In the final game of this decade, Reading travel to Lancashire to face play-off hopefuls Preston North End at Deepdale on Sunday.
Alex Neil has run a steady ship at Preston over the past few seasons, although last season’s 14th-place finish may have been disappointing for some of the Lilywhites’ fans. They’re a well-run club who spend within their means and have performed admirably this season, despite losing key man Callum Robinson to Sheffield United in the summer.
Who will come out on top in this 2019 farewell fixture? Here’s everything you need to know ahead of this weekend’s clash.
What? Championship Matchday 24
Who? Preston North End
Where? Deepdale Stadium
When? Sunday 29th December 2019 (3pm KO)
Preston North End: LWWDD
After suffering a wobble with four consecutive losses between late November and early December, Neil has stabilised the ship at Deepdale with two wins and two draws in their past four Championship games. However, they will need to remain consistent if they are to stay in the playoff zone. There’s only five points separating third and tenth place currently and it’s easy to slip down the Championship table. Reading’s 2015/16 season is just one example of this.
Centre back Patrick Bauer, who joined from Charlton Athletic in the summer, missed Preston’s last game against Leeds United on Boxing Day through illness. He will be hoping that he can return to full fitness ahead of the tie against the Royals.
Daniel Johnson is also a doubt after also missing the trip to Yorkshire. He suffered an injury against West Bromwich Albion at the start of December and has been absent ever since. However, Tom Clarke and Ben Davies have fully recovered from injury after starting at Elland Road.
You can’t argue with three consecutive clean sheets. Building from the back in vital in any team and keeping clean sheets can only help to relieve pressure on the front line. I’m very encouraged that we aren’t relying on one or two players to score the goals in this team. Ovie Ejaria can do it – so can John Swift, Lucas Joao, George Puscas and Yakou Meite. Keep this form up and we’re well on our way to securing that comfortable midtable finish that we need.
Matt Miazga returned to the bench against Queens Park Rangers after recovering from injury, as well as Jordan Obita who has also been absent recently. They could both feature from the start at Deepdale. However, Puscas is unavailable as he continues to recover from a dislocated shoulder. Sam Baldock is also out with a groin injury, although Mark Bowen is hopeful that he can return for the match against Fulham on New Year’s Day.
The last meeting
Reading 1-0 Preston North End
Puscas and Ejaria both went close for the Royals early on as the home side looked to break the deadlock after the sacking of Jose Gomes earlier on in the week. As the game went on, it looked like the match was going to end in a 0-0 draw. With the Royals around the relegation zone at the time, it was vital that the Berkshire outfit squeezed every point out of this match that they could.
It was Jordan Obita’s shot from a corner in stoppage time which proved to be vital in stealing the three points for Reading. His saved shot rebounded straight in to Miazga’s path who volleyed the ball past Declan Rudd in what was undoubtedly one of the most important games of the season.
This was Bowen’s first game as Reading manager. He had fans on his back for the way that Gomes’ sacking was handled and his so-called ‘self appointment’. I personally don’t believe that he would have persuaded Dai Yongge to appoint him. However, if he did appoint himself, I hope it was done in true David Brent style.
- Nine out of Preston North End’s eleven league wins so far this season have come at home. They have only won two on the road in this campaign thus far.
- 80% of their league goals this season have also come at Deepdale (29/36). Are the Lancashire side an unstoppable force at home?
- Reading have won their last four games against Preston North End. Will it be five in a row after Sunday?
- The Royals have conceded just ten goals in Mark Bowen’s twelve games as Reading manager so far. A promising start that’s helped Reading pick up points under the Welshman.
Likely Reading lineup: Rafael, Blackett, Moore, Miazga, Gunter, Swift, Rinomhota, Adam, Ejaria, Meite, Joao
I can only see Bowen making two changes to the starting eleven this Sunday. Rafael has continued to nail down his position as first-choice goalkeeper after a string of brilliant saves on Boxing Day.
Tyler Blackett has also established himself in the side after rarely featuring at the start of the Bowen. Miazga may come in to replace Morrison at the heart of defence after returning to the bench for the Royals against Queens Park Rangers.
I can also see Rinomhota and Pele being rotated around for the remainder of this season, although Charlie Adam may also need a rest after this busy Christmas schedule. Swift and Ejaria will start again as Reading’s key duo in midfield - what a goal from Swift on Thursday by the way! The man who won The Most Improved Player 2019 on the Christmas podcast is returning to the form he showed in the 2016/17 season.
With Baldock and Puscas out through injury, Meite and Joao are likely to start once again. Both are capable of scoring goals, can they get on the scoresheet this Sunday?
Although Reading have done very well in their last few games, they may not have enough to get anything out of this Sunday’s game against a very capable side aiming for a playoff-place finish at the end of the season. I predict a narrow 1-0 loss, although I trust the Royals to go and give a good account of themselves.
Score prediction: Preston North End 1-0 Reading
Other Championship fixtures
All Sunday 29th December 2019 (3pm KO) unless stated
Birmingham City vs Leeds United
Bristol City vs Luton Town
Fulham vs Stoke City
Huddersfield Town vs Blackburn Rovers
Millwall vs Brentford
Nottingham Forest vs Wigan Athletic
Queens Park Rangers vs Hull City
Sheffield Wednesday vs Cardiff City
Swansea City vs Barnsley
West Bromwich Albion vs Middlesbrough
Derby County vs Charlton Athletic (Monday 30th December 7:45pm KO)