The opening game of 2020 sees Reading travel down the M4 to face southwest London side Fulham at Craven Cottage this New Year’s Day.
The Cottagers are currently third in the Championship table after 25 league games, although they are still nine points away from the automatic promotion spots. Scott Parker’s side will need to win the vast majority of their league games in the rest of this season if they are to catch Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion in first and second places respectively. Reading have climbed up to 14th after picking up three consecutive wins over the Christmas period.
Will either side be able get their year off to a bright start? Or will the two teams play out a tight draw? Here are all the facts and stats you need to know ahead of this clash in London.
What? Championship Matchday 25
Where? Craven Cottage
When? Wednesday 1st January 2020 (3pm KO)
Losses against Preston North End and Brentford away from home have proved to be a big setback for Fulham, who will have been wanting to put the maximum amount of pressure on the top two throughout this campaign. Despite the attacking prowess they have in Knockaert, Cavaleiro and Mitrovic, you have to give credit to Scott Parker who has done well in his first full season as a professional head coach.
Harry Arter and Maxime Le Marchand remain long-term absentees for the home side. Arter has been out since October with a muscle injury, while Le Marchand hasn’t featured since their match against Birmingham City in early November. There is some good news for the London side however - Denis Odoi made a return to the first-team squad on Sunday after serving a three-match suspension earlier on in the month.
Five games unbeaten and four consecutive clean sheets is no mean feat. Although the Derby County and QPR fixtures were winnable games, we still had to rise to expectations and get the job done. The Preston North End win was even more impressive. The Lancashire side have been very good at Deepdale so far this season, so taking three points back to Berkshire was a major statement of intent.
The Royals have no new injury worries going in to this game. Andy Yiadom, George Puscas and Tom McIntyre are still out, although Sam Baldock could return to the side in time for the short trip to London. However, he’s only likely to make the bench if he is fully fit for Wednesday’s game. Matt Miazga and Jordan Obita were both on the bench again against Preston North End in Lancashire, with the latter coming on as a substitute for Yakou Meite late on.
The last meeting
Reading 1-4 Fulham
Tom Cairney opened the scoring early on in the first half for the away side with a curling shot from just outside the 18-yard box after Yakou Meite had a close-range effort blocked by Marcus Bettinelli. Reading were then reduced to ten men on the 20-minute mark, with John Swift picking up a second booking for a late lunge on Odoi.
Things went from bad to worse for Reading when Aleksandar Mitrovic scored a quick-fire brace to put Fulham 3-0 up before 30 minutes had past at the Madejski Stadium. It didn’t get any better for the home side in the second half, as Liam Moore’s poor backpass allowed Cairney to chip the ball over Rafael and grab his second goal of the match.
A sensational strike from Yakou Meite in the 89th minute was the only consolation for Reading who had performed poorly all game. What an awful result for a Reading side who struggled for consistency at the start of this season - I guess even that’s a kind way of putting it.
This result put Reading just three points above the relegation zone, as Jose Gomes looked more and more in danger of losing his job.
- Fulham have the poorest defence in the top six, conceding 28 goals in their 25 Championship games so far this season.
- However, the Cottagers are unbeaten in ten of their thirteen league games in this campaign.
- Reading have won just two of their last ten games against Fulham. Can Reading improve this poor record on Wednesday?
- No team has picked up more league points in the last five games than Reading who have won three and drawn two. 11 points out of a possible 15 is an impressive stat.
Likely Reading lineup: Rafael, Blackett, Moore, Morrison, Gunter, Swift, Pele, Adam, Ejaria, Meite, Joao
Although I thought there would be two changes for the Preston North End game, why would Mark Bowen alter a winning side? Experienced players like Michael Morrison and Charlie Adam seem fitter than ever and both could start once again on New Year’s Day. Morrison has been a rock at the back for the Royals alongside Moore, while Adam has displayed an impressive range of passing in the middle of the park.
Another player who has stepped up to the plate is Welsh international Chris Gunter. Although he was exiled in the summer, the fullback has responded well and has been a part of a defence that has kept clean sheets in all of their past four Championship games.
On the other side of the defence, Tyler Blackett played a major part in both of Reading’s goals against Preston on Sunday. Moore is set to captain the side once again as the Berkshire side look to continue their climb up the table.
Andy Rinomhota, player of the season in the last campaign, is struggling to nail down a spot in the starting eleven. The man responsible for keeping him out the side is Pele. The AS Monaco loanee has improved vastly as the season has progressed after initially struggling to make a good impression in Berkshire.
George Puscas and Baldock have been injury doubts, giving Lucas Joao the opportunity to become the main striker at the Madejski Stadium. The Portuguese man has taken this opportunity with both hands and scored four goals in the last six games. Will Puscas be able to regain his place in the side when he returns from injury?
This match has the potential to be a goal fest and I don’t think Reading will be able to keep their fifth consecutive clean sheet. If they somehow manage to, Bowen deserves a knighthood. Is it too late to add the Welshman on to the New Year’s honours list? Step up, Sir Mark Bowen. I’m going to go for a 2-2 draw at Craven Cottage. Anything will be an improvement on our 4-1 home loss to Swansea City this time last year.
Score prediction: Fulham 2-2 Reading
Other Championship fixtures
All Wednesday 1st January 2020 (3pm KO) unless stated
Millwall vs Luton Town (12:45pm KO)
Birmingham City vs Wigan Athletic
Bristol City vs Brentford
Huddersfield Town vs Stoke City
Nottingham Forest vs Blackburn Rovers
Preston North End vs Middlesbrough
Queens Park Rangers vs Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday vs Hull City
West Bromwich Albion vs Leeds United (5:15pm)
Derby County vs Barnsley (Thursday 2nd January 7:45pm KO)
Swansea City vs Charlton Athletic (Thursday 2nd January 7:45pm KO)