Reading FC seem intent on showing that they talk a good game ahead of Saturday evening’s return clash against Leeds United at the Madejski Stadium. Royals manager Jaap Stam as well as striker Yann Kermorgant have both had their say in the run up to this fixture, and the general message from the Berks. area is that they’re none too impressed with what many are saying is the finest Leeds team for at least a decade.
It’s always interesting to hear what opposition players have to say about your team as they’re preparing for 90 minutes combat, but Kermorgant’s view is especially intriguing – given that his experience at Elland Road, during the Royals’ 0-2 defeat in December, consisted largely of an hour sat on the Reading bench, during which time he watched his team-mates dominate possession by playing a side-to-side passing game mainly inside their own defensive third. Leeds, a goal to the good after 19 minutes courtesy of Chris Wood, then faced a final twenty minutes when their opponents finally discovered a route across the halfway line, but – despite Kermorgant’s introduction after 62 minutes, they failed to pierce the United defence. Souleymane Doukara then settled matters with an injury time penalty, as if to emphasise that Leeds do have other goalscorers apart from the prolific Wood.
Reading’s tactics that night were more than a little baffling, though manager Stam was well pleased with his side’s display. Perhaps he and the Reading team, together with their fans, would be happy with a similar showing on Saturday. I know I would, and I suspect United manager Garry Monk might be fairly content as well. If both the display and the result are replicated, Reading can crow about two masterclass displays of possession football, with consummate lateral passing and all the offensive threat of a sickly lamb – and Leeds can retire back to their northern fortress, tight-lipped and grim of face, with six points and a seasonal double in the bag.
I’m not qualified to talk about the psychology of pre-match posturing, but I do feel that perhaps Mijnheer Stam, aided and abetted by the boy Kermorgant, has contributed a great deal towards Mr. Monk’s motivational team-talk. Let us hope so, and let us hope and trust that our boys will be heading out onto the park determined to shove certain words down certain throats. It may be, of course, that Reading will get an actual result this time, instead of just boring everybody half-way to sleep and letting the opposition do the business of scoring goals. If so, all credit due to them – you have to be grown-up about these things. Still, given this daft little war of words, sparked off by the losers of that Elland Road match in December – I can’t help hoping that we stuff them again, big time.
The subtext to all of this is an apparent desire on the part of Stam’s players, fans, the Reading FC club itself, to be perceived as having some sort of peer rivalry with our own favourite Yorkshire giants. And, really, that’s almost too ridiculous for words. Are we honestly expected to accept that Dirty Leeds, that northern powerhouse, should be viewed in terms of an actual rivalry with – I don’t know, what’s an appropriate prefix for Reading? Plucky? Upstarts? Little? Plucky little upstarts just about sums it up. However you describe them, it’s a laughable idea, as our Garry demonstrates above.
Still, it’s got the Twitterati section of their fan-base all a-froth with excitement, and they’ll be hoping and praying for a home win, prior to bigging it up on social media. Those are the kind of aspirations you have, I guess, when you’re a Reading fan. We all know that the idea of a “rivalry” between our respective clubs is marginally more ridiculous than one between Sheffield Wednesday and, say, Barcelona. And we’ll just have to bear that in mind, whatever the result on Saturday, and whatever the provocation on Twitter and elsewhere.
Let’s just look forward to Saturday’s result possibly shutting up a few virtual loudmouths, good and proper. Wishing good luck and a fair ref to Garry and the lads; the White Army expects – now, do your duty.