A tough test awaits Reading this afternoon as they travel to Craven Cottage to face promotion favourites Fulham this afternoon, hoping to build on their victory against Peterborough United in midweek.
However, Marco Silva’s side also enjoyed great success in midweek, winning 4-1 at St Andrew’s against a usually-solid Birmingham City side and redeeming themselves after suffering a 1-0 last away at Blackpool last weekend.
In front of their home fans and against a side who only picked up their second win of the 2021/22 campaign in midweek, they will be the favourites to take all three points, with star attackers Harry Wilson and Aleksandar Mitrovic both expected to start for the Cottagers once again. Can the Royals get anything from this game against all odds though?
We can’t answer that, but we can give you all the facts and stats you need to know ahead of this afternoon’s clash in the capital.
What? Championship Matchday 8
Where? Craven Cottage
When? Saturday 18th September
Opposition Manager? Marco Silva
They may not have added the 19 players League One side Ipswich Town did over the summer, but they still recruited strongly and brought in five top-quality players who will be vital in their quest to get back to the Premier League. Rodrigo Muniz may be something of an unknown quantity in England, but the likes of Domingos Quina, Nathaniel Chalobah, Harry Wilson and Paulo Gazzaniga are all known for their time at previous respective English clubs. Quina is perhaps the less established of the four with his lack of game time at Watford - but he did fire a rocket past us in the Carabao Cup a few seasons ago. Chalobah is also a former loanee, so it will be interesting to see him in action.
They may have lost 1-0 at Blackpool last weekend, but they have been pretty much faultless apart from that and after their thumping win in midweek, you would think they’d be favourites for the Championship title as things stand. Bournemouth have climbed into the automatic promotion spots and look good, but West Brom’s draws are currently stifling the Baggies’ progress and Sheffield United only just seem to be clicking into gear.
Thankfully for the Cottagers, Wilson’s red card against Huddersfield Town didn’t cost them in the following three games. And considering they have the likes of the Welsh international and Aleksandar Mitrovic available as options in the Championship, it would be hard to see them not getting back up automatically. Anything less may be seen as a failure, so this game will be important.
The midweek win against Peterborough United was much-needed, although there is still much room for improvement after a disappointing first hour. One big positive we can take from the game is the *slight* improvement in defence. Liam Moore was half-decent before his injury, Michael Morrison improved on his performance from QPR and Tom Holmes came on and did a stellar job when the former went off injury. Tom Dele-Bashiru also stepped up to the plate and proved to be crucial - and Baba Rahman has made a big difference as a natural left-back. Let’s hope we can keep him fit.
Two discussion points from Tuesday night to analyse: George Puscas and zonal marking. On Puscas, the vast majority of people were supportive and rightly so, he didn’t really put a foot wrong against Peterborough - and let’s be honest - the men behind him weren’t exactly supplying him with the best service. It was also great to see him grab an assist for the second goal.
On zonal marking, that wasn’t at fault for the goal. Ovie Ejaria was man-marking Nathan Thompson and he will know he should’ve dealt better with the cross. Personally, I prefer man-to-man marking - but maybe I’m old-fashioned. Everyone has a man, everyone has to take accountability for their man and everyone knows where they stand. But I have to be fair. That goal on Tuesday was an individual error, not Veljko Paunovic’s fault.
One To Watch: Harry Wilson
Aleksandar Mitrovic may have been the obvious option after his brace in midweek - but Harry Wilson’s ability to pick up goals AND assists potentially makes him the most dangerous player for Fulham on the pitch. The 24-year-old arrived at Craven Cottage for a hefty £12m fee in the summer, potentially a bargain if he can replicate the form he showed on loan at Cardiff City last term.
It looks like he will at this stage, recording a goal and/or an assist in all but one of his four Championship appearances so far this season. After being sent off for Wales against Denmark in the summer and then being shown a red card at Huddersfield last month, he does need to work on his discipline. But he’s definitely a talented player and will hurt the Royals if they don’t keep an eye on him this afternoon.
Considering the Royals’ defensive record so far this season, I’m almost dreading seeing him in action but hopefully Paunovic and the coaching staff have a particular plan to stifle him, whilst also keeping tabs on Mitrovic who will be a constant threat up top. Any chance of Scott Dann being available this weekend?
The Last Meeting
Fulham 1-2 Reading:
- Fulham have kept just two clean sheets in seven league games so far this season. A chance for the Royals to grab one or two?
- However, they haven’t conceded more than one in each of these games, so a clean sheet might be imperative if Reading want to upset the odds and take all three points.
- Reading have scored more goals (13) than any of the teams outside the top seven of the Championship.
- However, they have conceded 17, the joint-worst record of any team and need to improve on this if they want to climb up the table.
My Reading lineup: Southwood, Rahman, Morrison, Holmes, Yiadom, Laurent, Dele-Bashiru, Hoilett, Swift, Halilovic, Puscas.
Luke Southwood starts in goal again after a decent showing against Peterborough. Barring one tiny error, the academy graduate was exceptional and pulled off two great saves to keep the game at 0-0. Even if Rafael is fit, it’s the 23-year-old who gets the nod between the sticks. The Brazilian did pull off a triple save the last time the Royals visited Craven Cottage - and Southwood may have to pull off something similar.
Baba Rahman also starts on the left again, with Yiadom on the right. The latter has been very good at points this season - and hopefully he can put in a good performance again. In Liam Moore’s likely absence, Tom Holmes comes in with Michael Morrison, although it would be good to see Scott Dann at some point if he can get to match fitness. It’s been a blow not having him available so far - and with Moore’s injury - he will be a much-needed figure at the back.
In midfield, it has to be Tom Dele-Bashiru again alongside Josh Laurent. Laurent hasn’t been as great this season as he was in the last, so seeing him put in a good performance against a team like Fulham would be a great source of encouragement for me. And John Swift also starts, don’t have to explain that one!
On the left though, Junior Hoilett comes in for Ovie Ejaria. This isn’t because of Peterborough’s goal, but because of the fact it felt like we needed something different going forward against Darren Ferguson’s men. Let’s not forget we were poor for the first hour, so Hoilett could prove some much-needed width. He needs to come in for either Ejaria or Halilovic.
And up top, George Puscas starts again. A goal at Craven Cottage would really boost his confidence - but it probably won’t be enough against a Fulham side who are in very good shape. I’m going with a 3-1 defeat in this one.
Score Prediction: Fulham 3-1 Reading
Other Championship Fixtures
All Saturday 18th September (3pm KO) unless stated:
Hull City vs Sheffield United (12:30pm KO)
Barnsley vs Blackburn Rovers
Cardiff City vs AFC Bournemouth
Derby County vs Stoke City
Huddersfield Town vs Nottingham Forest
Luton Town vs Swansea City
Middlesbrough vs Blackpool
Millwall vs Coventry City
Peterborough United vs Birmingham City
Preston North End vs West Bromwich Albion
Queens Park Rangers vs Bristol City