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Why Friday Night Is Our Biggest Game Of The Season So Far

It seems like a pretty obvious thing to say considering the circumstances, but here’s why Harry thinks our season could be defined by Friday night’s game.

Reading v Luton Town - Sky Bet Championship - Madejski Stadium Photo by Tess Derry/PA Images via Getty Images

When you’re fighting in and among the play-offs, no game is bigger than the next one and, as the old cliche goes, every match is a cup final. Pauno has rightly stuck to that philosophy throughout this season, which is a huge reason why we are where we are in the table.

However, to me, the game on Friday against Bournemouth is the biggest of the lot so far, and for a number of reasons.

Of course there have been important games so far this season similar to this coming Friday. The visit of Norwich City for example - another home match against one of the ‘big boys’ - was important. But because of the stage of the season it took place in, and the amount of injuries we had, I think we all took the loss on the chin and moved on. Likewise with the away trips to Brentford and Swansea City.

But the more you look at the ingredients for Friday night, the tastier it looks. And the more and more important it looks.

Firstly, you’d expect the team - and Lucas Joao in particular - to react to what happened on Sunday. Yes, it was a good point and clean sheet away at a team sniffing in and around the play-off positions. But we should’ve won the game, it’s as simple as that.

As imperious and scintillating as he’s been, on Sunday Joao showed us a glimpse of what Sheffield Wednesday fans warned us about. It was one of those games where he just hardly got a touch, and to be fair to him for large parts I thought he reacted to that well, showing some really good footwork when he did get the ball.

However, as the game began to drag you could see his head start to drop, and it kept dropping. His frustrations began to come to the surface and when the chance came his way, I think it’s fair to say that it affected him.

We haven't seen anything like that from Joao this season. There have been games like Preston where he’s hardly had a touch but still kept his cool and come up with outstanding match-winning moments - Wycombe at home and Huddersfield away being prime examples of this.

It’s hard to knock him too much when he’s been as good as he’s been and don’t get me wrong, I have every inch of faith that on Friday he’ll react and more than make amends. But we need him to keep his cool and his focus for the entire 90 minutes, and if he does that we can beat anyone in this league.

Huddersfield Town v Reading - Sky Bet Championship - John Smith’s Stadium Photo by Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images

Another reason why this Friday is such a big game is what happened in the reverse fixture back in November. For 45 minutes we looked well worthy of being where we were in the table and were sending out a message to the rest of the Championship.

Then Bournemouth stepped on the gas and we couldn't cope. They ran rings round us in that second half and showed exactly why not too long ago they were plying their trade in the Premier League. Neither Pauno or the players would’ve enjoyed that very much and they’ll be more than keen to make amends.

We can’t let that emotion take over too much or else we’ll be all over the shop. But that game at the Vitality will allow us to play with that little bit of anger which, if channelled in the right way, can be the difference between getting a result and going away empty-handed.

Thirdly, we’ve got some big players who are returning on Friday night, players that should allow us to get on the front foot more and take the game to Bournemouth rather than sit back and wait for our openings like we did when Norwich visited the Mad Stad in December.

Star boy Michael Olise, Yakou Meite and Andy Yiadom are all on track to be back in the fold for Friday night - things you love to see 101. You guys don’t need me to tell you how important Olise is to this team, there is no other player in the league who offers what Meite offers in terms of his power, and Yiadom is our best right back.

With these players back in the mix, John Swift and Ejaria looking like they’re getting back into the groove and Lucas Joao having a point to prove, buckle your seatbelts kids because Friday night could be a real rollercoaster.

Don’t get me wrong, Bournemouth are a squad full of Premier League quality. David Brooks, Josh King, Dom Solanke, Jack Wilshere, Lewis Cook to name a few. But we’ve already proved that we can go toe to toe with anyone.

AFC Bournemouth v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

Fourthly, and finally, you need a bit of luck when you’re fighting for the play offs - and boy did we get a bit of luck on Wednesday evening. With Rotherham winning at Middlesborough, and 10-man Swansea getting a draw against Brentford, I think it's fair to say results went our way.

On Friday we now have an opportunity to a) extend the gap on Bournemouth and the other teams just outside the play offs and b) go level on points with second in the Championship. What a thought that is.

It’s a huge opportunity for us, and one that, if taken, will go a huge way to securing a play off spot - even at this stage in the season.

If we win on Friday it doesn’t mean the play offs are guaranteed - in the same way that, if we lose, it doesn’t mean our season’s over by any means. But you can’t underestimate just how important a win would be against one of our biggest promotion rivals.

I have full faith in the players to do the business, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be spending the majority of the 90 minutes pacing round my living room with my heart pumping out of my chest.