Reading travel to Staffordshire this afternoon, as they take on hosts Stoke City at the bet365 stadium.
In the reverse fixture, the Royals suffered a humiliating 3-0 defeat from three costly mistakes and as they continue ‘revenge month’, they will be looking to pick up all three points today. If they put in a performance similar to their first half showing against AFC Bournemouth last Friday, there is no reason why the Berkshire side can’t take win again this afternoon. Michael O’Neill’s Stoke are no pushover though and they will be desperate to play well today as their winless run has cost them a spot in the playoff zone. Without a win for them against the Royals, the slope will only get more slippery – but who will come out on top?
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of this afternoon’s clash.
What? Championship Matchday 27
Who? Stoke City
Where? bet365 Stadium
When? Saturday 6th January 2021
Opposition Manager? Michael O’Neill
Stoke City: LDDLD
Stoke have really struggled with their form in the Championship recently, winning just five points from a possible 21 as they look to stay within touching distance of the top six. In all fairness, their losses in that run were against promotion candidates AFC Bournemouth and Watford and remarkably, they are still only four points off sixth and will be ruing this missed opportunity to get in the playoff zone. However, an upturn in form could see them make a promotion charge under Michael O’Neill, who was reasonably successful as Northern Ireland’s manager. Can they do it? Who knows, but they will need to start turning draws into wins - with nine victories, 11 draws and 7 draws to their name so far this season.
One player the home side will be without this afternoon is Rhys Norrington-Davies, who was sent off away at Huddersfield Town last time out. People could argue all day about whether that was a red card or not but Juninho Bacuna went flying, that is one thing for certain if nothing else. In case you remember the name, Norrington-Davies was part of the Luton Town side who knocked us out the Carabao Cup earlier on in the season, before being recalled and sent back out to today’s opponents.
Reading’s win last Friday would have given them a lot of confidence going into this one, another tough tie. The defence was solid, the midfield did their job and the attackers were clinical. Even though the first half was wonderful with three Reading goals, the second half was just as impressive with our staunch defence against the likes of Jack Wilshere, Junior Stanislas, David Brooks and Dominic Solanke. For me, Tom McIntyre was the man of the match with some crucial interceptions at the back and filling in well in the absence of Liam Moore. At this rate, it will be hard for the club captain get back in the starting lineup when he does return but this can only be a good headache for Veljko Paunovic to have.
The one downside of the last week or two was the lack of transfers. It was all reasonably quiet until deadline day when we were linked with Los Angeles winger Diego Rossi, who is a decent little player by all accounts. Ideally, the Royals could have done with a winger and a striker on loan before the deadline to shake things up and provide a bit more squad depth. However, the return of Yakou Meite and Andy Yiadom has been a big boost for the Royals, with Liam Moore, George Puscas and Felipe Araruna still out injured. Meite and Yiadom could both start today after coming off the bench against Bournemouth, although some brilliant individual performances may keep them out the first 11 for now.
The Last Meeting
Reading 0-3 Stoke City
From a Reading fan’s point of view, this game was absolutely awful - but it can be quickly summed up in three sentences:
Tomas Esteves makes a mistake, Tyrese Campbell scores.
Rafael makes a mistake, Steven Fletcher scores.
Lewis Gibson makes a mistake, Jacob Brown scores.
To be fair to Stoke, they fully deserved all three points on the day. They were clinical, we weren’t - it’s as simple as that really. Reading will need to do better and cut out silly mistakes this afternoon, otherwise the home side may just capitalise once again.
In defence of Esteves, Rafael and Gibson, they weren’t absolutely catastrophic mistakes - but they proved to be costly - especially for the latter who collided into the post trying to stop the third goal. I have to commend him to that and for his performances following that before his injury.
The Last League Match
Reading 3-1 AFC Bournemouth
A fantastic first half from the Royals proved to be the difference between the two sides last Friday night, as the home side got revenge for the reverse fixture earlier on in the season.
Josh Laurent was the first to score in the 24th minute when a corner fell to the midfielder, who had the simple job of tapping it in to an empty net - and seven minutes later, Tom McIntyre was able to fire the ball home after Asmir Begovic was caught out by Michael Olise’s free kick from close range. Reading made it three shortly before half time when Lucas Joao sent Steve Cook back to the seaside and smashed the ball in to the bottom corner after a Bournemouth mistake.
And despite Bournemouth bringing on Jack Wilshere, David Brooks and Junior Stanislas, the Cherries only managed to pull one back through the latter when he fired a free kick through the wall. This was a massive shame, because we deserved a clean sheet after that performance.
However, a win is a win and we will take that.
- Stoke City have failed to win any of their last seven league fixtures. This game is a must win for them.
- However, the Potters have managed to get on the scoresheet in five of their last six Championship games.
- Reading have failed to win any of their last eight meetings with Stoke City. This has been a miserable winless run – but can they end that this afternoon?
- Despite this, the Royals are unbeaten in 10 of their 13 away league games so far this season. Quite impressive.
Likely Reading lineup: Rafael, Richards, McIntyre, Morrison, Holmes, Rinomhota, Laurent, Ejaria, Swift, Meite, Joao
After a fantastic performance against Bournemouth, I have made just the one change ahead of this afternoon’s tie.
Rafael continues to perform in goal and may long this continue. Luke Southwood is getting nowhere near a starting spot right now based off the Brazilian’s current form – and I think we have seen the last of Sam Walker in a Reading shirt to be honest. Rafael starts again.
At left back, Omar Richards now has competition after the return of Lewis Gibson – but he was simply sensational again against Bournemouth and will start again, with Michael Morrison and Tom McIntyre continuing to form a solid partnership and Tom Holmes at right back despite Andy Yiadom’s return to the first team squad. Their performances fully deserved a clean sheet against some of the Championship’s best attackers including Arnaut Danjuma, Josh King, Dominic Solanke, Junior Stanislas and David Brooks – and would have clinched it if it wasn’t for a free kick mistake. All four have done enough to start again.
The same applies to Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent, with the latter getting himself on the scoresheet in the last game. Rinomhota’s driving runs were also exciting to watch and should be commended for his consistency. Both will need to keep performing with seven games to play in February and 21 points up for grabs – let’s hope they can stay injury free as they have done so far this season.
In front of the duo, Ovie Ejaria and John Swift start again but Yakou Meite comes in for Michael Olise, with the young French midfielder not performing as well as he did earlier on in this season. This is no criticism of him, he has been exceptional this season and it would be unrealistic to expect him to keep performing to the same levels all season. If he is on the bench, maybe he could come on and make a massive impact like he did against Queens Park Rangers. A fully fit Olise ready to come on and cause havoc would scare any Championship backline. In terms of his replacement, Meite looked very lively in the latter stages of the Bournemouth game and could give us that bit extra as we look to end the run of eight winless games against today’s opponents.
Up top, Lucas Joao starts again after getting back to his best in the previous game. This was a fantastic response from the Portuguese forward after his penalty miss against Preston North End. On the bench, this leaves: Southwood, Esteves, Yiadom, Gibson, Semedo, Tetek, Onen, Olise and Aluko. However, I can see Sam Baldock replacing Jayden Onen if he returns from injury.
Moving on to the score prediction, I think this will be a close match. Many times this season, I should have placed more faith in the team but predicting us not to win seems to work quite nicely. But in fairness, our games at the bet365 are always drab affairs. I will go for a 1-1 draw but I wouldn’t be surprised to see another 0-0 here. Let’s hope the Royals can build on their unbeaten run.
Score Prediction: Stoke City 1-1 Reading
Other Championship Fixtures
All Saturday 6th February (3pm KO) unless stated:
Coventry City vs Watford (12:30pm KO)
Barnsley vs Derby County
AFC Bournemouth vs Birmingham City
Bristol City vs Cardiff City
Luton Town vs Huddersfield Town
Middlesbrough vs Brentford
Millwall vs Sheffield Wednesday
Preston North End vs Rotherham United
Queens Park Rangers vs Blackburn Rovers
Wycombe Wanderers vs Nottingham Forest