The Royals face a tall order tonight, as they face automatic promotion contenders Norwich City at the Madejski Stadium.
With both sides winning away from home at the weekend, whoever can take three points tonight will be in pole position to go on and solidify their place in the promotion mix. The home side will close the gap to tonight’s opponents to just one point if they win tonight - but with an injury crisis - this is be a huge task. Can Reading fight against adversity again to produce an upset? We’ll soon find out.
Here are all the facts and stats you need to know ahead of this crunch tie in Berkshire.
What? Championship Matchday 19
Who? Norwich City
Where? Madejski Stadium
When? Wednesday 16th December 2020
Opposition Manager? Daniel Farke
Last weekend’s game was exactly the type of match we needed to win if we are to stay in the mix for the playoffs this season. As the game was approaching its climax, I was convinced we were heading for a draw, especially when Sam Baldock (who had little effect on the game) came off for Tom McIntyre. However, when you have Michael Olise on the pitch, anything can happen. Also, let’s give some credit to the defence. Every clean sheet we can get from now until the end of the season will be precious for us - and when Lewis Gibson came on - he did very well on the left hand side of defence. I could also see improvements in Tomas Esteves, although there was one moment when he was turned far too easily by Bright Osayi-Samuel.
Right, here’s a list of our current absent players: Andy Yiadom, Felipe Araruna, Omar Richards, John Swift, Yakou Meite, Lucas Joao and George Puscas.
This really is a massive blow for us. Yiadom faces a bit more time out on the sidelines, with Meite and Joao out until January. Meanwhile, Swift has returned to training and could make an appearance before the end of the year, although Araruna and Puscas remain out for the foreseeable future. Puscas’ injury is especially frustrating, considering how much of an impact he could have made in the absence of Lucas Joao. In terms of Richards, he will not be back until after Christmas and unless Lewis Gibson is recalled by Everton, he is likely to stay in Berkshire for the rest of the season.
Norwich City: DLWWW
After faltering against Coventry City and Luton Town, the Canaries have bounced back with three separate wins which put them top of the Championship table at the end of matchday 18. If the Norfolk are to win automatic promotion, they need to put those two winless matches behind them and stay focused as they compete with the likes of AFC Bournemouth and Watford, who also look very strong in this campaign after relegation from the Premier League.
Like Reading, this evening’s away side have suffered their own injury crisis this season – but things are starting to look a lot better for them. Kieran Dowell, Jordan Hugill, Todd Cantwell and Kenny McLean are all now available for Daniel Farke ahead of this tie, with the latter three coming on against Blackburn Rovers in their 2-1 win at Ewood Park. If I’m right in saying, defender Marco Stiepermann started up front in one game at the end of last month, so Farke will be glad to have Teemu Pukki (who scored a brace on Saturday) and Hugill at his disposal. Lukas Rupp and Tim Krul are also closing in on a return – and Krul has an outside chance of starting tonight – although the away side may not risk rushing him back in.
The Last Meeting
Norwich City 2-2 Reading
Reading took the lead on the half hour mark when Mo Barrow’s low cross was converted well by Yakou Meite. With the awyside still in a relegation battle, this was a huge boost against a team on the verge of promotion at that point.
However, it looked as if all this work would be undone when two goals in two minutes from Ben Godfrey and Christoph Zimmermann put Norwich 2-1 up with just a few minutes to go.
This game wasn’t done yet though. Andy Rinomhota’s strike from the edge of the box in the 97th minute rescued a point for the Royals. In their next three games, Reading took five points from a possible nine against Brentford, Bristol City and West Bromwich Albion, which was enough to steer them away from the relegation zone under Jose Gomes.
The Last League Match
Queens Park Rangers 0-1 Reading
After losing Omar Richards in the first half to an injury, it looked like the Royals would face an uphill battle in the second 45. QPR were there for the taking - but apart from one cross that missed Sam Baldock by a matter of inches - the away side didn’t really threaten.
With just under 15 minutes remaining, Ilias Chair almost capitalised on a Reading mistake when his curling shot came off the inside of the post - and the Royals managed to survive somehow.
Veljko Paunovic then opted to substitute sole striker Baldock for Tom McIntyre, which paid off in the 89th minute when his one-two with Olise allowed the 19-year-old Frenchman to unleash a world class finish in to the corner of the QPR net. With five central defenders on the pitch, the Royals were able to see out his lead comfortably in the remaining minutes and secure a precious victory.
Another three points would be fantastic today - but as long as we show the team spirit displayed at the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium - I will be very happy indeed.
- Reading have failed to win any of their last five meetings against Norwich City.
- However, the Royals have lost just one of their last six league fixtures. Let’s hope we can avoid defeat again tonight.
- Norwich City have won the most league games out of any team in the Championship so far this season (11), with Reading in second with 10.
- The Canaries have also taken 19 points from a possible 27 in their away games so far in this campaign.
Likely Reading lineup: Rafael, Gibson, Moore, Morrison, Holmes, Rinomhota, Laurent, Ejaria, Olise, Aluko, Baldock
Although it’s safe to say our system didn’t really work in the attacking phase on Saturday, I can see Veljko Paunovic retaining some consistency as we face our toughest test of the season so far.
Rafael starts again as per usual, with Lewis Gibson coming in for Omar Richards, Liam Moore starting alongside Michael Morrison in central defence and Tom Holmes coming back in for Tomas Esteves. Gibson did very well when he came on for Richards on Saturday – and I would expect to see him start against ahead of the likes of Ethan Bristow and Imari Samuels. On the other side of defence, I saw slight improvements in Tomas Esteves at the weekend and although he adds an attacking threat out wide, Holmes may come back in as we look to pick up another clean sheet.
Josh Laurent was superb as usual on Saturday, being at the centre of everything and making one or two brilliant runs of his own to advance the Royals up the pitch. With the pressure QPR were applying at points in the second half, these runs were crucial in relieving pressure – and Andy Rinomhota also did a great job at the heart of midfield as we kept a vital clean sheet. Both will start again tonight.
Ovie Ejaria is also likely to start again with Sone Aluko on the wings. Whilst Paunovic may opt to go with Semedo to provide more solidity in midfield, our lack of attacking impetus on the wings with centre backs Gibson and Holmes operating as full backs, Aluko could give us that bit extra going forward. The former Fulham winger has impressed me in parts this season – and I think he deserves another chance in the absence of Yakou Meite to impress.
And after Michael Olise’s world class finish, the teenager may start in a central position behind Sam Baldock, who is our only senior striker at the moment. Nahum Melvin-Lambert could also be in contention for a start – but I think we are probably more likely to see Baldock again making runs and defending from the front.
Moving on to the score prediction, I can’t see us avoiding defeat tonight. There’s no doubt we will put up a great fight and raise our game against a formidable opponent – but I think we will fall just short tonight. Tom Holmes will get on the scoresheet for me from a set piece, perhaps with the likes of Teemu Pukki and Jordan Hugill. It’s time for Reading to prove me wrong once again.
Score Prediction: Reading 1-2 Norwich City
Other Championship Fixtures
All Wednesday 16th December (7:45pm KO) unless stated:
Derby County vs Swansea City (5:30pm KO)
Middlesbrough vs Luton Town (7pm KO)
Blackburn Rovers vs Rotherham United
Cardiff City vs Birmingham City
Coventry City vs Huddersfield Town