With literally nothing to play for, Reading travel to Norfolk this afternoon to face Norwich City at Carrow Road.
The hosts will seal the Championship title today if they win all three points against the Royals – and may even win it regardless of the result with Watford facing a tough test away at Brentford at 3pm. In the last couple of weeks, Reading were the team that desperately needed results. Now the pressure is off and as the underdogs in this match, can they spoil the Canaries’ party and make the race for the title go right down to the wire? Let’s wait and see.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the penultimate matchday of the league season.
What? Championship Matchday 45
Who? Norwich City
Where? Carrow Road
When? Saturday 1st May 2021
Opposition Manager? Daniel Farke
Norwich City: WWLLW
This is how things stand at the top of the Championship table. Norwich currently sit five points above Watford, both of whom have two games to go. If Watford don’t win both games, Norwich win the league. If Norwich lose both matches and Watford win their final two, the Hornets will take the Championship table. If the Canaries win just one point from a possible six and Watford win both games, the latter are likely to win the title on goal difference. But if Reading’s opponents win today – they will secure first place. Daniel Farke’s side will be desperate to seal it today, with a trip to high flyers Barnsley in store for them on the final day of the season.
Regardless of what happens in the last two matches of the 2020/21 campaign, all that matters for Norwich is promotion – and they have secured that already. This guarantees them another season of Premier League football and financial stability. The next step for the Norfolk side? Establishing themselves as a top tier side.
The likes of Swansea City, Stoke City and AFC Bournemouth have managed to do that in the past, so why can’t Norwich do exactly the same? Burnley are another side that have gone on to secure their place in the Premier League for the long term and are still there. But do Norwich go for it and be bold or remain modest and risk being relegated again? Remaining modest and staying in the Prem is a possibility – but they will need the right strategy to succeed.
That’s that then, our season is finally over. After the Cardiff game, we all had that sinking feeling anyway but now is our opportunity to start preparations for next season. Depending on our financial situation, we may need to use the likes of Luke Southwood, Ethan Bristow and Dejan Tetek (if they all sign new deals) a lot more in the 2021/22 campaign. Now is their chance to impress Veljko Paunovic and for Bristow especially, this could be a very important couple of games. With Richards seemingly off to Germany, he may be involved a lot more next season. The same could be said for Imari Samuels.
One positive we can draw from the Swansea game is the return of Lucas Joao after sustaining a nasty-looking injury against Cardiff. Liam Moore also appeared from the start after going off against Luton, with John Swift coming out of the last match unscathed and set to start once again this weekend.
The absence of Felipe Araruna continues to be a source of concern though - and Pauno may decide to just get him ready for pre-season. At this point, is there any point in rushing the Brazilian back with nothing to play for? Just another thing in terms of injuries, it would be great to see some of the younger players even if it’s only to give the likes of Rafael, Liam Moore and Josh Laurent a rest.
The Last Meeting
Reading 1-2 Norwich City
The home side in this one faced a mountain to climb right from the off when a rare error from Andy Rinomhota allowed Emi Buendia to put Norwich ahead in the 11th minute. The Argentine still had a bit to do – but he took his chance very well and showed exactly why he deserves to a Premier League footballer again next season.
This lead did not last long though, and the Royals equalised three minutes later when Ovie Ejaria’s deflected shot found its way into the Norwich City net. In the end, Michael Olise was credited with the goal – but we thought Alfa Semedo may have also got a touch at first. But who cared?! Reading were back in it and even with Semedo as a lone striker up top, we had belief once again.
It wasn’t meant to be, however, and Norwich retook the lead in the second half through Teemu Pukki’s penalty after Liam Moore fouled Max Aarons in the box. Despite having 2000 fans willing them on, the Royals were unable to get another equaliser and the injury-stricken hosts were left empty-handed. In all fairness, I think Norwich had an injury crisis at the time as well.
Here’s the Reading lineup from that night: Rafael, Gibson, Moore, Morrison, Holmes, Rinomhota, Laurent, Ejaria, Olise, Aluko, Semedo.
The Last League Match
Reading 2-2 Swansea City
Mathematically, this game was last chance saloon for a Reading side who spent much of the season in the top six. And things got off to a promising start when Yakou Meite met John Swift’s pinpoint cross to put the Royals 1-0 up.
This lead disintegrated after the interval when Andre Ayew came on, with two goals in 16 minutes turning the game around for the Swans. Jamal Lowe and Ayew were the scorers in a huge blow for the home side.
Tomas Esteves equalised for Reading in stoppage time but it was too little, too late. We are now officially out of the playoff race as Swansea secured their spot. A season that started off so well has ended in huge disappointment – but we go again next year…
- Norwich have lost just three of their 21 league fixtures in 2021. It just goes to show why they currently sit at the top of the tree.
- Despite this, they have taken just four points from a possible 12 in their last four Championship home games.
- Reading have lost just six of their 22 league games on the road this season. That’s a half-decent record.
- However, the Royals have failed to win at Carrow Road for over six years. A Jake Cooper brace in November 2014 sealed all three points for the Berkshire side that day.
My Reading lineup: Southwood, Bristow, Moore, Holmes, Yiadom, Rinomhota, Tetek, Ejaria, Swift, Meite, Joao
After confirmation of our playoff exclusion last Sunday, I have gone with a few changes in this one to mix things up and give some of the younger players a chance.
In goal, Luke Southwood gets a go against a tough opposition. This will be a tricky task for the Reading academy graduate - but it will be good to see how he does. Remember, Southwood has no experience in the Championship and has barely got a chance at the Madejski Stadium.
A good performance against a side at the top of the table could set the goalkeeper up nicely for next season. If he does get a chance, Rafael comes back in for Huddersfield for me, unless Southwood performs particularly well.
At left back, Ethan Bristow gets another chance to impress before Omar Richards returns for his farewell game on the final day. I think Bristow might also be out of contract in the summer - but could get another deal and be our first choice left back until a replacement for Richards comes in. On the other side, Andy Yiadom keeps his place whilst Felipe Araruna continues to remain out. Let’s hope Yiadom remains fit in these last two games as he finally fully gets over the injuries that have dogged him this season.
In the centre, Liam Moore and Tom Holmes have to start this game (in my opinion) if Bristow and Southwood make an appearance just to provide a helping hand to the less experienced players. I would give Jeriel Dorsett a chance against Huddersfield, however, and whoever performs better at Carrow Road could clinch their spot in my starting lineup next week. A huge incentive for the centre halves, I know.
And in midfield, Josh Laurent gets a rest as Dejan Tetek partners Andy Rinomhota in the centre of midfield. Tetek is ANOTHER one who could be out of contract this summer - and we should get him a new deal as soon as possible. Let’s just hope finances aren’t too much of an issue - but we will wait and see on that one.
The Serbian has looked decent in several cameos this season and the Carabao Cup tie against Luton Town, and it would be good to see what he can do against the best side in the second tier. Josh Laurent will come back in for the Terriers game next weekend to cap off what has been a wonderful season for the former Shrewsbury man.
Moving on to the three in front of the duo, John Swift starts this game after doing so well and grabbing an assist against Swansea, with Ovie Ejaria and Yakou Meite on either side of him. Meite could be a particularly dangerous player with his attacking threat and combination with Swift. And with Michael Olise on the bench, the Ivorian will need to be on his game if he has any chance of staying on the pitch for 90 minutes.
Up front, Lucas Joao gets one more go despite not being all that good again on Sunday. The man needs a goal and a bit of confidence - and getting on the scoresheet against a side currently sitting in first place would do him the world of good. Can he get it? Well, I wouldn’t bet against the Portuguese forward getting one or two.
Score prediction time. I think we’ll put up a decent fight - but we must be realistic against a side that are currently at the top of the league. Can I see us performing well defensively and putting in a respectable display? Yes. Can I see us getting on the scoresheet? No. Have some of my predictions been ghastly against this season? Yes. I’m going for a 1-0 home win - but who knows what could happen with the pressure off?
Score Prediction: Norwich City 1-0 Reading
Other Championship Fixtures
All Saturday 1st May (3pm KO) unless stated:
Sheffield Wednesday vs Nottingham Forest (12:30pm KO)
Birmingham City vs Cardiff City
Brentford vs Watford
Huddersfield Town vs Coventry City
Luton Town vs Middlesbrough
Millwall vs Bristol City
Preston North End vs Barnsley
Rotherham United vs Blackburn Rovers
Stoke City vs Queens Park Rangers
Swansea City vs Derby County
Wycombe Wanderers vs AFC Bournemouth