Reading make the trip back up to Lancashire this weekend as they face Blackpool at Bloomfield Road, looking for revenge from their reverse fixture in what could be a crucial victory if they come out on top.
The Royals got off to the dream start under Paul Ince in midweek when they secured a 2-1 win against Birmingham City, showing perseverance to take a 2-0 lead before holding on at the end following their concession as they displayed real mental strength. They did this in the absence of Baba Rahman, who had become an instrumental figure for Ince’s men and one of the better performers prior to his absence.
This afternoon, they come up against a side that have adapted well to the Championship in Blackpool, recruiting reasonably well in the summer and being coached superbly by Neil Critchley whose stock is likely to be high if he can secure a respectable position for the Seasiders at the end of this term.
Who will win the three points in this one though? Would a point be another step forward for this afternoon’s away side? I would say so.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of this clash.
What? Championship Matchday 34
Where? Bloomfield Road
When? Saturday 26th February 2022
Opposition Manager? Neil Critchley
Coming up through the play-offs last season, they were arguably one of the favourites to be relegated back down to the third tier before the start of this term. However, smart recruitment in the summer with several talented youngsters coming in boosted their chances of survival straight away, with the experienced Richard Keogh also proving to be a real asset for the second-tier side.
Under the stewardship of Critchley, they are likely to solidify themselves as an established Championship side in the coming years and the real challenge for the Seasiders will be keeping hold of him, as well as some of their brightest sparks. Looking at the bigger picture though, they are in a much better off-field situation now compared to the Oyston era, so good luck to them.
What a difference a week can make. In fairness, I was expecting us to win just one point from six - but to win all six against two decent sides is a great step forward. However, the last two games will only be meaningful if we can build on that in the coming weeks.
Some people will focus on results concerning Derby, Peterborough, Barnsley and Hull and that’s understandable - but we must focus on ourselves in this relegation battle. We have the calibre of players needed to secure our survival - but do we have the cohesion, mental strength and team spirit to see us through? We’ll find out soon enough.
Three players that have really stepped up to the plate since the Peterborough match are Danny Drinkwater, Andy Yiadom and Lucas Joao. Credit has to go to all three, especially the former who has been criticised heavily on social media in recent times, including by myself. If the Chelsea loanee can retain his consistency, he will be a key figure between now and the end of this term.
One to Watch: Josh Bowler
Bowler is undoubtedly one of their most valuable assets has reportedly been the subject of interest from Premier League side Leicester City, as well as AFC Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest.
In fact, the latter submitted multiple bids in attempts to lure him to the City Ground last month and with good reason, with the ex-Everton man recording four goals and three assists in the Championship this season.
All four of these goals have come in his side’s last six Championship games - and it could even be argued that his seven goal contributions aren’t reflective of his real impact - because he’s been a game-changer and a real outlet for them.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get on the scoresheet again this afternoon, so Tom McIntyre and Andy Yiadom could be crucial if he plays on the wing in this latest tie. Keeping him quiet will be key to any victory.
The Last Meeting
Reading 2-3 Blackpool
- Blackpool have gone winless in their last four league matches coming into this tie. Surely they can’t continue this run for too much longer?
- Reading have a chance to go four league games unbeaten for the first time since September.
- The Royals have kept just one clean sheet in 12 competitive games during 2022 so far.
- They went unbeaten in their five meetings with today’s opponents prior to their 3-2 loss this season in the reverse fixture last year.
My lineup: Hein, McIntyre, Holmes, Morrison, Yiadom, Rinomhota, Drinkwater, Hoilett, Swift, Meite, Joao
Karl Hein did reasonably well against Birmingham in midweek and made some important saves, so he starts again this afternoon and fully deserves to keep his spot there for the foreseeable future if he can remain reasonably error-free. For a signing that was met by criticism, the boy has done well.
Baba Rahman looks set to be out again, so Tom McIntyre is another man who keeps his spot after a solid performance on Tuesday night. I was very impressed with him - and though we may lack an attacking threat down the left-hand side with him - his defensive solidity will hopefully pay dividends. Andy Yiadom was superb against the Blues too and has to keep his place on the right with Tom Holmes and Michael Morrison in the middle.
It would be good to have Scott Dann back at some point though just to provide another option and it may potentially help to give Holmes a rest. Some would question whether having two older central defenders at the back would be effective - but Derby certainly made it work with Curtis Davies and Phil Jagielka when the latter was there.
Josh Laurent is hopefully closing in on a return - but Danny Drinkwater has stepped up recently and deserves to be in the starting lineup because of that alongside Andy Rinomhota. Like I said earlier, well done to the Chelsea loanee for fighting back and proving his worth. He’s obviously a decent player - now is the time for him to continue to show that.
There’s an obvious dilemma in the more advanced midfield roles with Yakou Meite potentially ready to start now after easing his way back into the first team - but it would be hard to take out Junior Hoilett or Tom Ince at this stage. This is why he remains on the bench, though he could be a real asset in the latter stages of today’s game if he comes on.
And up top, the main man Lucas Joao keeps his place after proving to be instrumental in recent wins. When he plays well, the whole team usually does and that just reinforces how important he really is.
Score Prediction: Blackpool 0-1 Reading
Other Championship Fixtures
All fixtures get underway on Saturday 26th February (3pm KO) unless stated:
Blackburn Rovers vs Queens Park Rangers (12:30pm KO)
AFC Bournemouth vs Stoke City
Barnsley vs Middlesbrough
Birmingham City vs Huddersfield Town
Cardiff City vs Fulham
Coventry City vs Preston North End
Luton Town vs Derby County
Millwall vs Sheffield United
Nottingham Forest vs Bristol City
Peterborough United vs Hull City
West Bromwich Albion vs Swansea City (Monday 28th February; 8pm KO)