Reading return to league action at the Madejski Stadium later on, when they take on playoff contenders Bristol City. Manager Lee Johnson has made Bristol City a very competitive side at the right end of the Championship table. Just two points separate them and Preston North End in sixth place, and the away side will be looking to continue their charge towards the playoff places in Berkshire.
Although the Royals will face a tough test tonight, they will be hoping to come away with all three points. Bristol City supporter The Exiled Robin spoke to us ahead of this midweek Championship clash about his thoughts on the Robins’ key players, tactics and what the score will be tonight.
How would you sum up your season so far?
Pretty up and down! We’ve had good spells, where we’ve looked like we are well on our way to cementing a spot in the top six, and then other periods where some have talked loosely of relegation.
We’ve had spells where we’ve barely created a chance in games, yet we’re one of the division’s top scorers. Our best player has possibly been Daniel Bentley in goal, yet we’ve conceded far more goals than last year. So in summary, it’s really tricky to know exactly what to make of it at times!
Who are the key players in this Bristol City side?
We’ve had lots of chopping and changing throughout the season, partly due to a number of key injuries, partly because so few have truly stuck their hands up and said “I deserve to be starting every week”. Famara Diedhiou up front is our focal point and if he plays well, he can bring others into play and ease pressure on the defence.
Niclas Eliasson is probably our most-talked about player, someone who hasn’t always been trusted by boss, Lee Johnson, to start games, but has created more chances and as many assists as anyone in the division despite only playing around half the minutes.
At the back Nathan Baker seems to be the catalyst in terms of being solid. When he plays we average over 1.5pts per game and keep a clean sheet once every three games. When he doesn’t play both those stats drop away significantly.
Any young talent that we should look out for in the future?
The headline name this season has been Han-Noah Massengo, just 18 and bought from Monaco in the summer for a fee of somewhere between £2.5m and £8m, depending which reports you read. He certainly has impressed in patches, as you’d expect from someone who played in the Champions League at 17, although the intensity of the Championship has taken its toll on him a little and he’s not played regularly for a few weeks.
How does Lee Johnson set his team up tactically?
The more harsh fans would say it’s Roulette style, others are keen to point out he adapts his team and his tactics smartly according to the opposition. Due to the turnover of types of players we’ve changed style over the past two years, from an intense, high-pressing team into one which has a more counter-attacking style.
We’ve tended to be at our best this season when we’ve only had around 35% possession and have been able to hit teams on the break. We’re not lightning quick, but we’ve got a fit squad who seem to be able to break forward late in the game.
The formation often changes more than once within each game and we can switch between 3-5-2, 4-4-2, 4-5-1 and others quite fluidly. We’ve often switched at half-time and brought on one or two substitutes then to change the flow of games, quite successfully at times.
How will the rest of the season pan out for you?
A huge amount relies on what happens of the pitch in the next three days! There are fairly strong rumours that captain Josh Brownhill might be on his way to the Premier League, and we’re desperate for at least a striker (as we have been since on-loan Benik Afobe was injured in September) and perhaps a different midfield option.
If nothing changed right now then we’d probably marginally miss out on the play-offs. If we can add a couple of bits of quality - Nakhi Wells is a name that’s been linked - then the play-offs have to move sharply into focus.
How do you see the game going, and what will the score be?
Away from home we’re usually pretty good, but predicting what we’re going to do is tricky! We seem to be able to move seamlessly from 3-3 draws to grinding out a 1-0 win, so a lot depends which team turns up. With the ten day break since the last game, hopefully we’re fresh and can take advantage of that.
But our unpredictability is probably best summed up by the fact we’re bottom of one of the xG tables, and the saves of Daniel Bentley and the clinical nature of our strikers to convert the few ‘big chances’ they get tend to decide our games. I’ll go for a 1-1 draw on this one.