Reading's run-in is no easy task, with the Royals facing three sides chasing promotion through the playoffs. The first of those, Bristol City, are our opponents on Good Friday.
The Robins have gone from strength to strength under Lee Johnson in recent years, brushing off the disappointment of last season's fizzed-out promotion push, now sitting sixth in the table.
So why is that? What's been the difference this time around, will the Robins finally reach the Premier League this season, and - most importantly - what chance do Reading have against them at Ashton Gate?
To find the answers to those questions, we caught up with Paul Binning, better known as The Exiled Robin. Find him on Twitter here, and many thanks to him for answering our questions on Bristol City.
Give us an overview of your season so far
It’s a difficult one to nail, honestly. We’ve been a bit up and down, not untypical with Lee Johnson’s streaky career to date, but the position and form generally has been a little unexpected - more hopeful and promising than many thought and quite exciting right now!
We started very averagely, having sold four key first-team squad players but then went on a little four-match winning run which took us up the table. Then we had another poor run with some quite awful performances included, until we went to Ipswich Town at the end of November and somehow scraped a 3-2 win. We didn’t lose again for months, rocketing us up the table.
Then we had a dodgy month in February before an 18-day break due to internationals and Millwall’s cup quarter-final reinvigorated us. We went into that in poor form, looking tired and fans worried we were about to slip down the table again as per last season, but came back refreshed, re-focused and responded with wins at Sheffield United and Middlesbrough. Now it’s just a case of trying to hang on to sixth place.
Last season you started strongly then faded, but this time you’ve stayed in the top six. What’s been the difference?
A few factors have played a part. Reflecting on last season, we seemed to almost go ‘all-in’ during October-December, going on a brilliant run but were a team who had to press high and work tremendously hard to succeed. Adding the cup run into a series of high-octane league victories exhausted us and we paid the price in the second half of the season. Key players looked jaded, our impressive one-touch football disappeared somewhat and we kept collapsing, typified by drawing 3-3 with Sunderland having been 3-0 up with 20 minutes to go, and later by an incredible 5-5 draw at home to Hull City.
This time around we’re built on more secure foundations - with a virtually brand new back five - and seem to have played a little within ourselves for a lot of the season, maybe preserving energy better to ensure we don’t run out of steam so early. Our away form has really underpinned our success this year. Ten away victories, six of them with a clean-sheet and mostly at clubs in the top 14 have been more impressive than we’ve been at this level for over a hundred years (when we got promoted!).
How do you fancy your chances of promotion this season?
It’s going to be very tough. We still need three wins to guarantee a top six spot, but even then are likely to face Sheffield United, Aston Villa or West Brom - very strong sides with lots of quality throughout. But who knows, perhaps if we do get there we can be the underdog and the one no-one talks about and spring a few surprises. If anything we play better against the best sides and our most frustrating results and performances have come against the likes of Rotherham, Wigan and Ipswich.
What are Bristol City’s main strengths and weaknesses?
Defensively we’ve been very strong, with Adam Webster and Tomas Kalas at the back proving our bedrock, but that’s slipped a little in the last few weeks. We’re on our third-choice goalkeeper due to injury, and as well as he’s played it might have unsettled those in front of him a little.
We’re strong down the left through Chelsea loanee (one of three we’ve got) and England under-21 left-back Jay Dasilva while, having signed in the summer, there have been promising signs in the last month that Andi Weimann is building a profitable partnership with top scorer Famra Diedhiou up front.
How will the game go, and what will the score be?
A glance at the league table suggests a comfortable win for us, but our home form is really quite poor - something like 19th best - and recent draws at home to Ipswich and Wigan show there are no guarantees when it comes to playing at Ashton Gate.
Your recent from has picked up too with the threat of relegation staring you in the face, so it could be a good game. If we start like we did against West Brom recently (where we were 3-0 up inside 19 minutes) then we’ll win. But we’ve all seen too many slower, almost nervy performances to be over-confident. I’ll go for us to sneak a 2-1 win.