Was it real? Did it really happen? Yes, at long last, Reading’s grim run of nine games without a victory came to an end thanks to that dramatic 1-0 win over QPR on Good Friday.
It was certainly a hard-earned three points, as acknowledged by Paul Clement, with the Royals being a man down for the final ten minutes of the game and having to deal with the drama of a stoppage time penalty, heroically saved by the recalled Vito Mannone. The players undoubtedly looked like they had been through it by the end of the match, which begs the question as to how Jaap Stam’s slower passing game may have impacted on the fitness of a side now being asked to play a slightly more intensive style of football.
Their second game in four days will give us some insight into the speed of this necessary transition. The Royals have arguably the hardest run in of all the teams in the bottom six, so they know that there will be no time for slacking in their remaining seven games. Seven more performances of the same ilk that we saw against QPR will be necessary, and if they can start by giving one at Villa Park on Tuesday, then hopefully Royals fans will be able to enjoy a much more relaxing April than they may have expected only a couple of weeks ago.
Form (all comps): DDLLW
Middlesbrough’s late equaliser against Burton yesterday, coupled with Sunderland’s home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday means that Reading have a real chance to put further daylight between themselves and those in the bottom three by taking something from Villa Park on Tuesday night.
However, in their quest to secure some precious points in their fight for Championship survival, the Royals are looking light up top. Not only is Jon Dadi Bodvarsson still a doubt after missing the clash against QPR, but veteran marksman Yann Kermorgant will also be unavailable for the trip to the Midlands following his controversial dismissal against the Hoops.
There will therefore be even more pressure on the likes of Friday’s match-winner Sone Aluko and youngster Sam Smith to help deliver the goals needed for the Royals to have any chance of repeating their victory over the Villans at the Mad Stad all the way back in August. Chris Martin still looks short of full match fitness, but will most likely start up front given the Royals’ current attacking shortcomings.
Elsewhere, it still looks too soon for Omar Richards or Tommy Elphick to make a return to the squad, so an unchanged back four would come as no surprise. There could however be some changes in midfield, with George Evans and Leandro Bacuna both continuing to press for a start.
Form (all comps): WWLDD
No win in their last three games has seen the Aston Villa promotion push stutter to a halt, with the Villans now finding themselves nine points off second-placed Cardiff in the race for the Premier League. With seven games to go, Steve Bruce’s side do seem nailed on for a play-off place, but will still undoubtedly be trying to do all that they can to avoid the potential agony of a play-off battle in May.
Villa were boosted in their promotion bid by the return to the squad of striker Jonathan Kodjia, who made his first appearance for the Midlanders since October when he came on during their draw against Hull City on Saturday. He still may not be fit to start, but will undoubtedly be in the squad come Tuesday night.
Glenn Whelan could also make a return to the squad, after Bruce deemed the game against Hull to have come around just a bit too soon for the 34-year old to reclaim a starting spot following his recent injury. Miles Jedinak could be dropped in changes to the Villa midfield, so it will between the Irishman and Icelandic international Birkir Bjarnason to see who will replace the Australian. Ahmed Elmohamady could also return to the starting line-up following his absence after the international break.
Even when out of sorts, this Villa side will be formidable opposition for Paul Clement’s fledgling side. However, having seen the fight and passion on display at the Madejski in a win that will undoubtedly have boosted confidence and morale within the team, I think the Royals can deal another blow to Villa’s promotion hopes with a big performance on Tuesday night. They may not have enough for a win, but a draw would be still be a great result.
Aston Villa 1-1 Reading
Who will be the victor at Villa Park?
This poll is closed
Reading - Clement to make it two wins in two!
Draw - A precious point for the boys!
Villa - Bruce’s men to burst Royals’ bubble!