Reading have one last chance before the international break to arrest their losing streak, but it won’t be easy. Saturday’s opposition are mid-table side Birmingham City, 13th, who come into this contest on the back of three straight wins. If you’re just looking at the form book, there’s only winner.
Birmingham City fan and writer Gabriel Sutton is backing his side to continue that run against Reading. We also spoke to him about Lee Bowyer, summer signing Troy Deeney, and what he makes of the Royals.
How’s the season gone for you so far?
I’d say it’s gone to plan. Few of us expected an overnight transformation after a series of relegation battles and for the first time in a while, we can see clear positives in almost every performance and nobody is fearing the drop. Better times ahead, we hope. All hail Lee Bowyer!
In the summer you told us Lee Bowyer had done “brilliantly” – has he kept that up since?
I suppose I’ve just answered that question, but yes, absolutely! Earlier in the season, we were playing well and could have got even better results if we could have perhaps refined details at both ends, which we’ve since done up to a point. Bowyer introduced this 3-4-1-2 system, which really suits the personnel we have at the moment.
One goal and three assists in his last three games – how much of a boost has Troy Deeney been since joining?
Troy Deeney took a while to gain sharpness, unsurprisingly, but he’s recently formed an excellent strike pairing with Scott Hogan. Lukas Jutkiewicz is a popular figure at Blues and he’s a good target man, but we feel Deeney is a bit cuter and more effective with the ball to feet.
What are Birmingham City’s main strengths?
Ivan Sunjic and Ryan Woods are capable of running the game in midfield; both have plenty of energy and use the ball nicely too. On the right of the back three, meanwhile, Dion Sanderson has been excellent - quick, strong, good on the ball. He’s a Premier League defender in waiting.
He’s a doubt for this game though, after being taken off at half-time against Bristol City. I’m less comfortable with a back three of Roberts, Dean and Friend than I am with a back three of Sanderson, Roberts and Friend - I believe Roberts is better in the middle of the trio, as well as rating Sanderson so highly.
Injuries. Star man Tahith Chong is out until the New Year, although luckily Riley McGree has started to find form - you’ll see some driving runs from him - and we’re hoping to sign him permanently in January.
Elsewhere, there’s a dilemma at right wing-back, with Maxime Colin and now Jordan Graham sidelined. Marcel Oakley may get his chance after playing well and scoring against Colchester in the EFL Cup back in August, I would say giving him a chance makes sense.
Otherwise you’re looking at moving Jeremie Bela from left wing-back to right wing-back, which might be an option as well given that he’s right-footed: it’s unclear how much faith Bowyer has in left wing-back Juan Castillo.
What have you made of Reading this season?
It’s clearly been a difficult one. I was hoping you might be able to use the tactical consistency established in a positive campaign last season to perhaps kick on, but the delayed transfer activity due to restrictions and injuries have clearly taken their toll.
It so often seems to be the case that the bench is made up largely of youngsters and it’s difficult to change a game when you don’t have someone you can really trust to make a difference.
I realise not all Reading fans are sold on Paunovic, but from what I can see, he did enough last season to earn himself at least the opportunity to show what he can do without 12 or 13 players out at the same time.
How do you see the game going, and what will the score be?
2-0 Blues. KRO