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Key Battles: Brighton And Hove Albion vs Reading FC

With Jack on holiday, Bucks makes a guest appearance for the latest edition of Key Battles.

Brighton & Hove Albion v Reading - EFL Cup Third Round Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Glenn Murray vs Paul McShane

Glenn Murray, who signed a permanent deal at Brighton last month, leads the line for the Seagulls. In his 31 league appearances this season, the 33 year-old has found the net 16 times, putting him behind only Dwight Gayle (20), Chris Wood (19) and Tammy Abraham (18) in the scoring charts.

The former Crystal Palace and Bournemouth man will also be fondly remembered by Reading fans for a loan stint under Nigel Adkins and Steve Clarke. In late 2014, Murray registered eight goals and one assist, a respectable return in what was an otherwise underwhelming couple of months for the club.

As it happens, his final goals for the Royals came on Boxing Day 2014 in a 2-2 draw... away to Brighton and Hove Albion.

Although Jaap Stam has a number of centre halves to choose from on Saturday, I expect he'll restore Paul McShane to the starting XI. The Irishman has missed the last few games due to injury, but he could form a back three at the Amex alongside Tyler Blackett and Liam Moore.

For me, the former Hull City man will be key to keeping Murray quiet. As Olly wrote a little while back, Reading's defence is noticeably better when it's bolstered by McShane's presence. After all, with 274 league appearances under his belt, he's got more experience than any other Reading defender.

Anthony Knockaert vs Jordan Obita and Tyler Blackett

I was talking with the other chaps on the Tilehurst End editorial team recently about who the best players in the division are. One of the first names on my shortlist was, as I'm sure it would be for many of you, Anthony Knockaert.

Still only 25, Knockaert arrived on the south coast just over a year ago from Standard Liege, having spent a few years at Leicester City. The Frenchman is now seen by many as the best winger in the Championship and, with ten goals and seven assists to his name in 2016/17, it's not hard to see why.

Reading themselves got a taste of his talents at the beginning of the season when he netted at the Madejski:

Whether Reading play four in the defence, or go with three centre halves and two wing backs, Jordan Obita and Tyler Blackett are the most likely to come up against Knockaert.

The Frenchman is a tricky customer who's likely to cut inside unpredictably, looking to exploit the space between those two Reading defenders. With that in mind, both Obita and Blackett will have to be alert to the danger to avoid giving him space.

Lewis Dunk vs Lewis Grabban

Down the other end of the pitch, we could see a Battle of the Lewises as Dunk goes up against Grabban. Brighton's centre half has been a one club man (bar a loan spell at Bristol City), playing 179 times for the Seagulls since signing his first professional contract in 2010.

He's also been an ever-present at the back this season, playing 29 times for a side that has only conceded 26 times - the second lowest in the division (Newcastle United come out top with 25).

Dunk told Brighton's official website on Thursday:

“It’s one of the best squads I’ve been in for mental strength and we’ve proved that from the number of times we’ve come back from being down or drawing towards the end of games. We never stop fighting and we keep going until the end."

He added:

“We know how good Reading are, but if we get our game plan right and play at our best, we can beat anyone in this league.”

Having signed on loan from Bournemouth on deadline day of the January transfer window, Lewis Grabban is yet to open his account for the Royals. However, the 29 year-old has featured in each game he's been available for, starting the last two matches, meaning that he's likely to retain his starting spot for the visit to the Amex.

After Huddersfield beat Reading in midweek, Brighton need a win over the Royals to keep their spot in the automatic places secure. With that in mind, I'd expect them to try to take the game to us on Saturday evening and try to take the initiative.

In the inevitable periods of pressure on the Reading defence, Grabban's experience and mobility will make him an important outlet.

With Dunk standing at a whopping 6ft 2inch, Grabban will have a tough physical battles on his hands if he's to win aerial duels that come his way. However, his midfield colleagues can do him a big favour by playing him in to feet whenever possible. That will allow the frontman to use his pace to get at Dunk, creating a duel that we're much more likely to win.

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Stats come from TransferMarkt and WhoScored, and the gif was made using official highlights which you can find here.