16 games. Six long months. Three managers. Two leagues. That’s the time span it’s taken us to win a league game of association football. I’m sure, like you, I’d forgotten what that winning feeling felt like, but this crop of emerging talent finally got us all (legally) high as kites with a win over The Robins.
Part of the frustration from Saturday was the fact that none of the players who put Millwall to the sword s few days earlier were rewarded with a start. As I mentioned on the latest pod (available wherever podcasts live), I felt Old Rubes had given some of the players that started up in The Vale a final chance. Of course, that didn’t work out well and, as such, I was eagerly awaiting the team news for this game against our visitors.
Seven changes were made to make the team almost a complete replica of the one that did so well in the Isle of Dogs (and I’m fully aware that Millwall as club isn’t actually in the Isle of Dogs, but it just sounds better ok) and, as such, got tongues wagging quicker than a cocker spaniel’s tail at Crufts.
Brave perhaps, but definitely calculated. Personally, I felt this game was a big one. Had the Spanish Brad Pitt played a carbon copy of the team that struggled on Saturday, the crowd - for the majority - would have already been on their backs from the warm-up. Playing the team who are deemed to be “younger” (in age anyway) meant support was there from the off.
On the drive up to the Whitley Bowl, I chose to listen to BBC Berkshire. Mick Gooding said the team starting were under pressure. At this, I let out an expletive and increased my speed by a few mph (still within legal limits) to reach the ground quicker. Look, they couldn’t have done any worse than previous, so where was the pressure?
As I pulled into the car park, I got chatting to the steward. In truth, he’s more than that: a counsellor, public figure, all-round good egg and lifelong Reading fan. I was chatting so much that, as I pulled away, I ran into a bollard.
Of course, this set him and his mates off laughing and I felt like getting out and saying: “Look mate, if you hadn’t been talking to me as much as you were, I would have spotted the blue and white cone and therefore would not have run over it. THINK YOURSELF LUCKY IT WASN’T A PERSON BECAUSE IF IT HAD BEEN, YOU’D BE UP IN COURT FOR DISTRACTING THE DRIVER AND WHILST OUR JUDICIAL SYSTEM HAS HAD ITS DOUBTERS, I’M PRETTY SURE YOU’D HAVE SOME EXPLAINING TO DO.” As it was, I just laughed it off and drove sheepishly round to park right outside Gate 5 (the best gate).
We started really well - plenty of confidence, patience and energy. I literally can’t be bothered to review the first half as Marc has already done that, but we were good, it was enjoyable and I smiled at various intervals.
At half-time, I felt I deserved a beer. As I looked at the menu, I spotted some new additions to the fare down there. Of most interest was a lamb diner sausage roll. As I collected my Central European lager, the new food got me thinking: how can it be a sausage roll if it’s not made out of actual sausage? It’s like me saying: “I made a cinnamon bun but didn’t include any cinnamon.”
Do you know what I mean though? Like, is this food fraud? I was watching from my vantage point in the concourse to see if anyone bought one - did it even look like a sausage roll? I couldn’t see anyone buying one, so I finished my pint in stony silence and composed an email to my contacts at the club to discuss this development. I didn’t actually send it because I’m not crazy, but it made me feel better.
The second half was still engaging, but I felt we made it harder for ourselves than we needed it to be. In truth, we never really looked like losing the game (or rather, conceding), but I did pull the hoodie over my head when the fourth official put up nine minutes to close the game out.
All in all, it was really enjoyable. A win always is, right? Plenty of players had decent games: Nelson Abbey, Mamadi Camara, Matty Carson, Lewis Wing, Charlie Savage… some of whom were ignored by the previous manager. Maybe this season will be the one where they are allowed to develop and flourish in their own time, at their own pace. Perhaps we’ll win more games than we lose this season.
Who knows, but winning sure feels good. Until next time.