Reading are back in Championship action today as they make the long trip to Teesside to face promotion contenders Middlesbrough.
Following a humiliating 7-0 defeat in midweek to Fulham, the Royals will need to drag themselves up from that low point in the club’s history to face up to what will be an extremely tough task this weekend. Chris Wilder has got his Boro side exactly where he wants them - and will be looking to continue building on that this weekend as strong favourites at the Riverside.
But will the hosts capitalise on this during this afternoon’s clash? We can’t know for sure - but we have everything you need to know ahead of kick-off in North Yorkshire.
What? Championship Matchday 25
Where? Riverside Stadium
When? Saturday 15th January 2022
Opposition Manager? Chris Wilder
Wilder may be overseeing a long-term project in the north - but he’s already getting a tune out of his players and is building a squad capable of gaining promotion back to the Premier League. We’ll come on to potential areas for improvement in the next paragraph, but what they already have is fantastic - especially the options they have in midfield and now up front with the signings of Aaron Connolly and Folarin Balogun.
Dael Fry is also proving to be a player of Premier League quality and without doubt, Isaiah Jones has been one of the players of the season for the Teesside club. Neil Taylor signing an extension yesterday was the cherry on top in what has been a very successful recent period for the club under the stewardship of their reasonably new boss.
They may look for a new goalkeeper if they were to be promoted at the end of the season, but Joe Lumley and Luke Daniels have a good battle going on at this stage and it would perhaps be disruptive to buy a new number one mid-season. Another place they have strengthened is in midfield with Riley McGree joining the club yesterday - a brilliant signing and someone who will form the link between defence and attack.
But they seemingly aren’t done there - because they are reported to be in the race for Jack Simpson too - potentially providing the second-tier side with a seventh option in central defence. In fairness, they do have three centre-back spots to fill - but still - that’s some serious depth.
Tuesday was an absolute disaster. As mentioned before, the Dai siblings have weeks to rescue their tenure at the club, so action is needed as soon as possible on a number of issues we currently face. Signings have to be brought in, but the long term also needs to be focused on as well ahead of a likely rebuild in the summer. Failing to bring the right people in now would make things harder during the next window and beyond.
The shambles off the pitch is only helping to create a shambles on it.
One to Watch: Isaiah Jones
If this man is in form today, we are in big old trouble. And I mean big trouble because he’s such a threat down the right-hand side. In fact, I have altered my lineup based on him. Having him up against Tom Holmes is a bit of a no-no, so Josh Laurent starts on the left-hand side to support Junior Hoilett.
He has been integral to Boro’s cause against the odds this season, not exactly thought to be an important squad member before this season but establishing himself as a key asset at the Riverside in recent months.
Winning the ball for the winner against Blackpool in stoppage time in their final match in 2021, he was at it again at Mansfield Town in the FA Cup, providing the crucial cross that secured their passage to the fourth round. He’s one man they need to keep an eye on, along with goalscorer Andraz Sporar and another attacking threat in Neil Taylor who, as mentioned, has extended his stay at the club until the end of the campaign.
The Last Meeting
Reading 1-0 Middlesbrough
- Reading have now failed to keep a clean sheet in their last 13 competitive matches. The last one came against Barnsley in mid-October.
- The Royals have also gone winless in nine of their last ten matches against today’s opponents. However, they broke their winless run back in the reverse fixture this term.
- Middlesbrough have gone unbeaten in all but one of their nine games under Wilder.
- Prior to their last league match against Blackpool, they had kept four consecutive clean sheets.
My lineup: Southwood, Hoilett, Laurent, Stickland, Holmes, Rinomhota, Dele-Bashiru, Swift, Camara, Carroll, Clarke
Luke Southwood helped to keep the score down and for that, he has to keep his spot in the starting lineup this afternoon. Let’s hope he isn’t left as exposed as he was in midweek.
Junior Hoilett starts at left wing-back in place of Ethan Bristow who really struggled against the Cottagers - and probably needs to come out of the first 11 because of that. He can also swing in a decent cross for Andy Carroll if/when he’s able to get forward.
Dejan Tetek looked injured to me, so if he isn’t available, it has to be Andy Rinomhota on the right-hand side. The former was one of the better performers on the night, without a doubt.
In midfield, Tom Dele-Bashiru keeps his place but it’s John Swift who comes into the Danny Drinkwater role to see what impact he can have in a deeper position. Swift may need that to be more of an impact - and it would be interesting to see if he can make any difference in this position.
After a decent display in the first half earlier this week, Mamadi Camara deserves another go and the fact he has displaced an ex-England international in this lineup is impressive. I feel like it’s only a matter of time before he gets himself on the scoresheet at a senior level.
Up top, let’s give two up top a whirl. Carroll looks so isolated at times, so get either George Puscas or Jahmari Clarke in there. I back the latter to be a real pest as another big lad in the attack. Two big b*stards could do a job.
Score Prediction: Middlesbrough 3-0 Reading
Other Championship Fixtures
All Saturday 15th January (3pm KO) unless stated:
Cardiff City vs Blackburn Rovers
Luton Town vs AFC Bournemouth (Both 12:30pm KO)
Derby County vs Sheffield United
Fulham vs Bristol City
Huddersfield Town vs Swansea City
Millwall vs Nottingham Forest
Peterborough United vs Coventry City
Preston North End vs Birmingham City
Queens Park Rangers vs West Bromwich Albion
Hull City vs Stoke City (Sunday 16th January; 12pm KO)