Tuesday, April 12, 2011


It's not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It's the hope I can't stand.

Can there be a crueler football club than Reading FC towards its fans in terms of building up expectation which can only be dashed? Dead and buried in play-off terms 7 weeks ago after an insipid 1-1 draw against Watford marked a fifth consecutive match without victory, we fell 9 points adrift of a top six place and promotion seemed about as likely as John Madejski buying a round of drinks.

Another decent cup run lifted spirits, but fans seemed resigned to more single-breasted midtabling respectability and the spectre of the bigger boys swooping for our star assets, the likes of Long and Kebe. Hold on, Long and Kebe? Didn't they used to be crap? Long striding around the pitch purposelessly like a happy-go-lucky Blarney Bambi. Kebe sprinting his way down blind alleys and shanking crosses wretchedly into the North Stand. Both carried as much scoring threat as Kenneth Williams. Not so any longer; Long has 22 goals this season alone dontcha know, whilst Kebe himself has scored 16 goals from the wing under BMc's stewardship.

And that in itself tells its own story. McDermott's undoubted success since inheriting the crumbling remains of the short-lived Rodgers Project, itself doomed to failure after the fire-sale which followed the downing of Coppell's Empire has been extraordinary and reliant almost entirely on getting the best out of the players we didn't flog to avoid post-Premiership financial meltdown. Adding short-term signings like Griffin firstly and then Leigertwood latterly along with other experienced loanees such as Zurab and mxing them with a tyro team of triers such as Karacan, Church and HRK has gradually worked a nice chemistry into our team. Something is stirring again in Berkshire and McDermott is our ladle.

The latest test for the team - and the fans nerves - was to come at the City Ground, home of twice former European Cup winners Nottingham Forest who will still see themselves as top flight table-sitters despite more than a decade away from that gravy train. Reading fans are a nervous, timid lot, afraid to say boo to a Cyril the Swan at the best of times, their nerves shot by so many play-off near misses. And the bastard club are putting us all through it again. This time though, as we arrived in Nottingham and hot-footed it to the Vat & Fiddle in the blazing East Midlands sunshine I noticed something different in our collective attitudes. An expectation of victory. Against a side with only one home defeat in 40-odd encounters? Yep, no problem. This kind of belief hasn't been seen around Berkshire way since our first naive brush with the roulette table of the play-offs back in 1994/95.

The match was ambrosia itself. It had everything we love about football; goals, controversy, heroes, villains - indeed, a pantomime villain on the touchline in Billy 'Widow McTwanky' Davies patrolling and harrumphing his domain as Brian tried to work alongside him. I can imagine that their eyes didn't meet once despite standing 5 feet away from each other all afternoon. Their styles so very different of course; Brian gently cadjoling his boys, Billy a little whirling dervish of pointing flapping and shouting. Brian is 50 years old now of course, he doesn't want to get involved in touchline tantrums. But would you fight with him? He looks like a right old slugger, a Big Daddy tribute band in himself.

Reading led after twenty. Manset fed Long who tumbled typically theatrically causing furious outrage in Billy's balcony. Manset, making a rare start, was tremendously useful throughout in bumping and grinding an increasingly knackered-looking Forest defence, although his frame and at-first-unconvincing attempts at ball control make him seem at once like Shakin' Stevens meets Victor Ubogu at a Tony Rougier Impersonation Contest. Harte schwazed in the freekick, 1-0. The goalscorer however was at fault when leaden-footed at a throw in, losing his man who went over Leigertwood's big toe. 1-1 from the penalty spot and Kris Boyd celebrated unecessarily in front of the Reading fans, displaying great joy at finally adding something worthwhile to the game, having hitherto and henceforth shown all the speed and movement of Madge's mobility scooter parked up in Benidorm with its battery worn down.

Reading fell behind after half time when goofy taff Earnshaw got in behind Griffin to finish smartly for his 1,000th career goal against Reading. He celebrated grandiosely in the corner, which was surprising given his later zero-tolerance approach towards timewasting after Forest had later fallen behind, placing the ball down pointedly for McCarthy to take a freekick post-haste following an offiside decision against the home team. The lead changing hands phased our boys not one iota as two Reading corners snatched the lead back almost as soon as we had lost it - Karacan's imperious Gunnarssonesque header for 2-2, Kebe stabbing instinctively into the roof of the net for 2-3 after Ivar's retrieval of the ball from a left side flag kick set up Zurab's poke at goal which was palmed away by the tiresome Lee Camp. Kebe celebrated noisily in front of the away end, showing uncharacteristic emotion by ripping off his shirt and screaming at us although we couldn't hear what he was shouting because we were screaming back at him. Mon Dieu!

If a Forest player falls in the box and there are 22,000 people there to see and hear it, does the referee make a sound? Indeed he did, referee Pawson paused, linesman flagged and a naive challenge from HRK resulted in a soft penalty with barely 2 minutes left. As McGugan sent McCarthy the wrong way, all thoughts were of satisfaction at a point which would keep the home side 3 points below us. But you could have so much more. In inury time, Griffin pinged a quick freekick down the line, Karacan's cross was bundled in at the near post by a combination of Luke Chambers and Simon Church; the latter a grateful substitute credited with a winner made partly by the wearing and tearing of a tired defence by the aforementioned substituted Manset.

There was still time for Long to have a penalty saved by Camp, who performed more pathetic histrionics after palming away the spot kick despite his side actually trailing at the time deep in injury time. Zurab made a last ditch clearance at the other end, then time and a mass love in at the end of a memorable game. A huge win which cuts down Forest's play-off hopes, gives us a nice cushion and - whisper it - puts second place in sight. I mentioned a little earlier 1994/95 and that season we timed our run at the end to perfection. We finished a gobsmackingly unexpected 2nd place in a season where only one club was to be promoted automatically. No such bad luck would befall the runners-up this season, but on Grand National day 2011 RFC cleared Bechers Brook and began the gallop towards a potential photo finish. It would almost be rude to write BMc's team off. They deserve a little respect.


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