Reading are back in Championship action once again this weekend as they take on play-off hopefuls Nottingham Forest, who will be full of confidence after securing their place in the last eight of the FA Cup earlier this week.
The two sides are currently in contrasting situations both on and off the pitch, with Forest and the Royals competing at separate ends of the table and the former seemingly having a stable ship behind the scenes.
They will be hoping to continue pushing for a top-six spot despite the fact they will have to be on their A-game if they want to get past the likes of Middlesbrough and Sheffield United, both of whom are performing well under their respective managers.
However, they still have something to play for and so do this afternoon’s visitors, so it promises to be an extremely exciting tie in the East Midlands.
For now, here’s everything you need to know ahead of this second-tier fixture.
What? Championship Matchday 36
Who? Nottingham Forest
Where? City Ground
When? Saturday 12th March 2022
Opposition Manager? Steve Cooper
Forest seem to have something special going on right now. The connection between the manager and supporters is among the strongest in the EFL and a lot of credit has to go to Cooper for turning their season around. Not only have they dragged themselves away from danger - but now have a genuine chance of securing their place in the top six and if they do - you certainly wouldn’t bet against them winning the play-offs. Cooper will be hoping it’s the third time lucky for him after recent heartbreak with Swansea.
Looking forward, regardless of whether they are in the Premier League or Championship, they need to focus on filling the void their loanees will leave when they return to their respective parent clubs. They already have a strong base with Steve Cook, Scott McKenna and Joe Worrall proving to be real heroes at the back - but they will need to look at the wing-back area, the forward department and they will also need to be extremely careful with who they choose to replace James Garner if he doesn’t return to the City Ground. The Manchester United loanee has been integral to their cause this term.
I’ve said this many times before but I haven’t enjoyed watching us as much this season, not just because of the on-field performances, but also because of the turmoil off the pitch. Bad decision-making is something we have become accustomed to in recent years - but it’s really starting to bite us now and I would be very pleasantly surprised if we were to stay afloat in the second tier beyond the end of this season.
It almost seems crass to talk about on-field matters when there are so many problems off it - but several parties to take responsibility for the current situation and pull their socks up. Just the owner stepping up is not enough, just the CEO stepping up is not enough. It needs to be a collective effort.
One to Watch: Djed Spence
Considering he’s only 21, Spence is a pretty complete player, though there are a couple of improvements he can make to improve his game further.
He does have the tendency to lose the ball at times - but he’s certainly a real threat going forward and won’t be in the Championship for too long if he can sustain his current performance levels.
Teams across Europe are taking a look at him ahead of a possible move in the summer and that’s no real surprise. He may have a good connection with his current loan side’s supporters, with Isaiah Jones’ performances at parent club Middlesbrough potentially making a permanent departure likely, but he may only return to the City Ground next term and beyond if they are promoted at the end of 2021/22.
Keep an eye out for him this afternoon - because he and Brennan Johnson have been superb together down the right for much of this campaign. And those two could be game-changers for the hosts.
The Last Meeting
Reading 1-1 Nottingham Forest
- Reading have won eight points from a possible 39 in 2022. Not great at all.
- The Royals have gone unbeaten in their last six meetings with this afternoon’s opponents.
- Today’s hosts have gone unbeaten in all but one of their 12 competitive games in 2022.
- They have also scored in all but one of these 12 matches - no real surprise considering they added the likes of Keinan Davis and Sam Surridge to their squad during January. This is still a reasonably impressive stat though considering Lewis Grabban’s absence.
My lineup: Southwood, Yiadom, Dann, McIntyre, Morrison, Ince, Rinomhota, Drinkwater, Dele-Bashiru, Swift, Clarke
Orjand Nyland has signed - but it remains to be seen whether he’s chucked in from the start. After only signing on Thursday, maybe Southwood gets one more game but I wouldn’t be too disheartened to see either between the sticks.
In defence, I’ve had to make a change I don’t want to make, but with Spence (and potentially Johnson) lining up on the right-hand side, Andy Yiadom has to come in on the left side in place of Tom McIntyre, who lines up alongside Scott Dann and Michael Morrison in central defence. Dann has been missed, so let’s hope he can have a decent impact.
On the right side, Tom Ince takes his place there having played as a wing-back at Stoke City earlier this season before arriving in Berkshire. Taking on Max Lowe will be a challenge, but Ince has the athleticism to cope with this assignment. I don’t want to have Yiadom on the left-hand side and if Ince could play on the left instead, that could be ideal but you would ideally want the more orthodox defender facing Spence and Johnson.
I have to be honest, I thought Danny Drinkwater had some good moments last weekend and probably didn’t deserve a lot of the stick he got. He gets another chance to shine alongside Andy Rinomhota, who needs to remain in the centre.
Tom Dele-Bashiru starts in a more advanced position and though I would ideally want to see Ovie Ejaria start alongside John Swift as two creative players, Ejaria’s long absence means he hasn’t merited a start yet. Dele-Bashiru could provide some energy just behind Jahmari Clarke - and could also be a considerable threat if he drifts out to the left-hand side at points.
It’s not yet clear whether Lucas Joao will be able to start and Yakou Meite isn’t ready to play 90 minutes yet, so Clarke comes in. It would also be good to see Nahum Melvin-Lambert at some point if Joao becomes unavailable.
With or without Joao, I just can’t see us getting anything out of this one. Forest are a formidable force and it would be hard to see us coping with it. It’ll be a 2-0 loss for me.
Score Prediction: Nottingham Forest 2-0 Reading
Other Championship Fixtures
All fixtures get underway on Saturday 12th March (3pm KO) unless stated:
Barnsley vs Fulham (12:30pm KO)
Birmingham City vs Hull City
Blackburn Rovers vs Bristol City
Blackpool vs Swansea City
AFC Bournemouth vs Derby County
Cardiff City vs Preston North End
Coventry City vs Sheffield United
Millwall vs Middlesbrough
Peterborough United vs Stoke City
Luton Town vs Queens Park Rangers (Sunday 13th March; 12pm KO)