Reading look to go five league games unbeaten this evening, as they take on Aitor Karanka’s Birmingham City side at the Madejski Stadium.
Despite currently sitting in lower midtable, the Blues won 1-0 away from home against Bristol City at the weekend – an impressive result which will give Karanka’s side a lot of hope going in to this tie against the team just one point off leaders Norwich City. The Royals, on the other hand, have managed to keep draws to a minimum this season, perhaps explaining why they currently sit where they are. Will it be another home win this evening or will the West Midlands side come to Berkshire to spring a surprise?
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of this midweek clash.
What? Championship Matchday 17
Who? Birmingham City
Where? Madejski Stadium
When? Wednesday 9th December
Opposition Manager? Aitor Karanka
Even though Nottingham Forest had a man sent off early on at the weekend, I was very impressed with the way we played regardless. There was plenty of attacking intent on show – and most importantly – we finally kept a clean sheet after going eight games without one. There are three players I am specifically delighted for though – Lewis Gibson, Sone Aluko and Tomas Esteves. After his performance against Stoke City, Gibson’s cameo at left back will have given him great confidence going forward. Aluko and Esteves were also able to play a part in this victory after struggling in the second half against AFC Bournemouth last month. It was a fantastic performance all round in front of the fans – let’s have more of the same this evening please.
Veljko Paunovic had some good news for the Wokingham Paper’s Andy Preston after the game on Saturday. John Swift is in the ‘final stages’ of his recovery, which could help to bolster our midfield going in to 2021 – but who would he come in for right now? Ovie Ejaria, Michael Olise and Yakou Meite all played well at the weekend – and he certainly will not come in to break up the formidable partnership of Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent. In other key areas, Andy Yiadom, Felipe Araruna and George Puscas remain on the sidelines. No one seemed to have picked up an injury on Saturday though, which is a promising sign going in to this game as we look to solidify our place near the top of the Championship.
Birmingham City: DDDLW
As I mentioned at the start of this preview, Birmingham City secured a brilliant 1-0 away win at Ashton Gate against Bristol City last Saturday, with Harlee Dean scoring late on to secure all three points for the away side. Although it was his strike which won it for the Blues, his contribution alongside Marc Roberts at the heart of defence helped to keep out a very dangerous attacking team. Most impressively, it seemed like an even game which, again, will give them a lot of confidence. Reading will need to be wary of this if they are to win at home again tonight.
One player who is likely to feature again this evening is Alen Halilović, who could turn out to be a fantastic signing. For those of you who are unaware of his previous clubs, the midfielder has enjoyed spells at FC Barcelona and AC Milan before. In all fairness, Julien Faubert did sign for Real Madrid on loan back in 2009 from West Ham United – but Halilović could become a key player for the Championship side if given the chance to adapt to life in England and play regularly. His lack of appearances at a senior level have hampered his career so far. However, even if he only comes on as a substitute tonight, keep an eye on him because he will be one to watch.
The Last Meeting
Birmingham City 1-3 Reading
Ah, I remember this one – the last game before the first national lockdown.
The away side got off to the worst possible start, when Matt Miazga’s header back to Rafael was intercepted by Scott Hogan who finished well to put Birmingham City 1-0 up. Both Michael Morrison and Mizaga had to take joint-responsibility on that one, it was a total mess.
And they were lucky not to concede again, with Hogan close to doubling his tally at the far post. Despite going in at the break at 1-0, Reading responded very well in the second half, with Miazga volleying home on the 51st minute to make up for his earlier mistake. Five minutes later, Reading took the lead when Yakou Meite headed in John Swift’s free kick.
The Royals sealed these three points three minutes from time when Pele fired a fantastic shot past Lee Camp in the Birmingham goal – and this would be the last goal Reading fans would celebrate in a stadium for another nine months. It was great to have fans back on Saturday, let’s hope this is just the first step towards getting more and more supporters back in.
The Last League Match
Reading 2-0 Nottingham Forest
After Lyle Taylor nearly put Forest 1-0 up from a free kick, another free kick proved to be crucial. This time, Michael Olise crossed the ball in from the left hand side, which was spilled by Brice Samba. Tom Holmes nearly bundled the ball home from this mistake – but Ryan Yates handled the ball off the line in the hope the referee didn’t see it.
Unfortunately for him, Gavin Ward spotted it straight away, gave the penalty and sent Yates off – allowing Lucas Joao to put Reading 1-0 up from the spot. At first, I thought Holmes had committed a foul on Samba and as well as this, I did not see the handball initially. Replays showed he made exactly the right decision. Well spotted ref.
The home team all but sealed the three points in the 53rd minute when Michael Morrison headed in Michael Olise’s corner. Getting another win was vital – but the clean sheet is the most impressive thing for me. Everyone played their part.
- Reading have scored in 13 of their 16 league games so far this season. That’s a decent record.
- In the last ten meetings between the two sides, the Royals have won four, drawn two and lost four games. Nothing to split between the two sides – but will it be another close game tonight?
- Birmingham City have conceded just 14 goals so far this season, at a rate of less than a goal per game. In fact, they have conceded five less than Reading who are currently 11 points above them.
- The Blues have also lost just one league game away from home so far this season. This was a 1-0 defeat against recently relegated Norwich City.
Likely Reading lineup: Rafael, Richards, Morrison, Moore, Holmes, Rinomhota, Laurent, Olise, Ejaria, Meite, Joao
This is the type of game where Veljko Paunovic puts Alfa Semedo in the starting lineup to keep things fresh – but I have gone with the same lineup as Saturday after such a good performance. This season, however, predicting the starting 11 has been an easier task than in previous campaigns because of both injuries and the way Paunovic has kept some consistency.
Rafael starts again after making a very important save early on at the weekend, with Omar Richards, Michael Morrison, Liam Moore and Tom Holmes at the back. Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent performed exceptionally well again on Saturday and will start together again for the 17th time this season in the league.
In recent weeks, Michael Olise has shown exactly why he should be in the starting lineup every game – and he could start again alongside Ovie Ejaria (who was brilliant on Saturday) and Yakou Meite – who provided a threat out wide against Forest. Lucas Joao gets the nod once again after scoring from the penalty spot on Saturday. If there is one thing I would want us to improve on from the weekend, it’s getting Joao in the game a lot more. He could prove to be the difference once again tonight.
Moving on to the score prediction, I think this game will be a tight one. I back Reading to win again but it will be nowhere near as comfortable as Saturday. Either Meite or Joao will get the winner for me – but what do you all predict?
Score Prediction: Reading 1-0 Birmingham City
Other Championship Fixtures
All Wednesday 9th December (7:45pm KO) unless stated:
Preston North End vs Middlesbrough (7pm KO)
Barnsley vs Wycombe Wanderers
Brentford vs Derby County
Bristol City vs Blackburn Rovers
Norwich City vs Nottingham Forest