Reading make the trip to Peterborough United this evening in a tie that could end up deciding who potentially survives and who is relegated to the third tier of English football.
The hosts are undoubtedly in better shape than us coming into this tie, not necessarily in terms of quality but in terms of their off-field situation with all the uncertainty surrounding Veljko Paunovic’s future in recent days. This sets up a fascinating tie at the Weston Homes Stadium and it’s one both sides will view as a ‘must-win’.
Who will be the one to come out on top though? Who will be left empty-handed? It’s impossible to call.
For now, here’s everything you need to know ahead of tonight’s clash.
What? Championship Matchday 31
Who? Peterborough United
Where? Weston Homes Stadium
When? Wednesday 16th February 2022
Opposition Manager? Darren Ferguson
Losing Siriki Dembele must have been quite a blow, especially on deadline day with no real chance to bring anyone else in. Looking at it from another angle though, he did hand in a transfer request in January 2021 and if he isn’t fully committed to the cause, then they may as well have let him go as they have done with a relegation battle to fight. Nonetheless, they could have done with someone of his ability for the final few months of the 2021/22 campaign.
In terms of their current status, they just can’t buy a win at the moment and it wouldn’t be a massive surprise if Derby County leapfrog both of tonight’s teams in the coming weeks. Some would argue getting to the Championship is a decent achievement for Peterborough regardless of whether they remain up or not - but whilst they’re here and whilst they are still in contention for survival - they will be desperate to remain afloat.
Peterborough seems like paradise compared to where we’re at now. For me, too many journalists reported Paunovic’s seemingly imminent dismissal for there not to be something in it. So what on earth is happening at the club at this stage? What’s actually going on? Everything seems so unclear at the moment.
Moving on, the signing of Brandon Barker is a strange one for me considering there are other areas that need to be addressed first, including a left-back and central defender. In fairness, having a player with a bit of pace who isn’t afraid to attack a full-back is what’s needed - but whether he can be effective remains to be seen. Good luck to him though - and for his and our sakes - I hope he has a successful few months here.
One to Watch: Jonson Clarke-Harris
Scoring 31 goals in 45 league games last term, Clarke-Harris is definitely one to look out for in the absence of Dembele. He may not be in the same form he was during the 2020/21 campaign - but he’s still a real danger and one that needs to be closely monitored by our centre-back pairing.
Thinking back to his performance at the SCL back in September, he was a player who held the ball up well and brought others into the game. However, how effective he is tonight depends on whether he’s isolated up top or not, with the former a real possibility if the Royals can dominate the game.
I’ve also given him a mention because he was brought in to replace Ivan Toney - huge boots to fill but he did it so well and is continuing to be a key asset for Ferguson’s men. Let’s just hope he doesn’t score tonight.
The Last Meeting
Reading 3-1 Peterborough United
- Peterborough have kept just three clean sheets in 29 league games this term - something for the visitors to capitalise on?
- The hosts have also conceded three or more goals in 11 of those 29 matches during the 2021/22 campaign. Anything to raise the Royals’ hopes.
- The visitors have conceded 28 goals in their nine competitive fixtures so far in 2022. That’s an average of 3.1/game - shocking.
- They have also failed to concede less than two goals in each of these nine matches. There’s the main reason why we can’t get points on the board.
My Lineup + Score Prediction
My lineup: Hein, Rahman, Holmes, Morrison, Yiadom, Rinomhota, Laurent, Camara, Swift, Ince, Joao
Am I the only one who thought Karl Hein did a decent enough job at the weekend? He certainly didn’t do anything to be dropped for me, so he continues in goal once again to provide some much-needed stability. It isn’t coming off the field, so let’s have some on it.
The back four also remains the same, although it would be good to see Tom McIntyre come in at some point to shake things up. He won’t improve our defensive record by himself - but he will at least provide a fresh face in there and could be a decent option to have alongside Morrison. Both performed reasonably well under Mark Bowen during the latter stages of the 2019/20 campaign, but it remains to be seen whether they’re an effective partnership under Paunovic. Probably not.
One player who could definitely do with some time out of the starting lineup is Josh Laurent, who doesn’t even look half the player he was last term. A managerial change would probably benefit him and many others - but his confidence looks completely shot and that’s no real surprise.
Is Danny Drinkwater the answer though? Not really considering recent performances, though he was alright against Bristol City when we were in the ascendancy.
There’s an enforced change on the left-hand side following Junior Hoilett’s red card at the weekend. That sending off could have easily been avoided by the Canadian - but what’s done is done. Mamadi Camara gets another chance to shine ahead of Tom Dele-Bashiru, mainly because the former has looked exciting when he’s been involved in the first team.
He’s joined by John Swift and Tom Ince, with the former a real game-changer when his set-pieces are on point. His performance also needs to be up to scratch if he wants to retain his starting spot.
Up top, it has to be Lucas Joao, although I wouldn’t be upset to see Jahmari Clarke given a go in the second half if he’s needed. He could help to provide a fresh injection of energy.
In terms of the result, I just can’t see us winning at the moment. The way we’ve come into this game is a shambles and in a crunch-tie like this, can I really see us coping with the pressure? I’m not confident - but now is the time for everyone to prove me wrong!
Score Prediction: Peterborough United 1-0 Reading (Clarke-Harris ‘89 written all over it)