as we’ve said time and again, it might be too little too late.

Until next time.