Unfortunately, Reading return to Championship action this weekend as they make the long journey to face Preston North End, in desperate need of three points in the survival race.
A 0-0 draw away at Peterborough United in midweek isn’t really going to provide them with the confidence needed to start on the front foot in this tie - but underwhelming performances will no longer be acceptable at this stage of the campaign with so much on the line. They come against a side that have improved their fortunes since changing their manager (cc: Reading FC), pulling off a real coup by landing Ryan Lowe and the Lilywhites now look set for a much brighter future under his stewardship.
Will their off-field stability pay dividends on it this afternoon? Let’s wait and see.
For now, here’s everything you need to know ahead of this tie.
What? Championship Matchday 32
Who? Preston North End
When? Saturday 19th February 2022
Opposition Manager? Ryan Lowe
Preston North End:
You could count Preston slightly unlucky in the fact they came into this season with quite a bit of excitement under Frankie McAvoy, after enduring a reasonably successful end to the 2020/21 campaign under the Scotsman but failing to get going at the start of this one.
Perhaps they should count themselves lucky to be in their current situation considering they were hovering close to the drop zone with McAvoy - but their decision making to bring Lowe in was spot on and it just goes to show how much things can change with a new man coming in. At Reading, our problems wouldn’t dissolve automatically if Veljko Paunovic left because other problems need to be addressed, but it would at least provide us with a chance of remaining afloat this season.
What an absolutely shambolic week at the club both on and off the pitch.
Wednesday evening just showed how many problems there currently are at the club with numerous parties needing to take ownership. Some of those players out there needed to do a lot more against Peterborough despite the tough conditions - because the desire was lacking and regardless of who’s at the helm - they should be doing everything they can to make the supporters proud.
Paunovic also has to take his fair share of criticism because that was a display lacking any sort of direction. It’s not even as if the tactics were bad - they were non-existent and for everyone’s sake, he has to be removed from his position. As many people pointed out, he didn’t look well in midweek and certainly didn’t look like the man who arrived at the Select Car Leasing Stadium back in 2020.
And finally, Dayong Pang and Dai Yongge should be taking a long hard look in the mirror for not taking action to minimise the toxicity. To not remove Paunovic was a dereliction of their duty and led to midweek’s events. Hiding behind the Serbian and Kia Joorabchian is no longer an option - and it will only be a matter of time until fans’ understandable anger is aimed at them two.
One to Watch: Cameron Archer
Emil Riis was my ‘one to watch’ back in August and I could’ve easily picked him again - because he’s been a changed man for the Lancashire side this season.
He may not have got himself on the scoresheet against Fulham back in the latter stages of November - but he was superb that day and has continued to put in consistent performances during 2021/22.
However, I have gone for his forward partner in Cameron Archer, who arrived from Aston Villa on a loan deal last month. Appearing on Villa’s bench on numerous occasions this season, Steven Gerrard may have been reluctant to let him go but the Liverpool legend decided to sanction this move and that has been to Preston’s benefit.
Recording three goals in six games for today’s opponents, he will be a real threat and you certainly wouldn’t bet against him getting on the scoresheet again today. His hat-trick against Barrow for Villa in the Carabao Cup earlier this season was a real sign of things to come from the 20-year-old.
The Last Meeting
Reading 2-1 Preston North End
- Preston have conceded a total of zero goals in their last four league matches. Can the visitors break through their defence?
- They have also gone unbeaten in all but one of their last 11 league games.
- Reading have gone unbeaten in all but one of their last eight meetings with Preston. You know what’s happening today then.
- There were 18 league games sandwiched between the Royals; last two clean sheets against Barnsley (H) and Peterborough (A).
My lineup: Hein, Rahman, Holmes, Morrison, Yiadom, Rinomhota, Laurent, Hoilett, Swift, Ince, Meite
There were a couple of iffy moments from Karl Hein - but he made some good saves and probably deserves to keep his place as he continues to settle into senior football. It’s interesting to see the various opinions on the Estonian on social media - but I thought he did fine.
I also liked Baba Rahman in midweek, who was decent at times with some good defensive work and he also showed promise going forward, deserving an assist in the second half after putting in an inch-perfect cross for John Swift. He lines up with Andy Yiadom, who at least fronted up to the fans after the match. We need the likes of him and Michael Morrison to be leaders on the pitch though.
Morrison takes his place alongside Tom Holmes - and though I did think about putting Tom McIntyre in - perhaps it’s not the right match after seeing the regular starting duo keep a clean sheet.
If Josh Laurent is fit, he has to come in for Danny Drinkwater, though the former hasn’t exactly been in great form either. The ex-England international was well off the pace in midweek though - and is a completely different man from the one we saw against Fulham (a) earlier in the season.
Junior Hoilett returns from suspension to take Yakou Meite’s wing spot, with Tom Ince on the other side and John Swift retaining his place in the middle, though the latter will be hoping to have more of an impact than he did on Wednesday.
And up top, Meite replaces Joao who didn’t do enough to keep his place in the starting 11 for me. Taking the latter out also allows Paunovic to manage his game time, something that could be important with a busy schedule. It’s also important to manage Meite, so I wouldn’t be upset to see Jahmari Clarke start.
Score Prediction: Preston North End 2-1 Reading
Other Championship Fixtures
All fixtures Saturday 19th February (3pm KO) unless stated:
Fulham vs Huddersfield Town (12:30pm KO)
Blackburn Rovers vs Millwall
Bristol City vs Middlesbrough
Cardiff City vs Blackpool
Coventry City vs Barnsley
Derby County vs Peterborough United
Luton Town vs West Bromwich Albion
Queens Park Rangers vs Hull City
Sheffield United vs Swansea City
Stoke City vs Birmingham City