Reading face an extremely tough test this evening as they take on league leaders AFC Bournemouth, with another three Championship points on the line.
The Cherries are yet to lose a single league game this season, winning 10 and drawing four of their opening 14 games, establishing themselves as early title favourites and looking invincible at this early stage of the campaign.
Missing out on promotion after their play-off semi-final loss to eventual winners Brentford, they will be keen to get back to the Premier League at the second time of asking and another win at the Select Car Leasing Stadium tonight would take them one step closer to their target, amid competition from the likes of recently-relegated sides Fulham and West Bromwich Albion.
With tonight’s away side’s form and the quality throughout their team, is there any chance of the Royals winning a point or three tonight? I’ll let you know at 10pm tonight.
In the meantime, here are the facts and stats you need to know ahead of this latest clash at the SCL.
What? Championship Matchday 15
Who? AFC Bournemouth
Where? Select Car Leasing Stadium
When? Saturday 30th October 2021
Opposition Manager? Scott Parker
After two losing consecutive games, this game no longer feels like a free hit. The Royals have individuals who can more than match Bournemouth but as a team, will the injury crisis continue to show on the pitch even with a week off? That week off does give the Berkshire outfit a bit of hope going into this tie and the home advantage should give them a boost - but it remains to be seen whether that will be enough.
Femi Azeez could have been a good option to have, but it’s unlikely he will be fit ahead of this tie. It does seem like there’s a surprise on the way though with Veljko Paunovic keeping his cards close to his chest on injuries. And with this, we may see one or two expected returns, something that would be much-needed considering how big of a test this will be against a side currently sitting at the top of the table.
14 games. Eight goals conceded. This is why they are currently five points clear at the top of the table despite scoring nine fewer goals than Fulham who are currently in second. As we witnessed during the 2011/12 season, a strong defence is vital to any promotion-winning campaign and they were arguably behind the likes of Fulham, West Brom and Sheffield United in being favourites to win promotion, so fair play to manager Scott Parker for starting so well and setting them up perfectly for the remainder of the campaign.
To bounce back from such disappointment last season in the play-offs has to be commended and even without former star man Arnaut Danjuma, who moved to Europa League champions Villarreal in the summer, they look like a formidable force. Consistency will be key though - and under a man who has already won promotion with Fulham in his short managerial career - they look to be in safe hands.
One to Watch: Ryan Christie
Having been born locally in Basingstoke, Dominic Solanke would have been the obvious choice for this section as the opposition’s main striker, but that’s a little boring so let’s go with someone different!
Let’s go with Ryan Christie. He arrived in a bargain £2.5m deal back in August after excelling at Celtic in recent seasons. Performing well at Aberdeen and in Glasgow consistently, he is likely to be a hit on the south coast and has adapted well to life in England thus far, recording an impressive five assists in nine appearances.
The next target? Getting his first goal for the club. He deserves one - but let’s hope it doesn’t come against us tonight.
The Last Meeting
Reading 3-1 AFC Bournemouth
- Reading have kept just three clean sheets in 14 league games so far this season. Definitely something to improve on in their quest to achieve a respectable league finish.
- The Royals have also won just one of their last nine meetings against tonight’s opponents, although this sole victory was fantastic and well worth waiting for.
- As mentioned, Bournemouth have conceded just eight goals in 14 league matches this term.
- They have also kept eight clean sheets in these 14 games. Can they make it nine in 15 tonight with the likes of Lucas Joao and Yakou Meite still out with injuries for the hosts?
My Reading lineup: Southwood, Rahman, Moore, Dann, Yiadom, Drinkwater, Laurent, Ejaria, Swift, Dele-Bashiru, Puscas
With Femi Azeez likely to be out after coming off early against Blackburn, one change has been made to the starting lineup with George Puscas returning.
Luke Southwood retains his place in goal, with the back four also remaining the same. Scott Dann will need to utilise every bit of his Premier League experience if he wants to keep the likes of Dominic Solanke and Ryan Christie out tonight - and that defensive solidity will probably be needed if we want to get at least a point with the Cherries’ defensive record.
Everyone in the Royals’ defence will need to stand up and be counted though, because it’s clear we need to nullify our lack of attacking firepower when George Puscas starts up front on his own. With Femi Azeez out and the need for a striker to put pressure on Gary Cahill and Lloyd Kelly, we have little choice but to start the 25-year-old.
Danny Drinkwater and Josh Laurent will be tasked with providing a defensive shield in front of the back four - and like Dann - the Royals can call upon the former’s experience of playing at the highest level to try and shut the south-coast club out.
They may be defensively solid, but Bournemouth could be unlocked with one top-quality pass from Drinkwater or John Swift. His defensive responsibilities and ability on the ball probably makes the former the most important player on the pitch against Parker’s men.
Further up the pitch, we need Ovie Ejaria supplying passes like the one for Sone Aluko’s goal at the Vitality Stadium last year. Facing someone of the quality of Cahill, we need as much creativity as possible if we want to get past the south-coast side. Ejaria can play a part in that, as well as Swift in the centre and Tom Dele-Bashiru on the right.
Puscas needs to contribute more too - there can’t be any passengers on tonight of all nights against such a good side.
Moving on to the score prediction, I can’t see us scoring against such a solid defence barring something spectacular or a major mistake. Time for another free-kick rocket from Swift? Let’s hope so, but we could be left frustrated this evening. Unfortunately, I can’t see us keeping a clean sheet either after conceding five goals in our last two months, so I’m going with a 2-0 away win.
Score Prediction: Reading 0-2 AFC Bournemouth
Other Championship Fixtures
All Saturday 23rd October (3pm KO) unless stated:
Fulham vs West Bromwich Albion (12:30pm)
Bristol City vs Barnsley
Derby County vs Blackburn Rovers
Huddersfield Town vs Millwall
Hull City vs Coventry City
Middlesbrough vs Birmingham City
Preston North End vs Luton Town
Sheffield United vs Blackpool
Stoke City vs Cardiff City
Swansea City vs Peterborough United