After getting back on track in midweek against Bristol City, Reading return to the Madejski Stadium this weekend as they face Neil Warnock’s Middlesbrough at 3pm.
The Teesside club are still fully in the mix for a place in the playoffs come the end of the season – and they will be battling with the likes of the Royals, AFC Bournemouth and Cardiff City as the race for the top six heats up. This makes today’s game quite an important tie for both sides in a very busy period, with everything will to play for. Like the Covid-19 pandemic, the only certainty in the Championship is uncertainty and this fixture has been very difficult to predict.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of this afternoon’s tie.
What? Championship Matchday 31
Where? Madejski Stadium
When? Saturday 20th February 2021
Opposition Manager? Neil Warnock (or Colin, as we like to call him)
Tuesday’s result felt good! After two defeats consecutive against Brentford and Millwall prior to this game, you just felt the tie at Ashton Gate was an important one, especially with Bristol City at an all-time low. If we had lost that one, we would have started asking a few questions of the team but all in all, we did the job we needed to do and didn’t really have to get out of first gear at any point during the match. There is one thing I would wish for this weekend though: a fast start. This season, getting the first goal of the game has been crucial and if we can get ahead again and continue to push for a second, I think we could get another positive result against a decent team in Middlesbrough.
Liam Moore and George Puscas’ return to the first team was much-welcomed, especially with Josh Laurent out of action with a few knocks, although he is expected to return for today’s game. Out of the three, I think the latter is probably the most likely to start against Boro, with Tom McIntyre and Lucas Joao currently keeping Moore and Puscas out the starting lineup. However, John Swift is likely to be out for the foreseeable future and with a very busy fixture list up until mid-March, let’s hope no one else joins him in the treatment room. The Royals need as many first team players as fit as possible as we look to consolidate our place in the playoff zone.
Although Middlesbrough are still in with a chance of reaching the playoffs at the end of the season, their recent poor form has meant they weren’t able to capitalise on AFC Bournemouth’s fall under Jason Tindall. It has also allowed Cardiff City, who seem to be doing very well under Mick McCarthy, to rise above them in the table on goal difference. Their narrow win against Huddersfield Town in midweek will have helped to stabilise the ship – but they must now build on this to fend off Cardiff City and make an assault on the top six. You just feel this will be Warnock’s last job in football management – and he will want to go out with a bang. He has the potential to do that if he can guide Middlesbrough back to the Premier League. He did it with Cardiff City, why not with his current side?
At the time of writing, the Teesside club have lodged an appeal against Paddy McNair’s red card against Huddersfield but regardless of the outcome, Dael Fry is set to return this weekend after a while out and may be thrown straight back in by Warnock if the appeal is unsuccessful. Marcus Tavernier is also nearing a return but according to the Northern Echo, he is not expected to make it back for this afternoon’s fixture. However, Ashley Fletcher and Grant Hall did manage to start against Huddersfield and by all accounts, made a difference as Middlesbrough secured a much-needed win.
The Last League Match
Middlesbrough 0-0 Reading
If this game is anything to go by, today’s match will not be a high-scoring tie.
Michael Olise came close in the first half after some great skill in the box, although Marcus Bettinelli managed to hold on to the ball just before Lucas Joao was able to pounce and score like he usually does. Ovie Ejaria also came close numerous times for the Royals in the second half with a couple of efforts from outside the 18 yard box.
The home side did have a goal disallowed through Jonny Howson’s smart strike past Rafael, which was deemed to be offside. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t offside and from what I remember, Neil Warnock was fuming after the full time whistle. However, a draw was probably a fair result on the day.
The Last League Match
Bristol City 0-2 Reading
For the first 40 minutes, this was a pretty poor tie apart from a couple of Reading chances for Ovie Ejaria and Tomas Esteves – but the game changed completely shortly before half time. Michael Olise’s wonderful free kick was controlled calmly by Lucas Joao before smashing it into the bottom corner and grabbing yet another Championship goal this season. This was exactly what we needed after a slow start.
And the away side would go on to make it two just minutes later when Michael Morrison (Morrodona) ran up the pitch pretty much unopposed, picked out Lucas Joao who provided a fantastic assist for the centre back to dink the ball over Daniel Bentley. Reading were not able to add to this lead after half time but in all fairness, they were very comfortable and fully deserved all three points.
Can we win again today? I jolly well hope so.
- Reading have won 14 points from a possible 24 in the Championship so far in 2021.
- The Royals have failed to win any of their last eight meetings against today’s opponents. Can we break this duck?
- Middlesbrough have only managed to keep one clean sheet in their last 11 Championship games.
- However, Boro have managed to get something from nine of their 15 league matches away from home so far this season.
Likely Reading lineup: Rafael, Richards, McIntyre, Morrison, Yiadom, Rinomhota, Laurent, Ejaria, Olise, Esteves, Joao
In all honestly, Rafael could have got his deck chair out in midweek. He had literally nothing to do but I hope the Brazilian has retained his sharpness despite this because he may need to make a few saves this weekend.
At left back, Omar Richards retains his place after coming in for Lewis Gibson on Tuesday and even though I wanted Tom Holmes to start after playing well against Millwall, Andy Yiadom did a fine job in midweek and he will also start again at right back. As usual, Tom McIntyre and Michael Morrison keep their places in central defence. Although Liam Moore returned to the first team squad in the last match, he must earn his way back into the starting lineup. Otherwise, it sets a dangerous precedent for other injured players who will think they can just waltz straight back into the first 11. Morrison’s goal was simply sensational – but McIntyre was the one who really stood out for me at Ashton Gate. He has been absolutely fantastic in a time of need whilst Moore has been out.
In midfield, Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent will start again if the latter has fully recovered from the series of knocks sustained over many games. However, we didn’t really miss him all that much on Tuesday. One reason was because Bristol City were so poor. But also, Alfa Semedo put a real shift in alongside Rinomhota. It took me a day or two to appreciate how good his performance really was – and he looked a lot more comfortable in a deep position. Well played Semedo! And fair play to Rinomhota who has always been a reliable partner in the middle of the park.
In the three behind the striker, Ovie Ejaria starts again on the left, Michael Olise gets another go in the middle and Tomas Esteves starts on the right. I finally got my wish with Esteves in midweek – and although he did lose the ball a couple of times – he managed to get himself into some good positions and nearly got a goal or two from that right wing position. He deserves another start.
Up top, Lucas Joao starts again – but it was great to see George Puscas back in the first team. It would be good to ease the Romanian in slowly and perhaps see him start against Wycombe Wanderers or Rotherham United.
In terms of my score prediction, we need to improve our record against Middlesbrough at some point. This will not be an easy game – but I think we may just edge this one 1-0. Another Lucas Joao goal? I would say so.
Score Prediction: Reading 1-0 Middlesbrough
Other Championship Fixtures
All Saturday 20th February (3pm KO) unless stated:
Coventry City vs Brentford (12:30pm KO)
Bristol City vs Barnsley
Cardiff City vs Preston North End
Huddersfield Town vs Swansea City
Millwall vs Wycombe Wanderers
Norwich City vs Rotherham United
Nottingham Forest vs Blackburn Rovers
Queens Park Rangers vs AFC Bournemouth
Sheffield Wednesday vs Birmingham City
Stoke City vs Luton Town