Reading will be looking to secure their third consecutive league win this evening as they travel to the Midlands to face Birmingham City.
John Eustace’s side are in much better shape than they were last term and their head coach has to take a lot of credit for that - managing to thrive at St Andrew’s so far despite off-field noise and the need to work within a very limited budget.
After several seasons of disappointment, their supporters finally have the chance to be excited about their team again - and they will want to be aiming for the top six considering some of the players they have at their disposal.
Even a comfortable midtable finish would represent progress for them though, so they will be reasonably relaxed with their current position.
Will the home advantage pay dividends for them tonight though? Let’s wait and see.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of this evening’s clash.
What? Championship Matchday 23
Who? Birmingham City
Where? St Andrew’s
When? Friday 16th December 2022
Opposition Manager? John Eustace
Considering Eustace was appointed just a few weeks before the start of the campaign, he has done a magnificent job and will attract interest from elsewhere if he can continue to thrive at St Andrew’s.
No disrespect to the Midlands outfit but the manager’s job seemed to be a poisoned chalice before he came in - so fair play to him for turning things around and considering he’s only in the early stages of his managerial career in the EFL - you feel he will only improve.
It seems as though the club have brought in the perfect man to unlock their potential - and some of their youngsters look set to shine at this level in the coming years. Keep an eye on Jobe Bellingham, George Hall and Jordan James - because all three look destined to make it after graduating from the Blues’ academy. If Bellingham can be anywhere near as good as his brother, he will be an unbelievable asset for his current side and future clubs.
In terms of their failed takeover, it must be gutting because Maxi Lopez and Paul Richardson seemed to be committed to getting a deal over the line. This is a club that has a lot of potential though, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the club was sold to another investor before the season ends. After a disappointing time under BSHL, it’s probably time for a change.
Coventry was another one of those games where we didn’t perform brilliantly but still managed to get the three points - and this result cannot be underestimated considering the form Mark Robins’ men were in going into this clash. There may have been a long World Cup break with the Sky Blues probably losing some of their momentum because of that - but they had a strong starting lineup going into that game despite some of their injury woes.
Viktor Gyokeres was still a threat despite the fact he didn’t have his best game - and Callum O’Hare was probably the best player on the pitch. These narrow wins against top-quality sides could be crucial for us this season, so last weekend shouldn’t go under the radar despite England’s loss.
Taking a look at our injury situation, the fact Sam Hutchinson is still out is frustrating because he could be a valuable contributor both in central defence and midfield. We knew about his fitness record before he came here though and with our own record on injuries, it was never going to be a dream combination! However, it’ll be good to see him back when he does return because he has a big role to play.
The absence of Tom Holmes is also frustrating - but having Tom McIntyre and Naby Sarr back is a big boost. Let’s hope they can stay fit for the foreseeable future.
Opposition Player I’d Like: Scott Hogan
Hogan is probably a player we don’t need at the moment but if Andy Carroll performs a U-turn and leaves in January, he would be the perfect man to have.
Despite his side’s struggles in recent years, he has been a reasonably reliable goalscorer at St Andrew’s but has taken his game to new levels this term, recording nine goals in 21 league appearances.
Failing to put their chances away against Blackpool last weekend, they clearly missed him and it would be a major boost for them if he returned to the squad in time for this game.
He could make the difference this evening, so the visitors will need to keep tabs on him if he features at any point.
The Last Meeting
Reading 2-1 Birmingham City
Starting XI: Lumley; Guinness-Walker, Mbengue, McIntyre, Yiadom, Hoilett; Loum, Fornah, Ince; Meite, Long
There are two changes at the back with Nesta Guinness-Walker and McIntyre coming in for Baba Rahman and Holmes. Rahman didn’t perform badly at the weekend - but it would be good to see Guinness-Walker get a chance to show what he can do in the final third.
Jeff Hendrick didn’t do very much last weekend and because of that, Mamadou Loum comes in for him with Tyrese Fornah being pushed up slightly with Tom Ince.
And up top, Shane Long comes in for Andy Carroll after putting in a very good shift during the latter stages of the Coventry game. Unfortunately, Carroll wasn’t effective enough against the Sky Blues and doesn’t deserve to start at St Andrew’s because of that.
In terms of a score prediction, I just have a feeling it will be like the QPR game. Perhaps it’s because that game was a Friday night too!
Score Prediction: Birmingham City 2-1 Reading
You know the drill!
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