When the fixture list for this season’s Championship was released back in June, few Royals fans would have earmarked a January trip to the Pirelli Stadium as a relegation six-pointer. But here we are.
The brutal truth of the matter is that Tuesday night’s clash in Staffordshire could be a defining moment in the Royals’ season. Sitting just four points above the drop zone, defeat against the Championship’s bottom side (for the second time this season) would see the Royals fully entrenched in a relegation battle. A win, on the other hand, could be a turning point that sees the side pull away from the perilous situation in which they currently find themselves.
Form (all comps): DDWLL
Too good to go down? Any such illusions that Reading were too big for the drop were very much shattered following their defeat to Burton Albion just before Christmas. A sloppy and uninspired defeat at home to the Brewers meant that many Royals fans had to recalibrate their expectations for the rest of the campaign, with any faint illusions of a late play-off push giving way to the harsh reality of mid-table slog - or worse.
Reading have only beaten Stevenage in the 38-day turnaround since their first tussle with the Brewers, a period in which the buffer between the Royals and the drop zone has halved from eight to just four points.
With the transfer window close to shutting, Jaap Stam has been unable to make any additions to his struggling squad, meaning that the chances of any new faces making an appearance at the Pirelli are unlikely.
Having rung the changes in both line-up and formation for Friday’s FA Cup trip to Sheffield Wednesday, it is unclear as to how Stam will go about trying to end his side’s run of just one win in eleven games. With no fresh injury worries ahead of the trip to Staffordshire, Yann Kermorgant could return to lead the line again alongside Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, with Garath McCleary also in contention following his start at Hillsborough.
Form (all comps): DWLLL
When the Brewers came to the Mad Stad just over a month ago, few expected the Staffordshire side to turn over last season’s play-off finalists. But Nigel Clough’s men did indeed have enough to overturn an abject Royals side with a win that ended up lifting his side out of the relegation zone.
Since that result, the Brewers have struggled to build on any momentum that their trip to Berkshire may have given them, having claimed just four points in their subsequent five games. Their last Championship outing saw them spanked 6-0 by Fulham at Craven Cottage, as Albion slipped back to the foot of the Championship.
But unlike his Dutch counterpart, Nigel Clough has dipped into the transfer market in his attempts to boost his side’s chances of survival. Derby striker Darren Bent has joined on loan and could press for a place in the Brewers’ starting line-up for the visit of the Royals.
Defeat at the Pirelli could spell curtains for Jaap Stam and would mean that the Royals’ sole focus for the rest of the season would be working to beat the drop down to playing League 1 football for the first time in 16 years.
Based on recent form, it cannot be said with any confidence that the Royals will go to Burton and take all three points. A draw will not be enough to ease Reading’s relegation worries, but it may be all that they can hope for in their current standing.
Burton 1-1 Reading
Who will leave the Pirelli with the points?
This poll is closed
Too close to call - Draw