After a much-needed international break, Reading return to Championship action this Friday with a tough test to contend with, as they travel to Oakwell to face Valérien Ismaël’s Barnsley.
On paper, the Royals would usually be expected to win all three points if they wanted to secure their place in the top six. However, the Tykes’ recent form has been sublime and have leapfrogged Reading in the Championship table, with two points currently separating the two sides. Although there are still seven games left for both sides after today’s clash, this match could be a vital indicator of where both sides will be come the end of the campaign. But can one side take the initiative and grab the win today?
Here are the facts and stats you need to know ahead of this important tie.
What? Championship Matchday 39
When? Friday 2nd April 2021
Opposition Manager? Valérien Ismaël
Barnsley have been simply sensational since Valentine’s Day and were unbeaten in their previous 12 Championship games prior to their defeat at home to Sheffield Wednesday, winning away at Brentford and AFC Bournemouth during this fantastic run. Quite simply, they have capitalised on other teams’ inconsistency and currently sit in fifth place, two points above the Royals and five points clear of seventh although Bournemouth have a game in hand over the two. Considering Barnsley failed to win any of their first seven league matches of the season, this resurgence has been quite remarkable and similar to Reading’s 2011/12 season.
The thing is, they looked promising in their second league match of 2020/21 against the Royals in the first half, even under a different manager (Gerhard Struber) who has gone on to manage New York Red Bulls. Their pressing style was very impressive and if they hadn’t have been reduced to nine men, it would have been hard for Reading to take all three points that day and keep a clean sheet. The Royals could find it difficult again today if the Tykes put in a similar performance to the reverse fixture way back in September.
For Reading, this is also a huge chance to get in the top six after a great start to the season. Although our form since has been quite mixed, all that matters now is the last eight (or even 11) games of the Championship season. We have no idea what impact the international break has had, but let’s hope it’s a positive one with injured players coming back. Our form before the break was a bit shoddy too with no wins in our last three fixtures. Those were three games we should have got at least seven points from instead of just two – but hopefully we can raise our game against a playoff competitor who will also want to win all three points this evening.
Michael Morrison and Andy Yiadom are two key players who will face a late fitness test – and it will be a huge boost for the Royals if they can feature in this match. Tom McIntyre also missed the QPR match and will be hoping to make his return today, although John Swift is not likely to be back until next week. Previously, we were expecting Swift to be out until the middle of this month, so that’s actually good news.
The Last Meeting
Reading 2-0 Barnsley
After their opening day victory against Derby County, the home side would have wanted to build on that and this is exactly what they did.
Reading did have to weather a storm early on when Barnsley’s pressing game proved to be tricky to deal with – and only a fingertip stop from Rafael prevented the hosts from going a goal down. The game did change just before half time though, when debutant Michal Helik was sent off after he brought down Lucas Joao.
This gave the Royals a major boost and Barnsley didn’t press anywhere near as much in the second half after looking so promising in the first 40 minutes. Yakou Meite, who came on for Josh Laurent just before the hour mark, made an impact (as per usual) when he headed home from close range after a corner caused an almighty scramble in the box.
Less than a minute after the goal, Barnsley were reduced to nine men when Mads Juel Anderson handled the ball in a very dangerous position for the home side (second bookable offence). And after that red card, the game opened up even more, with Michael Olise doubling Reading’s lead in the 77th minute when he volleyed home to score his first senior goal for the Royals. What a memorable day for the French youngster.
After a tricky start, the 2-0 scoreline must have been satisfying for the Royals. There were questions over whether Helik’s red card was worthy of a sending off – but Reading certainly took full advantage of that controversial decision.
The Last League Match
Reading 1-1 Queens Park Rangers
Despite the home side having two good chances to get themselves in front through Andy Rinomhota and Michael Olise, it would be QPR who would strike first when a free Ilias Chair crossed the ball in for Lyndon Dykes to convert.
The Royals did respond well early on in the second half though, with a bit of Ovie magic and Liam Moore having a goal disallowed, before Yakou Meite controlled a long ball by Rinomhota, keeping Rob Dickie at bay before firing the ball through the legs of Seny Dieng.
Ejaria, who was undoubtedly MOTM, almost got an assist when his through ball allowed Lucas Joao to take the ball past the keeper but wasn’t able to finish the job. Although we could have easily lost this game with QPR’s chance near the end, this felt like two points dropped. So let’s hope for a win today, we need it!
- Barnsley have won nine of their last 11 league games. Wow. That’s all I can say – this will be a huge test for the Berkshire side.
- In that period, they have conceded just eight goals. A decent attack and a strong defence will set them up well for any potential playoff campaign in May.
- Reading have scored in 14 of their 19 Championship away games so far in the 2020/21 season. Not bad at all.
- The Royals have also lost two fewer away matches (5) in the league than at home (7) in this campaign. However, they have drawn seven of these games away from home and will want to turn draws into wins, especially in a game of this magnitude.
My Reading lineup: Rafael, Richards, Moore, Morrison, Yiadom, Rinomhota, Laurent, Ejaria, Olise, Meite, Joao.
With the likes of Andy Yiadom and Michael Morrison both facing late fitness tests, it has been difficult to predict the lineup for this game – but I may as well give it a good go.
Rafael starts once again ahead of Luke Southwood in what is a huge Championship fixture (who would have thought that at the start of the season?). I have a feeling the Brazilian will be called upon multiple times to make important saves – but do I think he’ll step up to the plate? Definitely. Let’s hope he shows the sort of form he was in last season. Not only will he be important in this game, but also for the rest of this campaign.
Omar Richards gets the nod at left back, with Liam Moore keeping his place and Michael Morrison and Andy Yiadom hopefully returning from injury. I just feel we missed the former before the international break with his leadership skills, experience and commanding presence at the back. Yiadom was also superb before his latest injury, showing composure on the ball and a real attacking intent that we miss when Holmes is deployed out wide. Hopefully, both can start and we can only pray their injuries don’t come back to haunt them at Oakwell.
In midfield, Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent have to start together again, providing protection to the defence and the energy needed to set the Royals on the front foot. Both central midfielders have been so consistent this season and have played a huge amount of football in 2020/21, let’s hope the duo lead us to the playoffs. They deserve it.
In front of them, Ovie Ejaria starts again after an exceptional performance against Queens Park Rangers, Michael Olise continues in the absence of John Swift and Yakou Meite retains his place in the starting lineup out on the right. Meite has scored several important goals recently and it just goes to show how important he is to this team. If we can keep him, Morrison and Joao fit, I believe we have a chance of doing the unthinkable.
Who comes out for John Swift when he returns? Probably Olise unless Veljko Paunovic decides to keep Swift on the bench – but we’ll soon wait and see with his return not too far away. One player who is almost certain to start this evening though is Lucas Joao, who will be looking to get himself a goal or two after a disappointing few games before to the break.
Here comes the bad part. Although I do believe we will pick up some good results over the next few weeks, Barnsley are in great form at the moment even after their loss to Sheffield Wednesday in the last league match. We will be hoping this misery for the Tykes will continue. However, I have gone with a 2-0 loss in this one, the only loss I’m predicting over the next five games including Watford (A)! I hope the boys can prove me wrong.
Score Prediction: Barnsley 2-0 Reading
Other Championship Fixtures
All Friday 2nd April (3pm KO) unless stated:
AFC Bournemouth vs Middlesbrough
Bristol City vs Stoke City
Cardiff City vs Nottingham Forest
Derby County vs Luton Town
Millwall vs Rotherham United
Preston North End vs Norwich City
Queens Park Rangers vs Coventry City
Watford vs Sheffield Wednesday
Wycombe Wanderers vs Blackburn Rovers
Birmingham City vs Swansea City (8pm KO)
Huddersfield Town vs Brentford (Saturday 3rd April 12:30pm KO)