With Reading’s FA Cup run over, it looks like we’re set for a relatively relaxed mid-table finish to the season. You couldn’t find a much more similar side in the Championship in that regard than Saturday’s opponents, Birmingham City, who are just one place and two points above the Royals - and also went out of the FA Cup in midweek to Premier League opposition.
We spoke to Blues fan and writer Gabriel Sutton to find out more about what we should expect from his side on Saturday. He also gave his take on Jude Bellingham; the 16 year-old is reportedly set to agree a £30 million switch to Borussia Dortmund, although at time of writing that hadn’t been confirmed.
How’s your season gone so far?
There’s been a lot of positives. We have seen subtle changes to the style of play, we have developed a prize asset in Jude Bellingham, we have been pretty much safe from February and we reached the FA Cup fifth round, losing 1-0 at Leicester City in midweek.
What have you made of Pep Clotet as manager so far?
Personally, I like him. I think he’s got one of the best footballing minds in the EFL and believe him to possess some very innovative tactical ideas.
There’s question marks, for some, as to whether he has the characteristics to really lead a club - he has limited experience as a number one and struggled as a head coach at Oxford United - and he’s maybe not quite as engaging to listen to as someone like Gary Rowett or Garry Monk.
However, I believe he’s earned the right to grow into the role.
Jude Bellingham looks set to join Borussia Dortmund - how much of a miss will be for Birmingham City?
He’s a fantastic talent. Bellingham can produce a lot of technical quality with his dribbling, passing and shooting; he can play off the left, as a false nine or in central midfield.
I was surprised when Clotet started him in the latter position at home to Middlesbrough, fearing it would leave us a touch lightweight, but he’s surprisingly strong and tenacious for his age.
I just hope we’ll get the reported £30 million for him or something close to that, because that gives us an opportunity to re-invest sensibly.
What are the main strengths of this Blues side?
The combination of Lukas Jutkiewicz and Scott Hogan works well. Jutkiewicz is very much your archetypal target man but, after Che Adams left in the summer, he’d had a few games in which he’d started up top on his own which didn’t suit him, with no-one to flick the ball on to.
The issue was made even more problematic by the fact that Alvaro Gimenez offered very little as a strike partner and although Kerim Mrabti offered something running in behind, Clotet has been a touch lukewarm on the Swede.
Hogan might not be as quick as he used to be, but he can still stretch defences by showing that intent to ask questions of them in behind - and he is a clinical finisher which, in tight games, can prove the difference.
Probably the goalkeeper position. I was surprised we did not upgrade on Lee Camp in the summer, because the deputy to him is currently Connal Trueman, who is relatively unproven.
Camp has maybe done better than I expected but I would still like us to invest in this area in the summer.
How do you see the rest of the season panning out for you?
Firstly, we want to get to 50 points as soon as possible – and maybe beyond that tall.
If Barnsley, Luton and Wigan weren’t dishing out surprise results every other week I’d be more relaxed but the way it’s panning out, we could have a finale a bit like the 2012-13 campaign in which Peterborough United went down with 54 points. We should be ok, but the season isn’t done yet.
How will the game go, and what will the score be?
I’m feeling good about us at the moment thanks to Hogan’s impact. Can’t say I’ve been that impressed by Reading since New Year so I’m expecting us to pin you back well and record a victory - 3-1.