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Key Battles: Reading FC v Newcastle United

A tough home game awaits the Royals as they face the league leaders Newcastle. Here are the key battles.

Can Tyler Blackett contain this man?
Can Tyler Blackett contain this man?
Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Paul McShane vs Dwight Gayle

Dwight Gayle was signed from Crystal Palace for a reported fee of £10 million in the summer and is one of the key players in manager Rafa Benitez's squad.

This is because the striker has found the back of the net an incredible 21 goals in 25 appearances, putting him second in the goal scoring charts behind Leeds striker Chris Wood. Gayle also has a brilliant minutes per goal record which currently stands at 87 minutes. That's an astonishing record considering we are only at the beginning of March and there are still 11 games to go.

Gayle also scored twice against Reading the last time these sides met in Newcastle's 4-1 win over Reading back in August and he will be looking to do the same when his side visits the Madjeski. He is however, just returning from injury and only played 24 minutes against Huddersfield at the weekend (yet still managed to find the back of the net).

Looking to stop Gayle will be Paul McShane, who had his best game in a Reading shirt since returning from an injury in the 2-1 win over Wolves last time out.

The Irishman was instrumental in making sure his side picked up three valuable points, putting in vital blocks and tackles to make sure the Royals did not fall behind when Wolves were on the ascendency. This was then followed by the captain leading by example and scoring the winner from a brilliant free kick delivered by John Swift.

McShane's opponent Gayle has most of the attributes that a manager wants from a striker - pace, power, good technique and an eye for goal. What he lacks in height he makes up for with his speed that can cause any defence problems. For that reason, it will be interesting to see as to how McShane copes with the Newcastle man.

However with his centre-back partner Liam Moore, the pair have at times proven that they can keep out the best teams from scoring.

Here's a video of just how well Gayle has done this season.

Tyler Blackett vs Matt Richie

This is a player that has caused many problems for Reading in the past. In the five games that Matt Ritchie has played against Reading, the former Bournemouth man has scored four goals and has one assist to his name. If I was a betting man, then I would definitely put money on him scoring once again.

The winger was on the score sheet at St James' Park back in August, scoring a penalty that swung the match in Newcastle's favour.

So far this campaign Ritchie has scored 13 goals in 39 appearances in all competitions, along with ten assists which is nearly the same as Wolves midfielder Helder Costa who caused problems for Reading on Saturday.

The man Reading will look to to stop this player from causing havoc will be Tyler Blackett. The left back is expected to start ahead of Jordan Obita when the teams meet, as the former Manchester United man is known for being the better player defensively.

However when Blackett has played at left back he has looked shaky at times, with the game at Bristol City springing to mind where he conceded a penalty for tripping his opponent. This is something he simply cannot do against one of the best wingers in the division.

However, if Blackett can contain Ritchie it should give his team the platform in which to go on and get something from the game.

Yann Kermorgant vs Jamaal Lascelles

The centre back who was signed from Nottingham Forest in the summer of 2014 is Newcastle's captain following the decision taken by manager Rafa Benitez this season. Lascelles is one of best centre-backs in the league with his heading, calmness on the ball and his overall defensive play.

When I watched Newcastle beat Leeds down at Elland Road earlier this season, the 23 year old was one of the key players that stood out for me and is probably one of the main reasons why Newcastle are top of the league.

So far this season, Lascelles has kept 14 clean sheets in 34 Championship appearances, conceding 29 goals. The defender can also be lethal from set pieces if not picked up, as this video demonstrates.

Looking to get a sniff at the Magpies goal will be Yann Kermorgant, a player who in my view will be key if Reading are to get a positive result. With his height and strength, the Frenchman will be the striker up top that Reading will look for in order to win headers and hold the ball up, allowing his teammates to join the attack.

Kermorgant also scored against Wolves at the weekend taking his tally to nine for the season, putting himself as the Royals leading goal-scorer.

However the centre forward will be up against a very tough Newcastle defence that does not concede a lot of goals