Following a frustrating start to their Championship campaign, Paul Clement’s Royals now turn their attention to the EFL Cup, as they look to finally kickstart their season against Birmingham City. However, this could be a tall order against a side who have proven to be a bit of a bogey side for Reading of late - in fact, they have not beaten the Blues at the Madejski Stadium since 2013.
Last year: lost 0-2 in the 3rd round to Swansea City
After those agonising defeats to Derby and Forest, Tuesday night’s game against Birmingham not only gives Paul Clement the chance to rack up his first win of the 2018/19 season, but it also means that he may have the chance to give a run-out to some of the newer faces on display within the team.
It is likely that summer signings John O’Shea and Marc McNulty will be handed time on the pitch as they both make their way up to full fitness, with new arrival Sam Walker also in contention to replace regular stopper Vito Mannone in the Royals’ net. Leandro Bacuna and Pelle Clement could also be brought into the midfield, with formerly want-away and now ‘wants to stay’ Liam Moore another who is likely to feature in the squad. It would also not be surprising to see Clement give youth a chance, with Andy Rinomhota the most probable starter from the pool of young talent available to the boss.
Last year: lost 1-2 in the 2nd round to Bournemouth
Like the Royals, Birmingham have faced stiff opposition in their opening two Championship games. After a promising home draw against Norwich City on the opening day, Garry Monk’s Blues slipped to a 1-0 defeat at the Riverside against Middlesborough, to leave the Midlanders at the foot of the Championship table alongside their EFL Cup opponents.
The EFL Cup should therefore provide a welcome distraction, allowing Monk to also tinker with his line up and give new signings and fringe players a chance to impress the boss during the season’s early stages. The veteran goalkeeper Lee Camp, who signed for the Blues towards the end of the transfer window, could come in to replace Connal Truman, who started Birmingham’s first two Championship fixtures.
As well as this, defenders Wes Harding and £3.5 million signing Marc Roberts could also be given minutes on the pitch, in addition to striker Omar Bogle, once linked to the Royals himself, who has signed on loan from Cardiff. However, one player who will not be available to Garry Monk is loan signing Gary Gardner, who will be unavailable for the Blues, following his dismissal against Middlesborough on Saturday.
The Royals have come close in their last two games and have been unlucky to come away with no points on the board. With both sides making changes to their lineups, it should be a close affair, but I’m backing the Royals to get their campaign up and running with a hard-fought win.
Royals 2-1 Birmingham