I’m a positive person, and I like to look for the plus side of every situation. And the good news is, I found one for that match at Reading; there is no earthly, possible way that we can perform that badly again this season. It cannot get any worse than that.
Reading is such a trek. There’s no way around it. There’s no easy way to get to it. We opted for the club coach, meaning our day started when my alarm buzzed at half 7, with me barely conscious. By the time we’d arrived at Oakwell, got our tickets sorted, and got sat on the bus, I think I was in a coma. I wasn’t even looking forward to the game by this point.
The weather didn’t help. It was one of those days when the sun is out, there’s barely a cloud in the sky, but it’s absolutely bloody freezing. I hate these days, you never know what coat to take, whether to take the gloves or not. It’s crucial stuff; taking the gloves when it isn’t glove weather is a serious breach of masculinity. As it happens, I left the gloves at home, but brought out the big winter coat to try and beat the elements.
I just didn’t know what I was expecting from this one. Our recent record against them is dreadful, our recent away form is dreadful, perhaps the signs were there, but eventually that will have to change.
I slept the first half of the coach journey away, waking up just in time for the stop at the services, where our stop coincided with a load of Donny fans stopping off on their long journey to QPR. It was a real showdown; you could practically hear ‘2 Tribes’ playing in the background as we walked in.
After our stop off, the rest of the coach journey was spent trying to convince the missus that I was in no way to blame for her missing season ticket. Why do women always do that? Something that is nothing to do with me, in no way connected to me at all, and I’m getting the blame from hundreds of miles away. They’re classic, sometimes.
Anyway, we got to Reading with loads of time to spare. Last time we went to Reading, we also went on the coach, and it took us ages to get from the motorway to the ground, despite being able to actually see the stadium itself, because of traffic. This time, we got straight through and we were stood outside the ground at half one before the turnstiles were even open, gagging for the first pint of the day.
It took a while for the concourse to fill up, but it was a decent following. We caught up with a few familiar faces, and then headed up to the seats.
It’s not a bad ground, the Madejski Stadium, but it’s totally isolated in the middle of a massive industrial estate, meaning there’s very little around it unless you fancy a visit to Costco or B&Q. The ground itself is much like many other new designs, but it’s a tidy little stadium.
The players entered the pitch as the stadium announcer read our team out, and there were a few noticeable changes, such as Andy Gray being dropped for new signing Chris Wood, and Hugo starting for the first time since injury. The first thing we noticed as the players ambled over towards the travelling support was that MR had gone 4-4-2, something which we’ve all been crying out to see. Finally, MR seemed to be going for it away from home, rather than sitting back to snatch a point.
It’s needless to say, it didn’t work out at all.
Right from the off, we were on the back foot. Reading started much faster than us, with way more intent, and could easily have been two ahead in the opening 20 minutes but for some sloppy finishing and desperate defending. It seemed like we were defending a corner every five minutes, which would be bad for anyone, but much worse for a team who look more than a little shaky whenever the opponents have a chance to swing a cross in.
We took a sucker punch early on when Jay McEveley was the victim of a poor tackle, which went unpunished by the useless referee, which ended his afternoon early. The only player on the bench capable of stepping into the left back role was Luke Potter, barely recovered from surgery on his knee. Up against Jimmy Kebe, who was totally unplayable yesterday, it was a nightmare afternoon for the youngster, through no real fault of his own.
By half time, we were robbing a point from the home side.
Not that we hadn’t threatened, there was a moment when Adam Hammill was released down the right wing, with Garry O’Connor and Chris Wood bombing through the middle, unmarked. All that was needed was the right pass from Hammill, but he got it badly wrong, and we lost all the momentum. It would have been incredibly harsh on Reading though.
So 0-0 at half time, and we were very lucky. I would’ve taken that and gone home there and then, given the chance.
The players entered the field, and MR had made his second forced change of the day. Garry O’Connor had picked up a knock, and had to go off, meaning the stage was set for Andy Gray to enter the game. Only, Gray remained frustrated on the bench, with Nathan Doyle being the preferred option, meaning we were now playing with three holding midfielders. By this point, we’d accepted our best result would be to keep Reading out.
The change didn’t work, and the game continued in the same vain, with Reading bombarding us with cross after cross, corner after corner, and chance after chance. We threw everything in front of the ball, bodies were flying everywhere, it was real last ditch stuff, which isn’t what you want to be seeing after only 55 minutes of play.
And then came a moment which could have changed the whole complexion of the game. Reading defender Zurab Khizanishvili pulled Chris Wood back as the striker threatened to burst through, and was given his second yellow card of the day, giving us a man advantage. We wasted the resulting free kick, but this was the best chance we’d had to really get into the game, to put Reading on the back foot, to have our spell of pressure.
It lasted all of about 4 minutes, and then we were back to normal. Reading still dominated play, still murdered us on possession, continued to press for the opening goal. Only one team looked like they’d been reduced to ten men, and it wasn’t them.
The breakthrough always seemed like it was just around the corner, and after 79 minutes, a fantastic cross found the head of Jimmy Kebe, who had run the show all day, and he made no mistake in burying the ball past Steele. And after this, the game was over.
We pushed people forward, in hope rather than expectation, but when Ian Harte found the bottom corner with a free kick, we were dead and buried. To compound our misery, Reading scored a third from our free kick, breaking quickly on us, with most of our defence stranded up field, leaving Steele helpless again.
The Reading fans to our right were enjoying rubbing our noses in it now, and you couldn’t argue with them really. They’d been totally dominant and anything less than a convincing home win would have been totally unfair. But the sad fact is this; if you cannot take AT LEAST a point from a team who are down to 10 men, with only ten minutes on the clock and the score at 0-0, then you deserve very little. It’s a sad situation.
The full time whistle put us out of our misery, and I didn’t wait around to clap the players, which was just as well, since only a couple actually came over to face the away fans. Hammill looked totally gutted, walking off the pitch and one or two others were the same. But very few players take any credit from the game.
Shackell did ok in the circumstances, and Hammill was our most dangerous player by far. Steele made some decent saves, but still flapped at crosses, and his kicking was woeful. Hassell was caught out, unable to match the Reading wingers for pace, Potter was way too unfit to play, and Chris Wood didn’t look up to speed either. O’Connor didn’t get long enough, neither did McEveley, due to injuries. Basically, nobody really stood out. If forced, Hammill would get MOTM, but only due to the lack of competition.
The referee deserves a mention too, awful for both sides, totally inconsistent, and just frustrating in general.
Sitting on the coach was horrible, as we crawled through the masses of Reading fans leaving the ground, holding up three fingers and grinning smugly. Although one young lad made us laugh, doing some sort of crazy shadow boxing as he walked alongside the coach. But mainly, we just couldn’t wait to get away.
The journey home seemed much, much longer, and even the stop off at the services didn’t provide any relief. We actually got the piss took out of us by some meathead in a t-shirt 10 sizes too small, who’d obviously been working on his joke in readiness for seeing us Barnsley fans. It went something like “It’s just like watching Basil… (long pause whilst his group of mates look at each other, confused) Brush” Such wit. If only he put the same effort into his putdowns as he did gurning into the mirror topless, he could be in showbiz.
When we finally got home, I bypassed the Football League Show. I couldn’t face watching it again. It’s a performance that needs consigning to the bin, because it was shocking from start to finish.
Scunny is looking like a real prospect now, but we’ll have to win at some point away from home. Reading should act as a reality check, that perhaps we’re not all we think we are. The playoffs look a million miles off, and mid table obscurity is perhaps the best we’re going to get this season. Unless MR can find a way to get this side playing away from home, because I don’t think he knows himself yet. But he needs to figure it out soon, because we can’t rely only on home form to keep us from being dragged towards the wrong end of the table. Hopefully, we’ll see much better on Tuesday.
Thanks for reading.