It’s a second home game in five days for Reading on Wednesday night, and tests don’t come much tougher than league leaders West Bromwich Albion. To find out more about Slaven Bilic’s side - their tactics, key players, weaknesses and more - we spoke to Baggies fan Alex Newton, editor of Read West Brom and founder of The Boing Cast. You can find him on Twitter here.
How would you sum up your season so far?
We’re top of the league with just 15 games remaining so obviously it has been a good one. That’s not to say we haven’t had our struggles though. An 11-point gap to third quickly became a three-point one after a poor run of form leaving us looking over our shoulder more than ever. That being said we’re in a fantastic position and we’re seeing some of the best football and players we’ve ever had at The Hawthorns.
What has Slaven Bilic done to turn WBA into league leaders?
Consistency. Too often last season we would be brilliant in one game then dreadful the next. We took some real hammerings last season and dished them out too. This season while the wins are a lot closer we’re yet to suffer a heavy defeat. He’s got these players believing in their ability and for all the skills and panache on show, there’s an underlying grit and determination thanks to Slaven.
Who are the key players in this Baggies side?
While last season we relied upon Rodriguez and Gayle, this season we’ve become much more of a team. Everyone has their roles and they all complement each other. The obvious standout is Matheus Pereira. It’s silly he’s playing at this level, he’s easily a Premier League player. He makes us tick and has the ability to win games on his own. If the opposition doubles up on him it brings other players into the game.
How do West Brom set up tactically?
We flirt with both a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3 depending on the situation. We like to play off a strong man upfront such as Hal Robson-Kanu or Kenneth Zohore which brings the players behind them into the game. This isn’t like the Albion of Pulis past. We play fast attacking football and can be devastating on the counter-attack.
Are there any weaknesses for Reading to exploit?
Set-pieces and crosses have been a big downfall for us this season although we dealt with them well against Millwall last time out in testing conditions. If you score first and sit back we can sometimes struggle to break teams down.
How do you see the rest of the season going?
I think after the recent back-to-back wins we’re in a brilliant position to finish in the top two. I’d like to think we can manage the gap over the final 15 games now and a lot of attention is shifting to Leeds and their recent struggles. Last season was a disappointment that we didn’t get promoted, this season it would be a disaster.
How do you see the game going on Wednesday night, and what will the score be?
Our recent record at Reading is pretty awful. If you asked me two to three weeks ago I’d have probably gone for a Reading victory. But after back-to-back wins we’re in a much better position heading into this game. I think the challenging Millwall game will catch up to us in the second half so I’ll go an entertaining 2-2 draw.