Form Guide (all competitions, most recent result first)
Reading: W, D, W, W, W, W
Stoke City: L, D, L, L, D (90 mins), L
Incredible viewing if you're a Reading fan - no games lost in the last six means Brian McDermott's side is more confident than ever heading into this fixture. Two of those wins may have come in the FA Cup against lower league opposition but the Premier League has seen great victories against Sunderland, Newcastle and West Bromwich Albion, and a draw at home to Chelsea. Brian McDermott won Manager of the Month for January for his efforts - and anyone thinking the curse will strike should remember that he won this award two months in a row last season.
I may have used the FA Cup results to boost the Reading form column but you've also got to do that to give Stoke their only win in the last six games - and that was after extra time at home to Crystal Palace. The Potters have only won 1 of their last 10 Premier League games - a victory at home to Liverpool on Boxing Day. Despite their recent run of bad form, they still hold a very good home record with only one loss at the Britannia in the League this season - a 4-0 thrashing by Chelsea. However, they've recorded six draws at home, which coupled with their other half-dozen away from home, makes them the highest-drawing team in the League along with Everton.
Head To Head
Reading haven't lost in three trips to the Britannia - well, the last time we visited was a League Cup tie which the Royals eventually lost on penalties... The previous two visits ended 1-0 to the away side, but before that in the 2003/04 season was a 3-0 drubbing by the Potters.
The Royals' draw at the start of the season means we now haven't lost to Stoke (in 90 mins) in 7 matches between the sides. Overall our visits to Staffordshire have resulted in 11 wins for the home side, 6 for the away side, and 6 draws.
Nothing new to report for the Royals, particularly. Most of the injuries within the squad, such as Jason Roberts and Alex McCarthy, seem to be long-term absentees - meaning the squad is very much competing for a start in every game. The back five look likely to be unchanged, judging by the performances of Stephen Kelly since arrival, which have definitely allowed Jimmy Kebe more freedom going forward. And on the other flank Ian Harte keeps defying his critics with some solid defensive work - and of course, a killer free-kick which led to the all-important winner against Sunderland.
Midfield tends to be a rotation policy per game, although there are a few names we can stick on the teamsheet. Mikele Leigertwood will anchor the side, with Jobi McAnuff employed either in the middle or on the wing. Jimmy Kebe is another guaranteed to start after his two-goal haul last weekend, so assuming Brian sticks with Pavel The Pog up front, it'll be two from McCleary, Karacan, Akpan, Guthrie and Robson-Kanu to fill the gaps. I'd imagine Brian will go for a more defensive-minded midfield away from home, meaning McAnuff on the wing with Akpan and Guthrie in the middle. And Player of the Month Adam Le Fondre may have to be content with a place on the bench again.
Stoke signed American international winger Brek Shea on deadline day and the tall midfielder could make a start for the Potters at home. The Potters have also been employing a 4-5-1 system in their matches, with Peter Crouch up top to win the long balls forward to lay off to Jon Walkers and Matty Etherington amongst others. Asmir Begovic has been a star this season in the Stoke goal and with the signing of Jack Butland it looks as though he might be keeping clean sheets elsewhere next season, with top clubs reportedly interested.
Stoke City (4-5-1): Begovic; Cameron, Huth, Shawcross, Whelan; N'Zonzi, Adam, Whitehead, Etherington, Walters; Crouch
Reading (4-5-1): Federici; Kelly, Pearce, Mariappa, Harte; Kebe, Akpan, Leigertwood, Guthrie, McAnuff; Pogrebnyak.
Michael Oliver is the man in pointing around the field and waving laminated cards around the stadium. At 27 he is the youngest Premier League referee. He was involved in controversy in a Reading match in 2010, when he sent off Norwich City striker Grant Holt just before half-time - a card which was later rescinded. This season he's overseen out home win against West Ham and our draw at Loftus Road with Queens Park Rangers. He's taken charge of two Stoke games - both away and both losses, at Man City and Chelsea. He's shown just one red card in 16 Premier League matches.
The Tilehurst End Prediction
The pressure is on after two correct predictions in a row! Stoke have only lost once at home this season (and that was to Chelsea), but I certainly wouldn't like to face Reading in this current mood. The Royals have only won one match away from the Madejski in the League but that was their last match against Newcastle United - no mean feat. I don't expect Reading to win but with confidence sky-high there's no reason we can't come away from the Britannia with a point - so I'm going for a 1-1 draw to keep up Reading's remarkable recent form.