Reading return to action this weekend as they face a familiar foe in Neil Warnock, looking to win their third consecutive league game after recent victories against Peterborough United and Fulham.
The Royals come up against a Middlesbrough side who have struggled to get going this season - although if there’s one man that can get them out this early-season rut - it’s promotion-winning man Warnock who will be desperate to win all three points at the Select Car Leasing Stadium this afternoon. It promises to be a tight game with the two sides’ respective starts to the 2021/22 campaign - but can either team claim a precious victory today?
We have everything you need to know ahead of this lunchtime clash.
What? Championship Matchday 9
Where? Select Car Leasing Stadium
When? Saturday 25th September
Opposition Manager? Neil Warnock
Well, the good times had to come to an end at some stage. After winning seven points from a possible nine since the international break, a likely points deduction could prove to be a real hammer blow for the Royals who had just got themselves back on track.
The severity of the points deduction will determine how screwed we really are - but the one thing we can take heart from is the fact players seem a lot happier on the training ground. Whether this news on the deduction has changed this slightly remains to be seen - but the players can only control on-the-pitch matters.
The injuries have proved to be a major problem though, with Michael Morrison set to be out for an extended period of time. Scott Dann would be the perfect replacement in this situation, but it doesn’t seem as though he’s fit to start yet, unless Veljko Paunovic wants to keep his cards close to his chest and throw him in unexpectedly on Saturday.
It seems as though Tom McIntyre, Tom Holmes and Liam Moore’s injuries were contact-related though, so this crisis is bad luck really, although you couldn’t say the same for some of the other injuries.
You would think Neil Warnock and owner Steve Gibson would be in close contact with one another unlike former Nottingham Forest boss Chris Hughton and the East Midlands side’s board - but there seems to be a similar thing going on at the Riverside Stadium in terms of recruitment.
Signings from South America makes things interesting and will test Warnock’s ability to adapt them to his style of play - but whether the likes of Andraz Sporar and Martin Payero can live up to this challenge remains to be seen.
In an ideal world, the Middlesbrough manager would probably have taken control of all summer recruitment as was his probable wish - but some of their recruits including Payero may symbolise the Teesside club looking into the long-term future without the 73-year-old.
A few more losses could leave him in danger of losing his job - and the Royals will be hoping to pile more misery on him today as they look to mitigate the effects of their likely points deduction.
One To Watch: Uche Ikpeazu
Once a key player in Reading’s academy, he failed to make a first-team appearance for the club - but managed to turn his career around at Cambridge United and Scottish Premiership side Hearts before moving to the Championship with Wycombe Wanderers.
He scored six times in the second tier for the Chairboys last term and did enough to earn a move to Boro, bagging two in seven Championship appearances this season so far and proving to be a real handful up top.
His goalscoring pedigree could help to save Neil Warnock’s job - and you wouldn’t bet against him scoring against his old club this afternoon up against what will probably be a weakened Reading defence. The backline will need to be wary of him, otherwise he could prove to be the difference in this tie.
The Last Meeting
Reading 0-2 Middlesbrough
- Reading have now failed to keep a clean sheet in each one of their last nine competitive games.
- However, they have only failed to score in one of their eight league games so far this season.
- Middlesbrough are unbeaten in their last nine competitive matches against Reading.
- In these nine games, Boro have taken 25 points from a possible 27.
My Reading lineup: Southwood, Rahman, Stickland, Laurent, Yiadom, Drinkwater, Dele-Bashiru, Ejaria, Swift, Halilovic, Puscas
After yet another injury in central defence, it’s time to look to the academy like we did in 2018/19 with Tom McIntyre and Gabriel Osho. Upsetting the balance of the team could be costly at this stage despite having to play a midfielder and a 17-year-old at the heart of defence.
Luke Southwood retains his place in goal after a magnificent performance against Fulham and a world-class save at the end to ensure the Royals came away with all three points. He was commanding, looked assured and stepped up at crucial times to frustrate the Cottagers, so Rafael shouldn’t come back in just yet. You could even argue Coniah Boyce-Clarke should keep his place on the bench after waiting patiently for his opportunity, although the Brazilian is likely to come back in for him.
At left-back, it has to be Baba Rahman again with Andy Yiadom on the right. Perhaps the latter could start at centre-back, but with Araruna not yet fit and no other orthodox right-back to come in, it would only go on to upset the balance of the team so he stays on the right.
Josh Laurent stays at centre-back after an assured performance last weekend - and 17-year-old Michael Stickland wins his first Championship start. It’s a horrible baptism of fire against a Neil Warnock side, but let’s give him our full support and get behind him as one of our own.
Danny Drinkwater is Laurent’s replacement in midfield after a promising debut. The Chelsea loanee didn’t put a foot wrong and was crucial with his passing accuracy and composure in possession last weekend. With an inexperienced backline behind him, it could be his defensive work that also proves to be crucial this weekend. Tom Dele-Bashiru also starts again, with Andy Rinomhota potentially on the bench if he’s ready to return to action.
With Alen Halilovic setting up Ovie Ejaria for the second goal at Craven Cottage, it soon shut me up about having one or the other, not both. However, I do maintain my argument that in some situations at least, having just one of the two could be beneficial so Junior Hoilett can provide us with something different going forward.
Fair play to Ejaria for stepping up though - and Halilovic has been very useful thus far with his two assists this term. And of course, John Swift starts again after having a week off.
One player who returns to the fold is George Puscas. Hoilett did a decent enough job up top, but Puscas deserves another start. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get a goal or two this weekend, and though we face adversity with our backline, how can I predict anything other than a win after last weekend?
Score Prediction: Reading 2-1 Middlesbrough
Other Championship Fixtures
All Saturday 25th September (3pm KO) unless stated:
Birmingham City vs Preston North End
Blackburn Rovers vs Cardiff City
Blackpool vs Barnsley
AFC Bournemouth vs Luton Town
Bristol City vs Fulham
Nottingham Forest vs Millwall
Sheffield United vs Derby County
Stoke City vs Hull City
Swansea City vs Huddersfield Town