After securing three precious points on Saturday, Reading travel to Wales this evening as they face Steve Cooper’s Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium.
Both sides have done very well this season, with tonight’s home side building on their sixth place finish from last season to re-assert themselves as promotion contenders once again in 2020/21. However, their playoff campaign would not have been possible without the charitable contribution of Reading, who capitulated in the second half along with Nottingham Forest to gift the Swans a place in the top six.
Let’s hope they fancy returning the favour today and give the Royals a belated Christmas gift, as the away side seek to build on their 2-1 victory against Luton Town at the weekend. Which individual will step up and make all the difference in this clash? Let’s find out shall we.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of this chilly December tie.
What? Championship Matchday 22
Who? Swansea City
Where? Liberty Stadium
When? Wednesday 30th December 2020
Opposition Manager? Steve Cooper
Swansea City: DWLWW
Similarly to Brentford, you can feel the Swans are building something special and have a clear plan to get back to the Premier League. The likelihood is, one or both of these sides will not be promoted this season due to the strength of Norwich City, AFC Bournemouth and Watford – but they will certainly be competing once again after doing so well under Steve Cooper in 2019/20 despite the coronavirus pandemic and the disruption it brought. At the weekend, they secured a 2-0 away win at Queens Park Rangers with Andre Ayew and Jamal Lowe both getting on the scoresheet and they will both be dangerous again up top today.
At the start of the season, Swansea’s success in the previous campaign gave me a glimmer of hope about Veljko Paunovic. Like Steve Cooper, who had previous worked in the England youth setup, Paunovic won the 2015 World Cup with Serbia’s U20 team and has worked his magic with some of the younger players so far this season. Cooper has also had success this season with Chelsea loanee Marc Guehi and Welsh defender Ben Cabango – and they are likely to be key players going in to the second half of the season for the Swans.
Perhaps I’m exaggerating here (a student journalist overstating things, well I never!) but Saturday’s result was very important, especially with the amount of players we had injured. In the end, it was our first half performance which clinched the game - but I believe we would have gone on to make the result a lot more comfortable if we had the likes of Lucas Joao and Yakou Meite on the pitch to punish Luton Town’s defence. And even though a few players are on their way back, including Joao, Omar Richards and Josh Swift (who had an appearance on Saturday), all three are unlikely to start at the Liberty Stadium - which is massively disadvantageous to the Royals.
There was one major benefit to come from Saturday though - and that’s the fact no one else, to my knowledge, is injured. Alfa Semedo and Tom McIntyre both went down at the weekend - but both continued after receiving treatment and they will be in contention for a start again tonight. Another thing we learnt from Saturday is the fact we can not only trust Tom Holmes at right back but also in central defence as well, his natural position. This is a massive positive for Veljko Paunovic, especially with Liam Moore out for the foreseeable future with metatarsal injury. He is likely to start again with Michael Morrison - and will no doubt form a decent duo as captain Moore starts his recovery.
The Last Meeting
Reading 1-4 Swansea City
This was an awful game from Reading’s point of view (and you will want me to gloss over this quite quickly) - and a dream game for Swansea who capitalised on a poor defensive display to score four goals and clinch a playoff spot on goal difference (and you just want me to shut up and let you enjoy the highlights). So, let me just list the key events from that match and Reading’s starting lineup.
Key events: Brewster goal (‘17), Meite red card (‘40), Puscas penalty equaliser (‘43), Routledge goal #1 (‘66), Cullen’s goal to make it 3-1 (‘84), Routledge’s goal to clinch a playoff place (‘90+1)
Reading lineup: Rafael, Richards, Moore, Morrison, Miazga, Gunter, Rinomhota, Swift, Olise, Meite, Puscas.
The Last League Match
Reading 2-1 Luton Town
Reading got off to the perfect start within ten minutes against Luton Town, when Sone Aluko’s corner was volleyed home superbly by Tom McIntyre, no doubt a training routine worked on over the previous week.
And the Royals would go on to double their lead before the break when Sam Baldock’s through ball to Alfa Semedo was fired home by the Benfica loanee - and things seemed to be reasonably comfortable. In all fairness, Luton probably should have had a penalty when McIntyre came crashing in on a Luton player - but the referee gave a free kick instead.
However, the second half turned out to be completely different, with the away side dominating the latter 45 - and even scored in the 90th minute when Kazenga LuaLua’s long-range strike beat Rafael. Reading managed to hold on in the end though, as they secured a precious three points.
- Swansea City have the best defensive record in the league, conceding just 12 goals in 21 games so far in this campaign. 0.57 goals conceded per game.
- The Swans have also lost just one Championship home game out of their first ten in 2020/21 - an impressive record.
- Reading have not won a competitive game against Swansea since September 2008, in a winless run stretching 13 games. Can we break this curse today?
- However, the Royals have scored seven more league goals than today’s opponents as it stands. Will this come in handy at 8pm?
Likely Reading lineup: Rafael, McIntyre, Holmes, Morrison, Esteves, Rinomhota, Laurent, Ejaria, Olise, Aluko, Baldock
After a 2-1 win at the weekend, I have decided to make one change as we face a difficult task against today’s opponents.
I have already said this several times this season - but Rafael made another mistake on Saturday. Firstly, it was his poor game (admittedly on a very poor surface) which lead Luton’s consolation - and Kazenga LuaLua’s shot went underneath him as the Brazilian gave his opponents a lifeline late on. Luckily, this wasn’t a costly error as things turned out - but as I said in the Millwall game earlier on in the season - he gets one more chance for me. After my article praised his comeback from previous mistakes, he has unfortunately gone on to make more. Have I cursed him?
In defence, it should remain unchanged in my opinion as Omar Richards makes his way back from injury. Tom McIntyre did quite well at the weekend, although I would like to see how he defends at full back against a better side than Luton. Questions remain over his pace and agility in that position - but I hope he can step up once again. Tom Holmes also did very well in reverting back to a more central position alongside Michael Morrison - and Tomas Esteves did alright too.
I would like to see Andy Yiadom back to challenge Esteves but with all the injuries we have at this moment in time, the Portuguese teenager will have to continue at right back for now, pretty much unopposed with Liam Moore’s injury dragging Holmes in to the centre.
Two players who have been fit all season though are Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent. It would be good to give them a rest at some point but they have performed too well to be dropped at any point during this season, especially Laurent who has been very consistent alongside Rinomhota. Both could make a real difference in the second half of this season as we compete in an incredibly competitive league this season - and they may give us that extra push to go on and make a vast improvement on last season’s league finish of 14th.
In front of them, Sone Aluko has done well enough again for me to start him at the Liberty Stadium, with Michael Olise coming back in for Alfa Semedo - and Ovie Ejaria starting once again on the left. For me, I would like to see Ejaria make a bigger impact on games and although he did well enough on Saturday on a terrible pitch, we will need him to be involved in key moves tonight if we are to get anything out of this game.
If Reading are leading in the closing stages though (or trying to see out a point), Alfa Semedo’s experience as a defensive midfielder may come in handy as we look at substitution options. John Swift also starts on the bench again, before I consider starting him on Saturday against Huddersfield Town.
Up front, perhaps I was harsh to drop Sam Baldock on Saturday, so he comes back in again after providing the assist for Alfa Semedo’s goal at the weekend. Whilst it’s clear Baldock isn’t made to be a lone striker, we have to find ways of getting him in to the game - and I felt we were missing Lucas Joao and his hold up play heavily in the latter stages of the last game. Nevertheless, he starts for me in this match with his tireless running and work rate.
Moving on, it’s time to make a score prediction. Hey, I don’t like betting against Reading and I never have money-wise (gamble aware) - but I think this might be a comfortable home win. Whilst I don’t think we’ll be humiliated, I think Swansea will have just a bit too much quality for us - and eventually come out as 2-0 winners with all the injuries the away side has. Let’s hope the Royals prove me wrong. After all, this is the type of game we would go on and win.
Score Prediction: Swansea City 2-0 Reading
Other Championship Fixtures
Wednesday 30th December (5:30pm KO)
Brentford vs AFC Bournemouth