Points Not Positives - 13 September 2006

By Matthew Williams

Cut my veins open and I bleed blue and white hoops (with a blue panel on the back - damn kit designers!). Anyone who tells you this will claim to be a true fan, and true fans know that staying positive is key to supporting a club. When the chips are down, it is up to us - the true fans - to identify the positives and look on the bright side of situations. It is the true fans who will argue that sure, we may have just lost 5-0 to the team who are bottom of the league and in dire financial difficulties, "but did you see that keenly won throw-in in the 82nd minute!?" If we don't stay positive then there would be no reason to keep coming back, game after game, season after season. If fans were not optimistic then why did 9,000 come back for the game against Walsall, considering we had been thumped 0-6 in our previous home game? Why were those Sunderland fans still passing through the turnstiles as their season went from bad to worse to diabolical last year? Why do Oxford United supporters turn up at all? Some people - people who do not know what it is like to be a football fan - call it blind faith, some people just see it as plain stupid, but staying positive is a trait all true fans need to acquire almost immediately. "So we lost 3-0 today darling, I've got a good feeling that next week we can get something at Stamford Bridge!"

Sure, all fans lose the plot during the games, but it's easy to get frustrated and annoyed in the heat of the moment. We all cursed when Andy Hughes put yet another 'cross' into the North Stand. We all moaned when Nicky Forster was caught offside for the hundredth time. And yes, we all gave that ironic cheer when Wimbledon scored their third at the Madejski to submit Reading to the 3rd 3-0 defeat on the spin. But at the end of the game, after the anger, the lump in the throat, and quiet journey home, we reflect on the good points, find the light at the end of the tunnel and get excited for the next game.

The positives weren't hard to find at Villa. If Sonko hadn't been sent off we would have probably got something from the game. We dominated beforehand and still with 10 men we more than matched them. Even at Wigan positives could be found; we played pretty poorly yet still should have come away with a draw as Lita spurned a last minute gift. However if we wanted to stay in this league we knew that finding positives meant nothing if we didn't get any points out of games. We knew that we had a run of matches coming up that even established Premiership teams would dread. We knew that after Manchester City and Sheffield United, we would be facing Rooney, Giggs, Shevchenko, Lampard, Fabregas and Henry in the next four games.

So it was time to scrap the positives and get some points on the board. We knew that the next two games would be vital, I'd be happy with having two totally negative matches as long as the points were ours! Even worse, we knew that a loss against Man City, would mean the visit to Bramall Lane would make or break our season, and that's not something you want so early into Premiership life. But win against the Eastlands side, and we could go to Sheffield relaxed and confident, knowing that we'd have an unbeaten home record still in-tact, and (whisper it), a top half position in the Premiership.

So the Sky cameras came to town, the stage was set, and well, we all know the outcome! In a match that I believe is on par with the Middlesbrough game in terms of pace and excitement, Reading could take away both the positives and the points!

Whilst Sodje looked talented but raw at Wigan, Sonko showed everyone just why Royals fans rate him so highly. He was immense in the air, immense on the ground, and so composed when in possession. If he needed to just clear his lines (and the stand) he would, but if he had time, then he'd look up and play the correct pass. My only criticism of the defence was that they perhaps panicked a bit when on the ball and under pressure, with a few too many 'hit and hope' balls being played, but this does not apply to Sonko, a man who would have been the main culprit a few years ago. It is incredible to think that this is the man who used to treat the ball as if it was a bomb, and it says a lot about Steve Coppell and his staffs coaching abilities to see just how far he has come on. The most exciting thing you could say about Sam Sodje after the Wigan game was that he looked a lot like how Sonko played on his debut, and this fills me with nothing but eager anticipation.

That is not to take anything away from the rest of the Royals defence though. Ingimarsson was as reliable as ever, even if he was playing the majority of the game with one eye and a heavy migraine that most would use as an excuse to have a good week off work with. The header for his goal was a brave and accurate one, and it was he who posed most of the problems at set pieces. Murty was again an influential figure, and it says a lot about his performance that it wasn't until mid-way through the second half when he had a free shot on goal that I realised that Reyna was playing. Shorey is the man who I think has adapted to Premiership life the best, and again did not look out of place, linking well with Convey and cutting inside on occasions.

Barton showed his class and had the better of our midfield, but whilst he was given perhaps a little too much time and space, the rest of the City midfield was non-existent, both Harper and Sidwell covering a staggering amount of ground, sticking their feet in where it hurts. They perhaps didn't advance forward as much as they'd have liked but in terms of picking up the loose ball and spreading the play they did all that was asked of them.

Lita and Doyle were both working their socks off too, and in my opinion they did ok against two of the leagues better central defences. Lita showed strength and power, winning 50/50 tussles that he really had no right to win, and the way he turned Distin to win the foul that led to the goal was typical of the way he performed. He may not have really tested the keeper, but his performance was a good indication that there is more to Leroy Lita than poachers goals and nightclub bust-ups!

So whilst man of the match goes to Sonko, the positives can be found for all to see. The defence came out with a lot of credit, and getting a first clean sheet in the Premiership will go a long way to boosting morale. Getting that second Premiership win was vital as well, as I always think the first day of the season has no bearing on the rest of the year (last season being a good example), and so getting a second win to prove Middlesbrough was no one-off was very pleasing. And finally, a huge positive was the atmosphere. As impressed as I was by the brilliant displays of substitutes Gunnarsson and Long, the best performance from the six named on the bench was number 13. The crowd were terrific last night and showed just how much they can lift the players. The last ten minutes were as loud as it has got at the Mad Stad, and in those ten minutes not once did we look like losing. In fact, it was during the deafening Blue Army chants that we had our best efforts on goal, with a stunning Gunnarsson strike sandwiched in between two Doyle efforts.

After the game I stood with a group of Manchester City fans, who were friends of Nicky Weaver. Soon enough the Man City keeper came out looking dejected, as if it had been him who had given the game to Reading. "Unlucky Weaves" his mate said, "you couldn't have done anything about the goal". "Yeah", Weaver replied, "but you've gotta come to places like these and win". At first I was a bit taken aback by this statement. Soon though my anger calmed, and I realised that Man City are a team who were in Europe not so long ago, who regularly play in front of home crowds of 40,000, whose last game was a 1-0 win over Arsenal. They were the holders of a European cup trophy, we were Premier League virgins. They have to come to our ground and get a result the same way we have to go to Bramall Lane and get a result on Saturday, so I could understand why he was disappointed. Stuff the positives he could take out of the game, he wanted the points. But thanks to Weaver being the only keeper to pick the ball out of the net last night, we can go to Sheffield United on Saturday with the points and the positives.

So make the trip, make some noise, and remember just because we played them last season does not make this any less of a Premiership fixture. We get just as many points for a win on Saturday as we do for the win against Man City. Just because we have constantly visited Bramall Lane in the last four years does not make the game any different to when we visit Anfield for the first time. There is less pressure on us now we got a result on Monday, let us use that to our advantage, and make sure Warnock has to wait even longer for his first Premiership win.


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