Reading at Home 2016/17 – Winning Ways

That’s as good as it gets.

Ohh, look at me, giving the end away at the start again. But come on. If you’re a Brighton fan reading this blog this morning you almost certainly have the warm glow of satisfaction and the overwhelming desire to relive last night one more time. After a shaky period recently it was very much back on message.

But stories do have to start at the beginning and it was one of those days that went well from the start. A decent training session with The Boy’s Under 10 team in the morning, a leisurely lunch and time for the kids to do something together in the afternoon for a change all made the evening kick off far less stressful than a 3pm one in some ways. None of us were quite sure when the right time to leave was but we met at the station for a train that seemed reasonable. An old face turned up out of the blue as we waited. “I wasn’t quite sure when to leave” he said. See?

It turned out we’d picked exactly the right time. We linked up perfectly with a Falmer bound train before the train queue had really got going. There were plenty of people around when we got there but enough time for the boys to lazily get a programme and Steve, who had not dressed for the occasion, to really appreciate how cold the wind was. What’s more, our arrival on the concourse was greeted by a huge cheer.

It turned out that the whole West Upper wasn’t pleased to see us but that Barnsley had just equalised at home to Huddersfield. There followed some very urgent watching of the telly and staring at the phone. One thing’s for sure when you kick off at 5.30 on a Saturday, you will know exactly the result you need. On the train Bristol City had been two up at Newcastle. The wise Vicky aka @ThickBlueLine had tweeted to remind us all of how they’d blown a three goal lead at Derby and it turned out to be prescient. Nevertheless, with just injury time to play, both our rivals were dropping points and four out of five of my accumulator picks were correct with the cash out option now removed. If only Brentford could score. Score they did – twice – and score no one else did. We hadn’t kicked a ball yet and already both our nearest rivals had dropped points and I’d had a five result acca come in. If that doesn’t get you up for it nothing will.

I’ve no idea if our players had been glued to Soccer Saturday and Paddy Power – though I doubt it – but they emerged similarly up for it. The additional couple of hours of voice lubrication that a late kick off allows was present in a gutsy rendition of Sussex by the Sea and Steve, as he often does, spotted something I didn’t. “Knockaert looks well up for it” he said. This can sometimes not be a great thing as the adrenaline can affect his touch but it turned out the players were just the right side of pumped.

You can usually tell how we’re going to play within the first few minutes and this one settled in to a pleasing pattern very early on. In possession we looked zippy. Without the ball, determined. Reading knocked it around nicely at the back but never kept it in dangerous areas looking a little like an undercooked Garcia special. We pressed at exactly the right times. Hughton had done his homework.

One thing that was true when we were playing tippy-tappy was that we would often struggle to come back from a goal down, plan B being sadly lacking. Here it looked like we’d stroll it if we could take the lead and early on we very, very nearly did. Reading were attacking down our left but a pulled back cross fell neatly to Murphy on the edge of our area and we broke in a wave. Baldock found himself in acres of space on the left and cut inside behind a defender, before rasping a brilliant curler towards the far post. It hit said post to an Amex groan. However, it was clear to see how Reading could be undone. It didn’t take long for Baldock to snap open the bra strap.

Having the ball any higher than ankle height seemed to perplex this purest of footballing teams and they headed the ball straight to Bruno on the halfway line. He immediately lobbed it in behind them, a perfectly weighted ball that Super Sam killed stone dead with a mix of skill and good fortune. Now he was the wrong side of the defence with McShane desperately fighting for the ball. With The Boy screaming for a penalty Baldock instead kept his feet and lashed the ball in to the roof of the net before scaring a cameraman. 1-0, thirty five minutes gone.

It wasn’t quite scare-free though. A good break down the left and excellent cross saw Danny Williams with a free header at our goal from eight yards out. Duffy, somehow, acrobatically cleared off the line in our best piece of defending of the game, early in the second half. Reading were also afforded two free kicks barely on the edge of the area but put both straight in to our wall. Other than that, though, it was a watching brief for our defence and the whole ground knew a second would kill them off.

It came, again, on the break. Another toothless Reading attack was broken up and the second ball fell to Knockaert who drove at their defence before finding Stephens on the centre circle. A beautiful pass – Lennon and McCartney song beautiful, Monet painting beautiful, Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation beautiful – split the Reading defence and Murphy maintained the theme with a gorgeous chip over Al-Habsi to make it 2-0.

That was it as a contest. Knockaert should have put it beyond doubt but lashed it in to the side netting. Just as Baldock had made up for his post-strike so Knocky made up for this. Another quick break found him in space on the left and a brilliant drive nestled in the far corner. The Amex was going potty.

To be truthful days don’t come much better. Back to top and it is now Newcastle and Huddersfield looking nervously round each other. Get a result on Tuesday and the run in looks relatively innocuous. The players must know this, Hughton knows this, and with “we’re on our way” echoing round the Amex and Falmer station long in to the night, the fans most certainly do.

The Boys Ref Watch

So little did referee Banks get involved that The Boy was unable to come up with a rating. This was a game that was all about us rather than the ref (Roger East take note) and he left mark-less. For me that is the very measure of decent refereeing and I’m going to give him a nine.




Reading At Home – Questions

So this week’s match report will be conducted entirely in question and answer form. Mainly this is because, since I took the seven year old Boy with me, answering questions was all I did all day. His are in italics and are prefixed “Daddy”. They remain unanswered. If you can accurately answer all of his, either in the comments or the NSC thread I’ll start, you win a prize*. Mine are in bold and are answered by me. Get it? No?

<deletes blog and goes back to gardening>

The questions are roughly in chronological order from the time I left the house.

Daddy, how do they get that writing on the bottom bit of the train track and what does the ‘A’ mean?

Daddy, what’s a Fire Door?

Daddy, why isn’t Lua Lua playing?

Daddy, why do half of Reading’s team have black training tops and the other half have white?

(Note, while I couldn’t answer that I suspect the answer is ‘because when you have parachute payments you can’t spend the money quickly enough’)

Daddy, what happens if all the players get injured? Do the mascots get to play?

Now some from me…

Is Jesse Lingard any good?

I believe he’s too good. He’s certainly wasted standing out on the left wing. After perhaps only ten minutes he was already drifting inside looking for the ball and making runs that, while they made certain people in the West Upper drool, could not be picked out by his team mates. However, one such run on 16 minutes led to the opening goal as the much maligned Spanish Dave tried to pick him out and Chris Gunter scored one of the best comedy own goals yet seen at the Amex.

Is Royston Drenthe any good?

Reading’s answer to Kemy Agustien was an annoyance from start to substitution. In my humble opinion a former Real Madrid player tipped to be the next big thing in world football shouldn’t be a mere annoyance but at least he was playing, which is more that he’d done since Boxing Day. Dived more than Tom Daley and wasn’t going to be happy until he’d tried to effect at least two sendings off and a penalty. On the other hand he also scored and the goal showed his Real Madrid quality. He was barely moving yet managed to shape the ball on to his left, create about six inches of space and put the ball straight through it and in to the bottom corner. All in all I was mightily relieved when he went off.

Was Gordon Greer’s first yellow deserved?

Undoubtedly. In fact he was very lucky that La Fondre was near the touchline and we had a semblance of a covering defender. No complaints about the first.

Daddy, what is this burger made of? It tastes a bit funny.

(Again, while I couldn’t answer this I pulled a long face and answered ‘neigh lad, I don’t know’)

Daddy, why does the linesman keep getting the offside wrong? Does he hate Brighton?

Was Gordon Greer’s second yellow deserved?

Now. It’s confession time. The challenge was described by about twenty different people to me but I actually missed the contact because I was bringing said seven year old back up from having a poo. Again this doesn’t happen to Andy Naylor. Luckily there’s the Football League Show. I have replayed the challenge five times to make up for not seeing it live and if that’s a yellow I’m Kylie Minogue on Thursdays. Foul? Yes. A bit silly as he was on a caution? Yes. Actually a yellow? Never. It was obstruction. What I did see – and what annoyed the stripy hordes – was Reading, led by Adkins talking the ref in to giving it. So….

Is the referee’s decision final?

That’s what I was always told when playing junior football. “Get back, there’s no point in arguing” my coach used to say. Clearly he was a fuckwit. Or at least not an ex physiotherapist.

Was a draw a fair result?

I think so. Obviously Reading had the better of it after went down to 10 and McAnuff of all people should have won it for them. However both Buckley and March went desperately close for us and we showed real fight. We didn’t leave a bead of sweat out there in general. Ulloa looked frustrated and Spanish Dave bottled a few challenges (but then he’s there to create goals, not be Norman Hunter) but otherwise it was a top effort.

Could it have been predicted?

Oh yes. Just call me Mystic Meg.

Will Brighton or Reading go up?

Oh no. Reading have now failed to beat a team with eight men and a team with ten men in successive weeks. The last time we scored two and won the game people were a bit worried about the plague. No damage was done to either team but that just shows how weak this league is again this season.

Daddy, why is Peter carrying two beers again?

He just does, son. He just does.

*Nigel Adkins’ new book How to be An Annoying Speccy C**t Called Nigel

Reading Away – Why Watching Football on TV is Like Using a Condom

When I was growing up everybody mimed on Top of the Pops. I think it was compulsory. Around the same time a pop star who’d been on said that the experience (and I’m paraphrasing) was like ‘shagging with a Johnny on’. You’ll notice I said ‘a pop star’ and that I was paraphrasing. That’s because I couldn’t find it when I googled and that’s not the sort of search term you repeatedly want in your cookies. So the whole thing may be apocryphal anyway.

The point though was that it was good but there was a better version. I’ve always thought you could apply the same saying to watching your team live on TV. It’s a step up from Radio or Seagulls Player or following text commentary or twitter on a London Bus or in an Oxfordshire bedroom (I’m thinking these others as first base) but it’s still not the same as being there. Reading away on the telly? Time to move on from first base. The only problem was I had sole charge of my two small children as my wife was away at a conference. So the potential was there for multiple instances of coitus interruptus.

There are several places the metaphor falls down. Firstly it lasts over ninety minutes which is a stretch even for Viagra addicts or Sting. Secondly, the last time I watched a game on TV was Ukraine versus England during which I repeated shouted ‘for fucks sake’, ‘useless’ and ‘put some effort in for Christ’s sake’. This is not the way to get an appreciative partner during sexy time.  It’s more likely you’ll end up dismembered. Luckily a good way to reign this in is, again, is to have sole charge of two small children. So how was it for me?

Five minutes before the game started I sat the children down with crayons, felt tips and enough paper to cause consternation among any passing Green Party members. Then it was time to hope that they didn’t come in and catch me doing anything inappropriate, or for that matter want to know what those weird noises were.

Quite early on and my date starts going wrong. On 5 minutes we push up for a free kick and a speculative overhead-kick long ball leads to a chance for La Fondre to break clear and score for Reading. Luckily Ward covers with an outstanding tackle. It’s the equivalent of the waiter forgetting the pre-dinner drinks before bringing some better champagne to make up for it.

The children were still settled with their drawing and painting. This never happens. The mogadon must have worked. Joke. Maybe.

Reading were still making my life difficult by pushing up and pressing to stop our possession game and they were making a good job of it but then Crofts got the first stifled scream out of me with a header that just missed the post. Tease.

The first major kid interruption occurs on 26 mins as the toddler rips her painting and defiantly screams for more paper. Naturally I paused the TV for a second and gave her it. The children must not see what I’m up to.

Now if one thing is guaranteed to make your date go swimmingly it’s an early indication that someone goes down easily. On 31 minutes Reading went down to 10 men as Pogrebnyak picked up a 2nd yellow for diving. And here’s the area where TV is better. Pogrebnyak earned two silly yellows which from the telly you could tell WERE silly yellows. Those at the game may still be wondering what it was for. But a dive it was. Still the game immediately went niggly as Reading tried to even the numbers. Is that a reputation I see quickly being backtracked?

What would be really bad at this stage would be for one of our key players to do something stupid and get themselves sent off. Like say Ulloa kicking someone in the face. Fucks sake. What WAS he thinking? Back in metaphor land we have polished off some beautifully cooked fish only to then have a row about her mother. We can still do this but it’s not going to be the shoe in it was five minutes ago.

At half time Oscar did a Wenger. He did not see the incident. Ok then boss.

The second half started and Reading came out strongly with Bridge at the forefront. This is like bumping in to an old lover as you walk out of the restaurant still pointedly refusing to apologise.

But then comes a period where everything is (almost) rosy again. I must have pulled the metaphorical bouquet out. We got in to the game and started giving it some. On 54 minutes Spanish Dave creates himself a beautiful chance but then he over slices it. Still I’m sensing glamorous undies. Maybe even stockings.

Ashley Barnes comes on and we start snogging in the back of the taxi. That’s me and the metaphorical date you understand. Not me and Ash. I can see how that looked. Don’t RT this please. Cough.

But how else could I feel? The toddler has taken herself off for a nap, the boy is alternating between watching and drawing. We were dominant. And there it is. Brilliant cross from Crofts & super volley from Barnes. Only the bastard keeper saves it. In my cab my phone rings and it’s the boss. Then their keeper produces another majestic save. The bastard wants me in early tomorrow.

And then Barnes misses from a yard. It was a brilliant save on to the post but it’s the equivalent of me mentioning her mother again. Frustration all round as we both go to bed with our PJs on and read a good book. 0-0 full time. I do hope that report wasn’t too redolent of Ian Holloway.

To drop the ridiculous metaphor for a second it’s actually a pleasing point. I predicted here that Reading and QPR would go up automatically and we never beat them so to get a point at their place is a good afternoon’s work.  Next up? That would be QPR. Away. Without Ulloa. Gulp.