Reading return to action this midweek after four consecutive defeats, as they make the trip to London to face Gary Rowett’s Millwall.
The Royals will be reeling from their capitulation in Saturday’s early kick off against AFC Bournemouth - but they will have to put in a solid performance this evening if they are to get themselves back on track. It will be interesting to see who comes out on top with just four points currently separating the two sides. This gap could close to just one if the home side take all three points - and with that - deepen Veljko Paunovic’s woes. It’s time for Reading to step up. Can they do it?
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of this clash at The Den.
What? Championship Matchday 13
Where? The Den
When? Wednesday 25th November
Opposition Manager? Gary Rowett
The Lions have drawn their last three games - taking three points from a possible nine. To many people looking at that from the outside, that would probably seem like quite a frustrating set of results. However, two of their draws did come away at promotion contenders Norwich City and Yorkshire side Sheffield Wednesday, who beat Bournemouth 1-0 at Hillsborough not so long ago. Although there’s no easy game in the Championship, this is probably an ideal time for Millwall to play Reading, especially after a gutting defeat at the weekend. They must not underestimate the Royals though, especially if they want to pick up all three points this evening.
Former Royal Jake Cooper is likely to start tonight - and let me just say a word or two about him. Although it didn’t work out for him in Berkshire, the centre half has done amazingly well to bounce back and show why Jaap Stam was wrong to let him go regardless of the system we played. A move to the Premier League is not impossible either and although we can’t exactly wish him luck tonight (or in the reverse fixture for that matter), I hope he goes on to achieve even greater things. Jed Wallace, who was actually born in Reading, is a decent player by all accounts a well. The defence will need to keep a close eye on him.
On Saturday, we learnt that football is definitely a game of two halves. In the first 45, we played exceptionally well - taking our chances when they arrived and staying solid at the back. Tomas Esteves looked reasonably good against Arnaut Danjuma and everything was going well. After half time, it all fell apart. Individual errors started creeping in and Bournemouth showed exactly why they will be in contention for promotion come the end of the campaign. A miserable second half was capped off by a mistake from Rafael right at the end - how fitting at the end of a ghastly second 45. It might be time for Paunovic to ring the changes to try and stop the rot - we will have to wait to find out if he will.
One positive from Saturday was seeing some of our previously injured players return. Ovie Ejaria showed exactly why he’s so vital to this squad after slotting in Sone Aluko to score - and Liam Moore also returned looking to tighten things up defensively, to no avail. Yakou Meite came on with 15 minutes to go but could not make the impact he wanted. Will he or Michael Olise start on Wednesday? It was certainly interesting to see the latter benched again - along with fellow academy graduate Tom Holmes who has returned earlier than expected. One bit of bad news was the absence of Andy Yiadom and it was revealed after the game he had picked up an injury on international duty.
The Last Meeting
Millwall 2-0 Reading
Two late goals from the home side sealed the Royals’ defeat in this game.
The game, which was overshadowed by alleged homophobic chanting, was in the balance before Matt Smith fired home from a loose ball in the 71st minute. Just over ten minutes later, former Reading player Jon Dadi Bodvarsson slotted home coolly one-on-one to secure all three points for the London side.
Here’s the starting lineup from that game: Rafael, Blackett, Moore, Morrison, Gunter, Adam, Pele, Ejaria, Swift, Meite, Baldock. Jordan Obita, Garath McCleary and George Puscas all came on as substitutes.
The Last League Match
AFC Bournemouth 4-2 Reading
What a blow this was for the Royals after a brilliant first half.
Alfa Semedo’s dribble early on led to Asmir Begovic taking down the Benfica loanee in the box, with Lucas Joao converting the penalty emphatically - and they went on to double their lead shortly before half time when Ovie Ejaria’s wonderful ball was slotted home by Sone Aluko.
At half time, everything seemed perfect. However, two goals in a matter of minutes from Dominic Solanke and Arnaut Danjuma brought the home side level before the hour mark. Lewis Cook’s wonderful strike in the 77th minute put the Cherries 3-2 up, before a mistake from Rafael allowed Solanke to grab his second.
Will we be able to bounce back from this tonight?
- Millwall have scored just one goal in four games. Can the Royals finally keep a clean sheet? Or at least concede less than three?
- However, the home side have only conceded nine goals in 12 league games so far this season. 0.75 goals conceded per match - that’s tidy.
- Reading have lost four of their past six games against Millwall. However, they were unbeaten against tonight’s opponents between April 2005 and August 2017 before that.
- The Royals have now conceded 15 goals in five games. Sinister stuff.
Likely Reading lineup: Rafael, Richards, Moore, Morrison, Holmes, Rinomhota, Laurent, Ejaria, Olise, Meite, Joao
I have gone with three changes for this game, although it could have easily been four.
In my last preview, I said Rafael needed to cut out silly mistakes if he was to keep Luke Southwood at bay. Unfortunately, he made two completely avoidable errors at the weekend: one in the first half when he dinked the ball in to a precarious position like he did against Stoke - and the one at the end which was punished by Dominic Solanke. For me, he gets one more chance. Paunovic also needs to take some of the blame for this because of the playing style but if the Brazilian makes another mistake tonight, it might be time for a change.
Again, Omar Richards starts again at the back although we don’t really have many other options at left back, with Liam Moore and Michael Morrison at the back and Tom Holmes coming in, in place of Tomas Esteves. Whilst I believe the teenager was gutted about his second half performance, the time to bring in someone different is now. Some people may be questioning why I have decided to drop Esteves but not Rafael - and that’s a good question. I just think Holmes will give us an extra layer of protection in defence, something we have been crying out for.
Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent really impressed me in the first half on Saturday and I hope both of them have not lost confidence from these defeats, because we know they can be very effective together as a unit. In front of them, both Michael Olise and Yakou Meite could start alongside Ovie Ejaria in the three behind the sole striker. Perhaps this is harsh on Alfa Semedo and Sone Aluko - but we do need to shake things up. Both Semedo and Aluko could come on to make a great impact - one of the great benefits of having several players back from injury.
Up top, Lucas Joao gets the nod again. Even though the loss at the weekend was hard to take, it’s just been so refreshing to watch Joao and how he can cause problems for Championship defences. He continues to be a useful figure up front and we can only hope he stays injury free for the rest of the season. The likelihood of this? I’m not sure - but let’s enjoy him whilst he’s fit and playing.
Score prediction time. A bit of optimism is what we all need at the moment, so predicting a loss is off the table in this match preview. However, can I really predict a win after four straight losses? With Reading, anything is possible - but I will go for a 1-1 draw. I can sense some late drama too - hopefully we could be the beneficiary from that.
Score Prediction: Millwall 1-1 Reading
Other Championship Fixtures
All Wednesday 25th November (7:45pm KO) unless stated:
Middlesbrough vs Derby County (7pm KO)
Bristol City vs Watford
Coventry City vs Cardiff City
Swansea City vs Sheffield Wednesday