The Royals travel to Ashton Gate on Saturday to face a Bristol City side off the back of a 1-1 draw with Brentford in midweek. The Robins will be wanting to improve on a series of top-half finishes since promotion from League One, looking to go one step further by finally securing a play-off place.
City’s season started with a 3-1 home defeat to Leeds United in front of the Sky cameras followed by a late equaliser in 1-1 draw with Birmingham City. Their season really kicked off with their home clash against QPR however, a 2-0 win preceding a run of three straight victories.
They ended August with a 2-2 draw at home to Middlesbrough, before victory over Stoke City and a goalless draw versus league leaders Swansea City. This 0-0 dropped City from third down to sixth in a tight top end of the table, and after another two draws (3-3 vs Preston and 1-1 vs Brentford), The Robins are currently sitting in seventh place, their opening-day defeat against Leeds their only loss of the season so far.
Bristol City’s strong start to the season will be looked upon positively by City fans, although Lee Johnson will certainly be looking to turn draws into wins, with five already this season and four in their last five. With a fantastic away record, they will be hoping to get only their second home win of the season when The Royals visit on Saturday afternoon.
Bristol City tend to line up in a 3-5-2, with wing backs Tommy Rowe and Jack Hunt/Pedro Pereira pushing high up the pitch, something exemplified in their equalising goal against Brentford.
City are more than happy not to spend time on the ball, only really dominating possession against 10-man rock bottom Stoke, and looking to hit teams on the counter when they can. The move to a back three this season has also enabled Johnson to play with two men up front, so as not to isolate Famara Diedhiou high up the pitch.
Until Benik Afobe’s season-ending injury, Bristol City had been able to play both Diedhiou and Afobe up top with Weimann just in behind. However, the former Royals loanee’s enforced absence has allowed Antoine Semenyo more minutes - a man who made a name for himself in the lower leagues. Coupled with Weimann’s ability to play up top, Bristol City have a wealth of attacking options.
Due to this formation change however, there has been less game time for the likes of Callum O’Dowda and Niclas Eliasson who generally play out on the wing, but Lee Johnson is not afraid to substitute a defender for a more attacking player in a change of formation and tactics, something Reading fans will no doubt recognise too.
Kasey Palmer was the beneficiary of such a change in The Robins’ 3-1 victory at Hull City, replacing Tomas Kalas to join Josh Brownhill and Han-Noah Massengo in the centre of the park early on. This dynamic duo really highlight the change in system from last season, Johnson’s new approach beginning with the sale of Marlon Pack to Cardiff, a man who could sit back and dictate the play.
Bristol City struggled to score goals last season, only managing 59 all season, whereas this term - despite Afobe’s injury - they have already hit 17 in 10 games (compared to just 11 for Reading). They are more than capable of notching from all around the pitch; Tommy Rowe, Nathan Baker, Jack Hunt and Taylor Moore all getting on the scoresheet already this season, as well as both Josh Brownhill and Kasey Palmer.
This was very much needed as they have conceded 13 goals this season, looking more open at both ends of the field. Notably for Reading fans, in between the sticks Bristol City have signed Dan Bentley from Brentford, a man who is prone to a goalkeeping error (gifting two against the Royals at Griffin Park last season). However, their defensive issues may have arisen from Tomas Kalas only playing five games this season due to injury and the sale of Pack in the summer.
It remains to be seen whether Reading will match up to Bristol City’s three at the back or not, but whatever and whoever Jose Gomes decides to play, the odds are there will be goals. Here’s hoping we can stand firm, take our chances and come away with the three points.