As the race for the top six continues to heat up, Reading will be hoping to pick up all three points tonight as they face strugglers Birmingham City in the West Midlands.
There are just two games left to go now before the international break and if the Royals can come out victorious in both, it can only help us to solidify our place in the playoffs, which must be our main aim now. Forget the other teams around us, our destiny is now in our hands and with Yakou Meite back fit and firing, we have the potential to keep our unbeaten run going tonight. Will the Berkshire side be able to do that? We will soon see.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of this midweek game.
What? Championship Matchday 37
Who? Birmingham City
Where? St Andrew’s
When? Wednesday 17th March 2021 (My birthday, please don’t lose)
Opposition Manager? Lee Bowyer
Birmingham City: LWDLL
Even though Bristol City have been in good form since the arrival of Nigel Pearson, last weekend’s 3-0 home loss against a side in midtable must have been a real blow for a side who need to start pulling away from Rotherham United and the relegation zone.
Under Aitor Karanka, I expected Birmingham City to have done a lot better this season. His time at Middlesbrough showed he can get teams out of this division but they need to start turning draws into wins, something they will now have to do without him after his dismissal. The West Midlands side have drawn 11 games this season, winning eight and losing 17. At the time of writing this (Sunday night), 22nd placed Rotherham currently have four games in hand over Brum in 21st. It’s time for Bowyer’s side to start picking up the points or face dropping down to the third tier in English football – which would be disastrous for a side who were in the Premier League not so long ago.
But after tonight’s game, they face Watford, Swansea City and Brentford in their next three games. It’s a tall order for a side currently near the bottom of the table with a new manager.
Many people will see the Nottingham Forest game as two points dropped, others will see it as one point gained. I guess we will have to wait until the end of the season to fully judge that but I’m leaning towards the latter. But why after George Puscas and Lucas Joao’s missed opportunities and Andy Yiadom hitting the post? Well, I think we would have lost that game in previous seasons and at a time in the campaign when every point makes a difference, Yakou Meite’s strike was a massive relief and with that, our unbeaten run continues. If we manage to win our two remaining games before the break, I think we will all forget about last weekend. And even though we were five points clear of seventh place on Saturday evening, this is a match we need to win to ease nerves in the camp.
The return of Meite was a massive boost for the Royals and gave us a solid option off the bench, which proved to be crucial in the end. We were also hoping to see Ovie Ejaria and Andy Rinomhota return after their injuries too but did not appear on the bench, with Felipe Araruna seemingly suffering another setback and John Swift still out for a while. Lewis Gibson did return to the bench though on Saturday alongside Meite after playing for the U23s on Friday. The Everton loanee is likely to be available for selection again tonight.
The Last Meeting
Reading 1-2 Birmingham City
Jon Toral’s brace in the first half put Birmingham City 2-0 up before half time, in a game where Reading struggled to get in the game at the start. I had a feeling we would get ourselves back into the game though – and that’s exactly what we did when Andy Rinomhota’s cross was converted by Yakou Meite. What an important player Meite is.
Scott Hogan should have put the away side 3-1 up from a one-on-one opportunity just after (shocking miss really), before Meite was hauled down by Harlee Dean in the box. Dean was sent off after receiving a second yellow and Lucas Joao had a golden opportunity to make it 2-2. However, he had his penalty well-saved by Neil Etheridge and after that, the home side struggled to respond. Joao nearly made amends at the end after receiving an intelligent ball through from Tomas Esteves – but his dink went just wide of the post. And his penalties haven’t been the same since with misses at Preston North End and Wycombe Wanderers more recently.
The Last League Match
Nottingham Forest 1-1 Reading
In a first half where both sides had chances to take the lead, Forest suffered a blow when Joe Lolley had to come off with a hamstring injury, although his replacement Anthony Knockaert was more than capable of having a similar impact. Lucas Joao had the best chance of the first half though, when a well-worked corner routine landed at the Portuguese forward’s feet. But his scuffed shot from close range hit the post and went behind, although the home side could have also taken the lead when Glenn Murray met a cross. Credit to Rafael, he made a brilliant save – and the sides went in 0-0 at the break.
Nottingham Forest did break the deadlock early on in the second half though when Sammy Ameobi won the physical challenge against Omar Richards and sent a low cross into the box, with Tom Holmes putting the ball into the back of his own net. Reading did grab an equaliser in the 81st minute when Joao set Meite free, who fired the ball through Brice Samba. The keeper should have done much better with that – but at least the Royals managed to get something out of the game after Puscas’ missed chance and Yiadom hitting the post.
Now we must win tonight.
- Birmingham City have won just three of their 14 Championship games so far in 2021.
- The West Midlands side have also scored just 26 goals in 36 league games in 2020/21. If they are to stay up, they will need to start firing.
- Reading have lost just four of their 18 away games so far this season, winning seven and drawing seven.
- However, Royals have also only won one of their previous five meetings against tonight’s opponents – a record that needs to improve!
My Reading lineup: Rafael, Richards, Moore, Holmes, Yiadom, McIntyre, Laurent, Semedo, Olise, Meite, Puscas
After last weekend’s 1-1 draw at the City Ground, I have made just the one change and stayed with the same formation as the previous couple of games.
Rafael should be commended for his performance against Forest, distributing the ball well, remaining calm at the back and making a couple of crucial saves to stop the home side from scoring more than one. I have been critical of his mistakes in the past – but I thought he was outstanding on Saturday and didn’t get the credit he deserved – so here it is. Well played keeper.
Omar Richards and Andy Yiadom start again at full back. Not only did Yiadom play exceptionally well again today – but managed to annoy the BBC Nottingham commentators. So, overall, it was a job well done by him and if he can continue to maintain his performance levels, it can only help the rest of the team. Liam Moore and Tom Holmes also keep their places at the back tonight and will need to be on red alert after Birmingham’s fast start in the reverse fixture. If we can keep a clean sheet, I reckon we’ll get the win tonight. There is enough firepower up front tonight to score a couple, especially with Yakou Meite returning from injury and making an instant impact.
In midfield, Tom McIntyre had another solid game – and he will be joined again by Josh Laurent and Alfa Semedo as Reading look to dominate the game in the middle of the park. With them three and our defence, there is no reason why we can’t keep it tight at the back today. In front of the trio, Michael Olise starts again as one of our only creative players and with Ovie Ejaria still out with injury, we don’t really have any other option other than to start him. And this is made even worse by John Swift’s longer-term injury – but at least the international break is coming up soon. It will give Olise a much-deserved rest.
Up front, Yakou Meite comes in for Lucas Joao. This is nothing to do with the latter’s performance levels. I just feel it would be good to give Joao a bit of a rest before this weekend’s game against Queens Park Rangers. Then again, you could argue Meite has only had 30 minutes of first team football and could risk injury if you start him. It’ll be interesting to see what you would all go with. George Puscas joins Meite up front and will be looking to put in a more clinical display in the West Midlands as the Royals aim to secure all three points.
I think he will – so I’m going to go with a 1-0 Reading win, with George Puscas getting on the scoresheet. The reverse fixture is a warning of what could happen if we are not on our A-game though. This game will not be easy. Let’s focus on the job in hand and not be too complacent.
Score Prediction: Birmingham City 0-1 Reading
Other Championship Fixtures
Nottingham Forest vs Norwich City
Queens Park Rangers vs Millwall
Wycombe Wanderers vs Barnsley (All 7pm KO)
Blackburn Rovers vs Bristol City
Sheffield Wednesday vs Huddersfield Town (Both 7:45pm KO)