Here is the finale! Reading return to Berkshire for their last league game of the season, as they take on Huddersfield Town at 12:30pm.
After suffering a heavy defeat in Norfolk last weekend, the Royals will be hoping to put in a five-star display to cap off what has been a mixed season. A brilliant start followed by an underwhelming finish has landed Reading in seventh position, although they could drop down a place if they lose this afternoon. This makes it all the more important that we get the win today – and it may force Veljko Paunovic to pick a stronger squad than he would have liked for this game. But will this secure all three points for today’s home side? We’ll have to wait for the lineup and the subsequent result.
For the final time in 2020/21, here’s everything you need to know ahead of this afternoon’s game in this special match preview.
What? Championship Matchday 46
Who? Huddersfield Town
Where? Madejski Stadium
When? Saturday 8th May 2021
Opposition Manager? Carlos Corberán
That result against Norwich was the last thing we needed. At half time, 1-1 was actually a decent result. And although a win would have sealed the title for the Canaries and therefore gave them a huge incentive to take all three points, this was a chance for Reading to take advantage of this pressure on their opponents and the pressure off themselves after already having their fate secured against Swansea. Instead, the Royals made several costly mistakes in the second half and served up the victory to Norwich on a silver platter. It’s vital we cut out those errors we saw last weekend if we are to turn it around and be victorious today.
According to the Chronicle post-Norwich, Paunovic could not confirm whether Liam Moore (hamstring) and Andy Rinomhota (toe) would be involved or not this afternoon, although there’s no real point in risking either of them if they are 50:50. With Dejan Tetek putting in a reasonably decent performance at Carrow Road, Moore will probably be the main concern as Holmes and Gibson struggled. Jeriel Dorsett is next in the central defensive pecking order and could potentially start if he has impressed the coaching staff. As an England youth international, it wouldn’t surprise me if he has and gets his first Championship start today.
Huddersfield Town: LWLLD
After doing so well to get to the Premier League (ultimately at our expense), Huddersfield have seemingly regained their status as a lower midtable Championship side over the past two seasons. I’ve said this about Reading and I’ll say this about Huddersfield Town: there’s only a certain amount of time you can flirt with relegation before you finally fall through the trap door. After being so gracious in victory after the playoff final, I want Huddersfield to stay in the Championship for the foreseeable future – but they need to improve sharpish.
In recent times, they have conceded seven at Norwich (why does that sound familiar?) and five at Blackburn Rovers. You can score as much as you want – but you will never succeed without a reasonably strong defence. A weak backline cost Nigel Adkins his job at the Madejski Stadium, and a watertight defensive unit went a long way in helping Brian McDermott’s 2011/12 side to win the Championship title. Huddersfield have the joint-worst defensive record in the Championship with Wycombe Wanderers, conceding 69 goals. However, they have scored 48, eight more goals than Luton Town in 12th place. Well, at least they know where they need to improve in the summer.
The Last Meeting
Huddersfield Town 1-2 Reading
In the first match of 2021, Reading got off to the worst possible start when Fraizer Campbell leapt above Tom Holmes to put the home side 1-0 up inside six minutes. The centre half, who was playing at full back that day, should have done better there - but the Royals did respond after half time.
Tom McIntyre’s wonderful long ball found Lucas Joao in the 52nd minute, who brushed off Rarmani Edmonds-Green to slot the ball past Ryan Schofield. And just over ten minutes later, Joao scored again with a wonderful solo effort to turn the game on its head and Reading just about managed to hang on to take all three points from this game.
Tomas Esteves, who finally did score his first Reading goal against Swansea, hit the crossbar late on and was inches away from making it 3-1. However, the only thing that mattered was the three points and at that time, we thought that turn around could have been crucial to our season. I wish it had been.
The Last League Match
Norwich City 4-1 Reading
Thanks to iFollow, I missed the best part of this game from a Reading point of view. Apparently, a Michael Olise free kick found its way to Josh Laurent at the back post to put the away side 1-0 up against all odds. Allegedly, Tom Holmes also made a bad error, allowing Kieran Dowell to pounce on the mistake and make it 1-1. That was the score at half time and Paunovic would have been pretty satisfied with that result, despite a bad miss from Olise shortly before the interval.
However, the second half was anything but even, with Dowell brushing off Ovie Ejaria far too easily to grab his brace in the 64th minute. Xavi Quintilla made it 3-1 14 minutes later with a fantastic free kick - and Holmes making another bad error to allow Teemu Pukki to take the ball past Rafael and make it four. Two or three of those goals were completely avoidable and the gaffer will have been very disappointing by our defensive display in the second half. Going forward, we also didn’t offer much in the second 45.
Today, we must bounce back to finish the season on a high. Another result like that today - and I fear for Pauno knowing the short term nature of football in recent years.
Lucas Joao vs Blackburn Rovers
After this game, I really thought it was going to be the start of something special. We all knew how good Blackburn Rovers were at the time with Adam Armstrong up front and the home advantage - but we performed so well. When the Lancashire side pulled it back to 3-2, I didn’t envisage us getting the win, let alone a fourth goal.
Step up, Lucas Joao. What a run, what a finish, what composure. This win put us seven points clear at the top of the Championship table after just eight games, with just three goals conceded, seven wins, one draw and six clean sheets. Things couldn’t be much better at that point. If only we didn’t lose the next game, who knows what could have happened? Perhaps the inconsistencies would have crept in later in the season, but this was the peak of the 2020/21 campaign without a doubt.
With the position we were in after the game at Ewood Park, even the Bournemouth (H) game didn’t come close to this. And Joao’s goal to seal the game was a huge relief after a great fightback from Rovers.
My Player of the Season
Many people on social media (the majority weren’t Reading fans) were sceptical about whether Laurent would be able to make the step up to the Championship. And with a new manager coming in, this was an even bigger challenge for the midfielder - but he’s risen to the occasion and been extremely consistent throughout the campaign.
Even in the absence of his partner Andy Rinomhota, Laurent has also performed well with Alfa Semedo, provided a shield in front of the defence and a huge amount of energy in midfield. I know it might not make a lot of difference on the pitch, but the 26-year-old also seems like a really nice guy and exactly the sort of person we want representing our football club.
This, combined with his excellent performances, means we need to tie him down to a new contract as soon as possible or we face losing him for free. After losing many players for nothing in the last couple of years, this would be disastrous.
But for the time being, well done Laurent! You deserve every Reading-related POTS award this season.
Stick or Twist?
This year, I won’t be calling for the manager’s head. However, I would say one thing: when was the last time we appointed a manager with proven previous experience in England?
I’m not saying that guarantees success, or alternatives guarantee failure. Jaap Stam’s first season is a case in point and just look at the managers in the top six. However, it would be a whole lot easier to give someone a long-term contract and the patience they require to build a team if we know they have had major success in England or at a domestic level in Europe.
Maybe that’s disrespectful to Veljko Paunovic considering he won the U20s World Cup against all odds with Serbia - but if people were given the choice between him or someone like Chris Hughton at the start of the campaign – the majority would have chosen the latter. Does FFP contribute to managerial wages? Is that the issue?
Hey, perhaps the gaffer impressed hugely and set out a long-term plan in his interview and that’s what secured him the job, but it would be nice to have a Hughton-like figure at the club one day.
In the meantime, I hope Pauno has a successful and long-lasting time at the Madejski Stadium – but he will need to turn this form around quick time if Mr Dai is to keep faith in him.
We have a huge summer coming up, and to be honest, the only certainty is uncertainty. Who knows what will happen in the next few months? Let’s give Pauno a full pre-season (something he didn’t have last time) to work with the players he has at his disposal.
On Tuesday, I put out a tweet asking for your opinions on the 2020/21 campaign and you summed it up perfectly. Although it was a much improved season with a finish just outside the playoffs, the end of the season has left a sour taste in the mouth. I also sense a bit of nervousness due to our current form going into 2021/22 – but gratitude towards Pauno for the improvements.
Sean (@sean_rich96): Three mini-seasons in one, from the scarcely believable to the chastening, but undeniably left with a sense of what could have been and a spectre of uncertainty heading into next season.
BobbinsRoyale: If we knew that we’d that the first team practically picked itself week in week out, hindsight would tell us our form would never last. We ran out of gas, mentally and physically.
Ben (@mrblthomas): A bit like when you hear the ice cream van outside and you know it’s there but you can’t get to it as your mum has said you need to have a choc ice from the freezer. The van is still outside and you can see the other kids queuing at it but you’re stuck inside with the same old.
Joe (@RFCJoeJ): Fantastic start, undermined by injuries for the most part, not enough depth in our squad and didn’t renew tactics. Made it much easier to sus us out.
Chris Ellis (@clettuceje): Very disappointed after 22 from the first eight games and then only to get 47 from the following 37.
Not a pretty stat.
@longlaneroyal: Didn’t build on our fantastic start to the season then as the games passed by we lacked energy, confidence, a Plan B and were unable to fulfil our early season promise.
Matheus (@MaffRoyal): Unfulfilled potential. A talented squad that could do so much more than it delivered and won’t remain intact. We only saw glimpses of what it could have been, and those glimpses will be why the likes of Richards/Olise will inevitably go.
Chris Beale (@bealec1988): Frustrating. The first eight games showed we could compete with the top teams, the rest of the season showed there’s still work to be done.
Paul (@paulmortimer59): Great to not be fighting relegation but massively disappointing to miss the playoffs. If we start next season as we finished this one?
Oof - that would not be ideal. Let’s keep our fingers crossed we start next season like we started this one.
Sam (@samhudspith24): Better than it could have been, worse than it should have been.
Couldn’t have put it any better myself.
Pedro (@PictonPedro): Like a fine wine, players get better with age - as long as they remember when to put a cork in it.
@BelfastBiscuit: OK. If we’d have lost the first 7 games of the season I’d have been delighted with the campaign. The fact that we won them makes me absolutely livid.
We would be on 48 points. Same as Huddersfield now. Just above the relegation places and Pauno would have been given his marching orders.
Andy Halls (@AndyBizarre): Anti-climactic, started with a huge amount of promise but season lost its way fast.
Tom Jordan (@tomjordan332): Unfortunately, the management, players and fans frustratingly ran out of energy at the end of the season.
Phil (philcgreen): Progress, but not as much as many seem to think.
Mark (@MarkRobson15): Pauno and the rebuild needs to continue next season.
An endorsement of Pauno and his work with the players this season – I also think he deserves a chance to build on it, what about you guys?
Mine? It was a very mixed season but I’m very happy we weren’t anywhere near the relegation zone. The summer will bring uncertainty – but I hope this campaign will be the catalyst for a brighter future.
Reviewing My Roundtable Predictions
Before the start of the 2020/21 season, me, Ben, Simeon, Olly and Marc cast our predictions for the campaign. Eight months on, let’s review them:
How do you expect Reading to get on this season? 16th
In my defence, I was very concerned about the start of the season with Pauno’s late appointment! However, it should have been the end of the campaign I was worried about with our recent form. I would have taken seventh or eighth at the beginning of the season, so well done to everyone at the club. Our recent form does need to improve though.
Who will our key player be? Yakou Meite
He’s still been a great player this season despite various injuries - but it’s been the likes of Lucas Joao and Josh Laurent who have been crucial this season. Whether he plays up front or on the wing, we know Meite can make a difference and managed to secure us draws at Nottingham Forest and at home to Queens Park Rangers. Unfortunately, those goals and points didn’t prove to be important in the end - but it just goes to show what he can really do.
One to watch out for? Tom Holmes
This is what I said about Holmes before the start of the campaign: “There is a lot of hype surrounding Tom McIntyre and rightly so but keep an eye out for Tom Holmes. The central defender performed admirably against Tottenham Hotspur despite their strength in attack. Just one or two injuries/suspensions could put him firmly in contention for a place in the starting lineup. I hope we can keep hold of him and use him to our benefit in 2020/21!”. Well, that’s pretty much what we did and we did indeed get those injuries and suspensions to put him firmly in contention. On the most part, Holmes has done brilliantly in his first full season in the Championship and is in with a shout of starting next season if Morrison and/or Moore depart in the summer.
Who’s getting promoted this season? Brentford, Watford, Norwich City
I’m still in with a shout of getting all three - but I did say Norwich would win the playoffs and Brentford would gain automatic promotion. AFC Bournemouth look particularly strong at the moment though, so I think Marc is the favourite to get all three right now. But the playoffs are a lottery, so who knows what will happen...
And the three relegated teams? Luton Town, Coventry City, Sheffield Wednesday
Luton Town - nowhere near the bottom three
Coventry City - Robins’ men have already secured survival
Sheffield Wednesday - will be relegated if they don’t beat Derby County today
Who are you watching out for in the rest of the Championship? Neil Warnock in one of his final years as a manager
Middlesbrough ended up in midtable so it was pretty boring for me. They were in with a shout of getting playoffs at one point though and beat the Royals at the Mad Stad this season. Warnock will be hoping to add one more promotion to his CV before he retires.
- Reading have won just nine points from a possible 30 in their last ten league games. Damn, that is not pretty – we need to turn it around.
- They have kept a clean sheet in just one of these ten matches, and that came in the 0-0 draw against Luton Town.
- However, the Royals have won five more games at the Madejski Stadium than on the road in 2020/21, a surprising stat. Let’s hope it’s a good omen for today’s game.
- Reading are also unbeaten in their last three games against today’s opponents, winning two and drawing one. Our last loss against the Terriers came in that game back in May 2017 (*shudders*).
- Huddersfield have won just one of their last nine league fixtures – a similar record to the Royals.
- The Terriers have also won just four of their 22 league matches away from home this season. It would just be our luck if they came and took all three points today...
My Reading lineup: Southwood, Richards, Dorsett, Holmes, Yiadom, Laurent, Tetek, Camara, Swift, Olise, Joao
After a 4-1 defeat to leaders Norwich City, I have made three changes going into the finale today.
Rafael was brilliant in the last game and in my opinion, could not do anything about the second goal last weekend. I hope that can give him a bit of confidence at the end of what has been a semi-dodgy season for the Brazilian. However, it’s time to give Luke Southwood a game in goal to see what he can do in the Championship. As you would have seen last week, I would’ve given him a chance even before today. But with nothing to play for, this is the perfect opportunity for Veljko Paunovic to give the academy graduate a go.
At left back, Omar Richards gets his farewell game, joining Tom Holmes and Jeriel Dorsett in defence. With Gibson going back to Everton, what is the point of starting him in this match? Dorsett has waited patiently on the bench and performed reasonably well against Luton in the FA Cup in January, now he should get an opportunity in the Championship.
Although this is a very inexperienced central defence, Gibson isn’t exactly a veteran at second tier level either. Andy Yiadom retains his place on the right and could be the captain in this one if Southwood starts in place of Rafael.
With Andy Rinomhota missing the Norwich game through injury, is there any point in risking him? Probably not – and I would keep Tetek in the starting lineup with Josh Laurent. Against such a tough opposition, the youngster held his own and didn’t look out of place in the Championship. Some people would even go as far as saying he was one of the best players on the pitch. And as I said in my player ratings, it was only 2-1 when he came off for Alfa Semedo.
In front of Laurent and Tetek, Mamadi Camara gets a chance to show what he can do on the left in place of Ovie Ejaria, John Swift starts again in an advanced role and Michael Olise keeps his place on the right wing after supplying the assist for Laurent in the last game. Having both Ovie Ejaria and Yakou Meite on the bench will be a daunting prospect for Huddersfield – and they could end up being the difference late on in this final fixture.
Up top, it’s a shame Nahum Melvin-Lambert isn’t in Ireland, otherwise he may have been involved in some capacity this weekend. Lucas Joao probably starts, therefore, and he will be hoping to get on the scoresheet after scoring a brace in the reverse fixture four months ago. The forward has been anonymous for quite some time – and this would be the perfect opportunity for him to regain some confidence going into pre-season.
Right, it’s time for the final score prediction of the season. After a right Royal hammering last weekend, the home side need to produce a reaction to that and end a torrid run of form that’s seen us win just one of our last ten. And you know? I think we can. Why not? I’m going for a 2-0 win this weekend – and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tom Holmes get a goal after making two awful errors at Norwich. Because it’s the final game of the season, I have also named the bench I would like to see.
Substitutes: Boyce-Clarke, Bristow, Luzon, Pendlebury, Semedo, Aluko, Ejaria, Meite, Puscas
Score Prediction: Reading 2-0 Huddersfield Town
Other Championship Fixtures
All Saturday 8th May (12:30pm KO):
Barnsley vs Norwich City
Blackburn Rovers vs Birmingham City
AFC Bournemouth vs Stoke City
Bristol City vs Brentford
Cardiff City vs Rotherham United
Coventry City vs Millwall
Derby County vs Sheffield Wednesday
Middlesbrough vs Wycombe Wanderers
Nottingham Forest vs Preston North End
Queens Park Rangers vs Luton Town
Watford vs Swansea City
A massive thank you to you all for your support during the campaign. It has been difficult for a lot of supporters this season, especially with the continuing effects of Covid and not being able to watch your team - but hopefully this is the last league game behind closed doors.
This summer will bring uncertainty with our financial situation and we have no idea what will happen, but I’m just glad we have football. It’s been a very busy schedule, now it’s time to recharge our batteries and look ahead to 2021/22. Whatever it brings, I’m looking forward to it.
Have a fantastic break!