After picking up a decent Easter Monday win against Derby County, Reading return to Championship action tonight to face Watford in front of the TV cameras.
A win for either side would continue to boost their chances of promotion, with the home side in a slightly more secure position going into this game. Wins for Bournemouth and Barnsley took the gloss off Monday’s result – and this is why the Royals need a point or three again tonight. But Watford are the favourites on paper tonight. Can Reading upset the odds and send out a real statement of intent in London tonight? Let’s hope so, but it will be a difficult task.
Here are the facts and stats you need to know ahead of this evening’s tie at Vicarage Road.
What? Championship Matchday 41
Where? Vicarage Road
When? Friday 9th April 2021
Opposition Manager? Xisco Munoz
With Brentford and Swansea City continuing to slip up recently, Watford are closing in on a quick return to the Premier League after being relegated last season. I said the following in my roundtable prediction at the start of the campaign: “Watford will also be contenders and I can’t help but feel they will gain promotion even if they have to make a change managerially”. Whilst they did make a change (shock, horror), new manager Xisco Munoz has put the Hertfordshire side in a good position to gain automatic promotion. With the talent they have in their squad, that’s no real surprise.
And whilst they still need a few more wins to seal their promotion, I wouldn’t blame them if they were starting to turn their attentions to the top flight and how they can stay there for the long-term. This season, their home form has been superb, but their record on the road has been pretty average really. Turning one point into three has been the main problem for them away from home this season, although this will be irrelevant if they seal their top tier return. In all fairness though, Watford have lost just three of their 20 league games under their current gaffer, an impressive stat for them.
Although the Berkshire side are still not at their best, it was good to see us score three times and look reasonably comfortably for the majority of the game. It was also good to see Lucas Joao come on and grab a vital third goal after having a torrid time recently – and we can only hope that’s the catalyst for an upturn in his form and fortunes. A shout out is also in order for Tom Holmes who has been solid at the back since Michael Morrison’s injuries – and has formed a good partnership with captain Liam Moore. Against a tough competitor, let’s hope the whole team can raise their game like they did at home to AFC Bournemouth earlier on in the year.
Another player joining Tom McIntyre on the sidelines for a while is fellow defender Michael Morrison, someone who I touched on in the last paragraph. Veljko Paunovic said he will be back for the playoffs. Well, I like the Serbian’s confidence but let’s get over the line first! The injury to Omar Richards is also a worry but it seems like he will be available tonight if Pauno’s press conference is anything to go by. John Swift could be back in the matchday squad for the first time in a while, providing the Royals with a major boost going into such a big tie. After missing out on Monday, surely he will finally return tonight? Well, we’ll have to wait and see. To get all the latest news from these press conferences, follow Jonathan (@jonathanl50), Matt (@MattJoy96) and Andy (@AndyPreston96) on Twitter!
The Last Meeting
Reading 1-0 Watford
In the opening stages, Watford were the more threatening side – and came very close to opening the scoring when James Garner hit the crossbar with a free-kick from close range. That effort not going in proved to be a crucial moment.
Reading capitalised on this luck and took the lead just before half time when Tom Holmes’ ball from the right was controlled by George Puscas, before turning and firing (well, not exactly but you know what I mean) the ball home. Although I was delighted with the goal, our second half performance was even more impressive and helped to continue our remarkable start to the season.
After going 1-0 up, we could have easily crumbled after the break with Sarr still on the pitch – but we managed the game very well and even saw Watford’s frustration near the end. You know you’ve done well when that sort of thing happens.
In fairness to the away side, Garner came close with another free-kick but that was the away side’s only attempt of note in the second 45.
The Last League Match
Reading 3-1 Derby County
Colin Kazim-Richards nearly opened the scoring for Derby when he hit the post, with the away side coming close another couple of times in the same move.
But with half time approaching, it was Reading who went ahead through Michael Olise’s stunning strike, finishing off a pretty average half for the home side with a bit of style. And the Royals built on this stoppage time goal, by doubling their lead in the second half through George Puscas’ close-range finish.
Reading thought they would have a chance to make it three from the penalty spot but Yakou Meite had his appeals turned away – and Derby went straight down the other end with Tom Lawrence to set up a nervous ten minutes. That was a thunderbolt by the way.
Just five minutes later though, Lucas Joao got his foot on the end of Tom Holmes’ knockdown to give the Royals a two-goal cushion and personally, a much-needed goal. 3-1 was the final score – and I have to say the home side deserved all three points.
- Watford are unbeaten in all but one of their last 13 Championship games.
- The Hornets are also unbeaten in all but two of their 20 home games in the league so far in 2020/21, taking 50 points from a possible 60.
- Reading have failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their last five games. Can they stop it from becoming six tonight?
- However, the Royals have lost just two of their last six league meetings with tonight’s opponents.
My Reading lineup: Rafael, Richards, Moore, Holmes, Yiadom, Rinomhota, Laurent, Ejaria, Olise, Meite, Joao
With an attacking dilemma for Paunovic, I have gone with one change ahead of this mammoth clash at Vicarage Road.
Inevitably, Rafael gets the nod after a superb performance against Derby County on Monday, doing especially well to deny Colin Kazim-Richards. There was also nothing he could have done for their goal. So overall, it was an 8/10 performance for me.
At left back, Omar Richards should be back and I have faith in him to put in both a good defensive and offensive display even against a side like Watford who are flying high right now. Andy Yiadom continues on the other side and the longer the Ghanaian can stay fit, the better. He will have a lot to offer going forward this evening. In the centre, Liam Moore and Tom Holmes were unlucky not to record a clean sheet against the Rams – but will need to be on top form tonight against a very good Watford side.
Two men who may come to their rescue once or twice against the Hornets are Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent, both of whom have continued to impress me recently and will need to be that shield in from of Moore and Holmes with the likes of Ismaila Sarr on the pitch. However, they could also be the starting point of our attacks and could be instrumental offensively are two energetic central midfielders.
Ovie Ejaria and Michael Olise also start again as our two orthodox creative outlets, with an exquisite strike from the later changing Monday’s game and the former involved in the build-up. If the duo can maintain their performance levels, John Swift may not get back in the starting lineup for a while – and he’s due back very shortly if not tonight so it will be interesting to see what happens with there. Yakou Meite also retains his place as an extra attacking threat and as someone who isn’t shy to get himself in and amongst the goals. But after Monday, who will be the other attacking threat and the main frontman?
For me, Lucas Joao starts. Although George Pucsas did reasonably well and got himself a goal in the last match, I fancy Joao to cause absolute mayhem tonight. And if the Portuguese forward is in top form tonight, I back us to get something out of this game against all odds.
That leads me on nicely to my score prediction. I may have predicted us to lose 2-0 at Oakwell last week, it might be bold, but I have a feeling the Royals can steal a point tonight. We will need to perform well, something we haven’t done enough recently, but we have the ability to match the Hornets tonight. I’ll go with a 1-1 draw.
Score Prediction: Watford 1-1 Reading
Other Championship Fixtures
All Saturday 10th April (3pm KO) unless stated:
Millwall vs Swansea City (12:30pm KO)
Barnsley vs Middlesbrough
Birmingham City vs Stoke City
AFC Bournemouth vs Coventry City
Bristol City vs Nottingham Forest
Cardiff City vs Blackburn Rovers
Derby County vs Norwich City
Huddersfield Town vs Rotherham United
Preston North End vs Brentford
Queens Park Rangers vs Sheffield Wednesday
Wycombe Wanderers vs Luton Town