Championship action is finally back! Reading travel over 250 miles as they face Neil Warnock’s Middlesbrough side, who currently sit 10th in the table.
The Teeside club will be looking to improve on last season’s 17th-placed finish, where they came dangerously close to relegation under rookie manager Jonathan Woodgate before he was sacked in June. Fair play to Boro for giving him a chance to shine – but you have to feel they needed to make that change to secure their Championship status.
Our recent record against this weekend’s opponents is actually quite poor – but can we improve on that this weekend and continue the form that’s surprised us all so far? Let’s see what happens.
Here’s the facts and stats you need to know ahead of this weekend’s clash.
What? Championship Matchday 5
Where? Riverside Stadium
When? Saturday 17th October
Opposition Manager? Neil Warnock
Even though Warnock’s side only picked up their first win in the final game before the international break, I can’t really fault their league results at this moment in time. There’s no doubt they would have wanted to capitalise on the number of absent players Watford had in the opening Championship game of the season – but the Hornets have a squad full of quality as we saw at the Madejski Stadium just a fortnight ago.
In terms of injuries, Ashley Fletcher may miss today’s game with a hamstring injury – and although it was hoped the international break would have given him sufficient time to recover – it looks like he will be spending a bit more time on the sidelines. However, there is some good news for the home side. Patrick Roberts could make his debut after signing on loan from Manchester City on Monday, with Paddy McNair also expected to feature after his injury on international duty wasn’t as bad as first feared.
I certainly wasn’t expecting to be typing ‘WWWW’ after the first four games. Credit to Veljko Paunovic, he has proved us wrong so far and if we can continue to do well in our next set of games, excitement levels will only rise further. After building a lot of momentum at the start of the season, has the international break come at the wrong time? This is where Paunovic will face a huge test – and there’s no reason why he can’t overcome this adversity. Fighting against the odds has been a theme of his tenure so far – and he will relish the chance to prove people wrong yet again.
However, there are a few important players who will not play a part in these upcoming games. John Swift, Andy Yiadom and Felipe Araruna remain out, which will be a blow for the Berkshire side – but similarly to the home side – there are a few positives. Alfa Semedo and Tomas Esteves could make their debuts at the Riverside, with the latter more likely to be in line for a start with Yiadom’s injury. Lucas Joao and Ovie Ejaria could also return to the starting lineup, two key players that could make all the difference on Saturday.
The Last Meeting
Reading 1 – 2 Middlesbrough
The home side took the lead just after the 30 minute mark when Liam Moore, who played in defensive midfield, smashed the ball in from close range. At this point, the Royals were in the ascendancy, having a penalty appeal waved away and then hitting the post after a patience move.
However, Middlesbrough would equalise on the stroke of half time when a cross from the right-hand side was superbly headed in by Ashley Fletcher. Question marks remain over whether Tom McIntyre should have done better – but it was a good header across Rafael nonetheless.
The game was heading for a draw until the 82nd minute when a loose ball in from the left byline was converted well by Patrick Roberts. Mark Bowen went on to lose the two remaining Championship fixtures of the 2019/20 campaign, in what proved to be his final matches in charge of Reading.
The Last League Match
Reading 1 – 0 Watford
In the opening stages, Watford were the more threatening side – and came very close to opening the scoring, when James Garner hit the crossbar with a free kick from close range.
However, Reading took the lead just before half time when Tom Holmes’ ball was controlled well by George Pucas, before he turned and shot in to the back of the net. This was a huge boost for the Royals, although it was our second half performance that impressed me the most.
After going 1-0 up, we could have easily crumbled after the break – but we managed the game very well.
Garner came close with another free kick but that was the away side’s only notable attempt in the second half. The Hornets’ frustration began to show near the end, both with the Dejan Tetek incident and Nathaniel Chalobah’s tackle on Andy Rinomhota. For me, that’s testament to how well we managed to see the game out – and credit to both the players and coaching staff for securing such an impressive result.
- Middlesbrough are yet to keep a clean sheet in their first four games so far this season – although they haven’t conceded more than one in any of these four.
- Chuba Akpom has scored in each of his first two games for Warnock’s side. Will he be the danger man for the home side this weekend against a strong Reading defence?
- Reading have lost their last seven league games against Boro. Can we improve this record on Saturday?
- However, the Royals have only conceded one goal in over 360 minutes of Championship football. What a record this is.
Likely Reading lineup: Rafael, Richards, Morrison, Moore, Esteves, Rinomhota, Laurent, Olise, Ejaria, Meite, Joao
Just looking at this lineup excites me. Although questions still inevitably remain about our squad depth, there’s no doubt we have the quality to do very well in the Championship.
Having Rafael, Michael Morrison and Liam Moore as part of our defence provides a solid base for us to build from, with new signing Tomas Esteves also likely to come in for Tom Holmes (who actually did quite well against Watford). Going forward, he looks like a fantastic asset – and it will be interesting to see how well he can defend against the likes of Britt Assombalonga and Chuba Akpom if he does indeed start.
On the other side of defence, Omar Richards has really stepped up to the plate this season and I really hope he can continue to perform to this standard for the foreseeable future. We really need to get him tied down to a new contract though.
Moving on to the midfield, Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent could be in line to start once again. Even though Alfa Semedo has joined on loan, it may take him a while to settle in and break in to the first team, especially if the starting duo continue to perform well. I’m looking forward to seeing him in action – and also see how he compares to Pele, who also spent time on loan at Nottingham Forest in the past.
With John Swift out, I suppose the three behind Lucas Joao picks itself. Michael Olise has performed very well in this campaign so far, Ovie Ejaria is likely to return after recovering from stomach flu and Yakou Meite continues to be a solid player we can rely on to create something.
It remains to be seen whether Lucas Joao will return – but if he is fit – it’s almost certain he will start.
Moving on to the score prediction, I have yet to predict a Reading win so far this season. However, this changes today – because I need to stop doubting these players! The Royals will know how difficult it will be to win this weekend with the reputation Neil Warnock has, as well as the players Boro have at their disposal.
However, the possible return of Ejaria and Joao will also be a massive boost – and I predict a narrow away win this weekend.
Score Prediction: Middlesbrough 1 – 2 Reading
Other Championship Fixtures
All Saturday 17th October (3pm KO) unless stated:
Derby County vs Watford (Friday 16th October 7:45pm KO)
Barnsley vs Bristol City
Birmingham City vs Sheffield Wednesday
Blackburn Rovers vs Nottingham Forest
AFC Bournemouth vs Queens Park Rangers
Brentford vs Coventry City
Luton Town vs Stoke City
Rotherham United vs Norwich City
Swansea City vs Huddersfield Town
Wycombe Wanderers vs Millwall
Preston North End vs Cardiff City (Sunday 18th October 12pm KO)