Reading will be looking to build on a decent performance against Barnsley last Friday, as they host Wayne Rooney’s Derby County in Berkshire.
On paper, this should be a home win, although the Royals have struggled in games against teams further down the Championship table. Wycombe (A), Birmingham (H+A) and Coventry City (A) come to mind - but this feels like a game we need to win after failing to hold on to the lead against the Tykes on Good Friday.
However, Derby County also have a lot to play for themselves at the opposite end of the table and will be looking to keep picking up points to secure their second tier survival. But which player(s) will take the required steps this afternoon to help their side’s cause?
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of this afternoon’s tie.
What? Championship Matchday 40
Who? Derby County
Where? Madejski Stadium
When? Monday 5th April 2021
Opposition Manager? Wayne Rooney
From looking at our recent form, one thing is clear: we need to start turning draws into wins. Against both QPR and Barnsley, we had a great chance of picking up all three points and putting ourselves above both AFC Bournemouth and last Friday’s opponents. However, what’s done is done. We can’t afford to rely on other teams anymore - let’s start picking up wins and see where we are at the end of the campaign. 5th and 6th are still very much up for grabs and if we can keep the likes of Yakou Meite and John Swift fit, I believe we can fulfil our potential and end up in the lottery that is the playoffs.
One player who is unlikely to be part of this journey is Tom McIntyre, who is reportedly out for the rest of the season. This news came after we saw Michael Morrison limp off in the first half on Friday, leaving Liam Moore and Tom Holmes as our first team options at centre back. Hopefully, Morrison’s injury is only a minor one. There is some good news though - we could see the return of Swift very shortly - although he is only likely to appear on the bench as we try to ease him back into Championship action. It was also good to see Andy Yiadom come out of the game at Oakwell unscathed and is in line to start again this afternoon.
Derby County: DLDLW
Even though Rooney’s side’s form has not been all that great recently, their home win against Luton Town has gone a long way in helping their cause, scoring twice and keeping a vitally important clean sheet. They will be buzzing going into this tie and will want to cause an upset against a side competing for a place in the top six. This means Reading will need to be on top of their game again this afternoon if they want to secure the home win.
Despite Derby having a pretty poor season, all things considered, they have a bright young management team who will be desperate to improve next season and compete at the right end of the table. The one thing that concerns me with the Rams’ managerial team is the lack of experience, especially when they have taken on such a big club. Assistant manager Liam Rosenior did speak well on Sky Sports when I’ve seen him, although good pundits don’t always make good managers (*cough*, Gary Neville, *cough*) - but I believe he’ll do well. The Premier League experience of manager Wayne Rooney and first team coach Shay Given should not be sniffed at either. And if everything clicks, Derby fans should be optimistic for the future.
The Last Meeting
Derby County 0-2 Reading
Well, this was Veljko Paunovic’s first game on the touchline - where the love affair started.
In his first match, the away side dominated and should have taken the lead early on when Lucas Joao’s saved shot fell into the path of John Swift. The former midfielder blasted it over the bar though, although this didn’t prove to be costly, fortunately. Five minutes before the interval, Michael Olise’s corner was guided home by Lucas Joao at the near post, a well-worked corner routine.
Joao would also be involved in the second goal. Rafael’s great long ball was held up well by the Portuguese striker, who waited patiently for Ovie Ejaria to arrive – supplying a saucy backheel that was converted by my man Ovie.
The Royals could have extended their lead further in the second half, with Swift squandering a great chance and Joao hitting the crossbar.
Against a new manager today though, will the Royals be able to get another positive result against the Rams? Let’s hope so - because that performance at Pride Park was outstanding.
The Last League Match
Barnsley 1-1 Reading
After a dominant first five minutes for the home side, Reading started to get themselves back in the game and nearly took the lead when Yakou Meite went through one on one. However, the ball bobbled before he hit it and ballooned over the bar. The Royals did go 1-0 up though in the 34th minute when Ovie Ejaria beautifully controlled Andy Rinomhota’s long ball and struck the ball past Bradley Collins.
Barnsley made it 1-1 just after the hour mark when Andy Yiadom needlessly fouled Callum Styles, allowing Alex Mowatt to just about beat Rafael in the Reading goal.
The away side could have easily been back in front not too long after when Yakou Meite dispossessed the goalkeeper and put the ball on a plate for Lucas Joao, who somehow put the ball wide of an open goal. After that, Barnsley hit the post through Mads Anderson and had a goal disallowed - but no side was able to get another goal and the match finished 1-1.
- Reading have scored in each of their last seven league matches. Can they continue this run today and not fire a blank?
- There has not been a goalless game between the two sides in their last 15 meetings.
- Before their win at home to Luton Town on Friday, Derby County were winless in seven matches.
- However, after winning just one of their first 15 league games of 2020/21, they have done well to get to their current position. Will they secure their Championship status early over the next couple of weeks?
My Reading lineup: Rafael, Richards, Moore, Holmes, Yiadom, Rinomhota, Laurent, Ejaria, Olise, Meite, Puscas.
Despite managing to pick up a point at Oakwell on Friday, I have made two changes for this tie.
Rafael keeps his place in goal, although he did look iffy on one or two occasions, including the moment when Barnsley hit the post in the second half. The calls for Luke Southwood to start will probably continue until the end of the season - but Rafa gets the nod for me unless he makes another costly mistake. But I’ve tried to keep as much faith in the Brazilian as I possibly can because he is more than capable of having world-class moments.
At left back, Omar Richards comes in to give us more attacking-wise down the left-hand side, although Lewis Gibson did a decent enough job in his place against Barnsley. I just feel this is the type of game Richards can shine in. Andy Yiadom escaped injury against his former club and starts again on the opposite side. No more costly mistakes please Yids! In the centre, Tom Holmes did a great job when he came on alongside Liam Moore and both will probably start again with Morrison limping off a few days again. I don’t expect Paunovic to take any chances with him.
Two players who are fit to start are Andy Rinomhota, who has supplied a couple of vital long balls in the last two games and Josh Laurent, who did well yet again in Yorkshire. Let’s hope both of them can retain their fitness for the rest of the season - because they are a force to be reckoned with in midfield when they start alongside each other.
In front of the duo, Ejaria starts again, Olise keeps his place and so does Yakou Meite, who created a golden chance for Joao in the last game. Even when he isn’t scoring, the Ivory Coast international shows exactly why he should be starting every game if he is fit. This presents a good problem for Paunovic when Swift returns, but Olise would be the man to drop out for me if the gaffer starts him straight away.
Now, this is the difficult bit, Lucas Joao or George Puscas? For me, Puscas gets a go just to give Joao time to recover from his miss on Good Friday. There does seem to be some sort of mental block right now in terms of Joao - and seems to have stayed with him through the international break. Would a psychologist be able to change his mindset and enhance his game in turn? I’ve said this many times before, football is a mental game just as much as it is physical. Perhaps Joao would benefit from that sort of thing, because the pitch played no part in that miss.
Score prediction time. Not only is it time for the score prediction, but it’s also time for a win and three precious points. I back the boys to get them today after being so pessimistic on Friday. If I was a betting man, I would even put a few quid on Yakou Meite getting a goal this afternoon #GambleAware. Then again, we all know what I’m like with predictions so I wouldn’t blame you if you steer clear from that one - and the odds probably aren’t very good either.
Score Prediction: Reading 2-0 Derby County
Other Championship Fixtures
All Monday 5th April (3pm KO) unless stated:
Middlesbrough vs Watford (12:30pm KO)
Blackburn Rovers vs AFC Bournemouth
Coventry City vs Bristol City
Luton Town vs Barnsley
Nottingham Forest vs Queens Park Rangers
Rotherham United vs Wycombe Wanderers
Stoke City vs Millwall
Swansea City vs Preston North End
Sheffield Wednesday vs Cardiff City (5:30pm KO)
Brentford vs Birmingham City (Tuesday 6th April 7pm KO)
Norwich City vs Huddersfield Town (Tuesday 6th April 7:45pm KO)