The first match of 2021 is here!
Huddersfield Town, the side that played a huge part in the 2017 playoff final heartbreak, are the hosts in this fixture as they face Reading at the John Smith’s Stadium this afternoon. This afternoon’s away side drew their last game on Wednesday night away at the Liberty Stadium against Swansea City, in what could prove to be a vital result come the end of the season.
The Royals were on the ropes at times – but they also had their own chances too – going close twice through Tom McIntyre. All in all though, it was a great result and has given us a platform to go in to this game with confidence, which will also be a difficult test. But can they win all three points this afternoon. Let’s see shall we.
Here are all the facts and stats you need to know ahead of this weekend’ clash between the 2017 Championship Playoff Finalists.
What? Championship Matchday 23
Who? Huddersfield Town
Where? Madejski Stadium
When? Saturday 2nd January 2021
Opposition Manager? Carlos Corberán
Huddersfield Town: LDWLW
After being on the end of a 5-0 thrashing on the south coast against AFC Bournemouth in mid-December, Huddersfield have done reasonably well since then. Most notably, they won 2-0 at home against Watford just a week later, summing up the mad nature of the Championship. The Terriers were also victorious against Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday night - major warning sign to the Royals as both sides battle it out this afternoon for all three points. I can guarantee you both teams will be wanting to win this match with six places and just six points separating the two sides.
Former Royal Tommy Elphick continues his spell on the sidelines for Huddersfield and may not play again in this campaign after sustaining an ACL injury at the end of 2019, whilst former Reading academy graduate Ben Hamer returned to the first team squad on Boxing after recovering from his groin injury – and could be set to take over from Ryan Schofield in the next few games. However, if Schofield continues to pull of saves like this, then it will be a major battle for the number one spot. This was a vital moment in their 2-1 win against Blackburn.
Because of the position we’re currently in (in a very competitive league), it’s so important we hit the ground running and get off to a good start in 2021. The start of the 2020/21 season was exceptional - but since then our results have not been the greatest. There is one big positive to take from all this though: we look like a settled team finally. Under Veljko Paunovic, I hope we can go on and build a long-term project as we look to overcome the many disappointments over the previous few seasons. The last two results in the league have been very promising - but we will need to be at the top of our game today if we are to get all three points from this one. If we can, we could go on a run which may solidify our place in the top six.
Right, let’s move on to injuries. Here’s the current list: Let’s have an updated list of these players: Liam Moore, Lewis Gibson, Andy Yiadom, Felipe Araruna, Yakou Meite, Lucas Joao and George Puscas.
Joao could return this weekend after not being risked against Swansea, whilst Omar Richards made his comeback and came off the bench in the second half at the Liberty Stadium, as did John Swift. Both could be in line for a start this weekend. In other news, Rafael and Michael Olise received treatment on Wednesday night in the latter stages of the first half, although both seemed to respond well as they completed a full 90 minutes. Olise wasn’t risked against Luton because of a hamstring problem - but could start again this weekend after starting on Wednesday.
The Last Meeting
Reading 0-0 Huddersfield Town
After winning 5-0 away at Luton Town in the previous match, this game was a bit of an anti-climax for the Royals, who will have wanted to take all three points from this game against a side that was fighting relegation at the time. At that point, Danny Cowley was in charge of the Terriers - and I certainly thought he would be there to stay for the long-term. However it wasn’t meant to be.
One key player from that match to pick out was Emile Smith Rowe, who was on loan at Huddersfield last season - but is now a starter for Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal side in the Premier League. From monitoring the Gunners over the previous couple of seasons, it was clear Smith Rowe would go on to do well but to make the step up from the Championship to the Premier League in six months or so is impressive.
To cap this section off, let me give you the Reading starting lineup from that night: Rafael, Blackett, McIntyre, Morrison, Osho, Pele, Rinomhota, Obita, Swift, Meite, Puscas.
The Last League Match
Swansea City 0-0 Reading
To be honest, this was a very good point to pick up away from home, against one of the best sides in the league. Even though two very good Rafael stops from Andre Ayew’s attempts kept the score level, Reading also had two good chances, with Tom McIntyre going close twice. Marc Guehi should have also done a lot better with the chance he had in the first half - but all five Reading players at the back played their part as they kept a confidence-boosting clean sheet away from home.
Rafael was undoubtedly the man of the match - but the likes of Michael Morrison and Tom Holmes also put a shift in to keep Ayew and Jamal Lowe at bay, something Queens Park Rangers weren’t able to do in Swansea City’s previous game.
Hopefully, this game will give us the confidence to go on and make a good start to 2021, because we will want to be up there competing for a place in the top six come the end of the season. Well done to the players for this performance though - and to Paunovic who actually made some pretty decent substitutions in my humble opinion.
- Huddersfield Town have won their last five home games on the bounce. This will be a massive challenge for the away side this afternoon.
- 22 of the 31 points won by the Terriers in this campaign have come at home, showing how important their performances at the John Smith’s Stadium have been.
- In the last five fixtures between the two sides, the Reading have won two, lost two and drawn one. Nothing to separate them.
- The Royals have also lost just three of their 11 Championship away games so far this season, winning four and drawing four.
Likely Reading lineup: Rafael, Richards, Morrison, Holmes, Esteves, Rinomhota, Laurent, Ejaria, Swift, Olise, Melvin-Lambert
For this tie, I have made three changes from the team which did so well to get a point against Swansea City.
In goal, Rafael responded very well on Wednesday after making mistakes in the previous two games and has earnt a start against Huddersfield today, before Luke Southwood is introduced in the FA Cup tie against Luton Town.
At left back, Omar Richards comes back in after coming on as a substitute in midweek, although I would be quite happy to see McIntyre and Esteves start again if Richards is not 100% fully fit to go straight back in. Esteves has continued to make small improvements, whilst McIntyre was probably our biggest attacking threat against Steve Cooper’s side. However, it’s the former that retains his place as a natural right back, perhaps harsh on McIntyre who has done so well after getting his chance in the previous two matches.
Meanwhile, Tom Holmes starts at centre back again alongside Michael Morrison in defence – and have formed an impressive partnership at the heart of defence after Liam Moore’s injury news.
Moving on to midfield, I would start Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent again, purely because I think they will both get a rest against Luton in the FA Cup. Who will we see in their place? Perhaps the likes of Alfa Semedo and Dejan Tetek, I wouldn’t be too against that. In front of Rinomhota and Laurent will be Ovie Ejaria, John Swift and Michael Olise, allowing Richards and Esteves to provide some much-needed width on either wing.
Seeing these three together in action alongside each other will be exciting to witness, although both Ejaria and Olise will need to improve on their performances in the last game if they are to make a real difference this afternoon against a strong Huddersfield side.
Up front, Nahum Melvin-Lambert gets his debut for me and although I did pick Sam Baldock for the Swansea City game, perhaps it would be a good opportunity to chuck the academy graduate in to see how he does. With the absence of Lucas Joao and George Puscas, it feels like we might need to mix things up in the striking department for this game as we look to get in and amongst the goals. There’s no doubt Baldock gives 110% every game – but how effective can he really be up front on his own? Probably not very. The same could apply to Melvin-Lambert – but we haven’t really got much to lose at this point.
In terms of a score prediction, I have to be optimistic today after predicting a 2-0 loss against Swansea. I feel like the Royals could go on a decent run if we hold our nerve today and win all three points – and that’s what could potentially happen if we continue to threaten from set pieces. The trio of Ejaria, Swift and Olise could also cause massive problems in open play – so let’s go with a scrappy 1-0 win up in Yorkshire this afternoon.
Score Prediction: Huddersfield Town 0-1 Reading
Other Championship Fixtures
All Saturday 2nd January (3pm KO) unless stated:
Birmingham City vs Blackburn Rovers
Brentford vs Bristol City
Luton Town vs Queens Park Rangers
Millwall vs Coventry City
Norwich City vs Barnsley
Preston North End vs Nottingham Forest
Rotherham United vs Cardiff City
Swansea City vs Watford
Wycombe Wanderers vs Middlesbrough
Stoke City vs AFC Bournemouth (7:45pm KO)