Reading return to the Select Car Leasing Stadium this afternoon as they take on play-off hopefuls Millwall, with three points for either side potentially crucial for their respective causes.
For the Royals, it feels as though they took one step forward and then one step back with the Birmingham and Blackpool results but with a clear week of training to prepare for this game, this upcoming match almost feels like a fresh start even though some (including me) remain sceptical about Paul Ince’s appointment.
The visitors, on the other hand, still have a reasonably decent chance of making the top six after a solid campaign so far and will certainly fancy their chances of a victory today considering their superior league position.
Whether this potential confidence pays dividends or not remains to be seen but for now, here are the facts and stats you need to know ahead of kick-off.
What? Championship Matchday 35
Where? Select Car Leasing Stadium
When? Saturday 5th March 2022
Opposition Manager? Gary Rowett
Last weekend was a real source of frustration - because it felt like the Reading we had become accustomed to under Veljko Paunovic. Some of the defending was very poor and with a full week to prepare for this match, hopefully this issue has been addressed because we won’t stay up until we stop leaking goals. In fairness, we had a right-back playing at left-back and a central midfielder playing at right-back which didn’t help, but with the likes of Tom Holmes and Scott Dann due to return at some point, hopefully we can improve.
We certainly have plenty of attacking options at our disposal though in what is a big positive - and it would be hard to see the goals drying up if we can keep the vast majority of those players fit. Hopefully Yakou Meite can get some more starts under his belt - because he could be a key player between now and the end of the season if fit enough to perform at the top of his game. Lucas Joao remaining fit will also be key considering the lack of alternatives there are up top.
It was actually a surprise to hear Jed Wallace express his side’s dissatisfaction with their defence this season - because they seem to have been reasonably solid looking at their goals against column. It’s their lack of goalscoring threat that will see them miss out on the play-offs at this stage - because scoring at a rate of just over one goal per game (36 in 33).
Even today’s opponents have scored six more than them - and though it could be argued their attack can’t be blamed because of Rowett’s system - they need to start getting on the scoresheet a lot more often.
There are some real positives for the Lions going forward though. They were reasonably impressive against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup earlier this year - and Danny McNamara was one of the standout players that afternoon. Jed Wallace has also been a shining light once again and they certainly have the building blocks in place to remain a solid second-tier side for the foreseeable future.
One to Watch: Tyler Burey
There are two obvious candidates for this section including talisman Wallace and former Royal Jake Cooper - but Burey’s emergence has been impressive since his return from Hartlepool United and he has the potential to provide the goals needed to take his side closer to the top six.
Making the step up from League Two to the Championship mid-season has to be commended and considering the impact he’s already made on Rowett’s side, it’s no real surprise to see him linked with a move to Premier League side Brentford recently.
However, you feel as though he needs at least one full season in the second tier before moving on to bigger things - because he’s still inexperienced and has a lot to learn if he wants to play at the highest level. The 21-year-old is certainly a bright talent though.
The Last Meeting
Millwall 1-0 Reading
- Reading have gone winless in their last four meetings with today’s opponents.
- The Royals have conceded four or more goals in three of their 12 league games in 2022 - a percentage that needs to come down sharpish.
- Only three teams have a better defensive record than Millwall in the Championship this term.
- However, they have scored the least amount of goals of any side currently in the top half this season.
My lineup: Southwood, Yiadom, McIntyre, Morrison, Abrefa, Rinomhota, Drinkwater, Hoilett, Swift, Meite, Joao
Luke Southwood will need to be a lot more convincing than he was against Blackpool if he is to retain his spot. He has the potential to be a great shot-stopper and there’s no doubt he should be given a second chance to get used to being number one again - but you never know what type of performance you’re going to get from him and that’s starting to become a source of concern.
One change in the backline is made with Kelvin Abrefa coming in for Tom Dele-Bashiru, allowing Andy Rinomhota to take his spot in the middle of the park. Playing Abrefa may be something of a risk - but not having Rinomhota in the middle proved to be costly at the weekend and this is why Ince needs to take a chance on the teenager.
It’s hard to judge how good the youngster is at this stage considering how little we’ve seen of him at a senior level, but if Tyrell Ashcroft can get a chance, Abrefa will want one too and will be looking to take this potential opportunity with both hands if he can get it.
Danny Drinkwater clearly missed Rinomhota on Saturday so I won’t judge him too harshly for his Blackpool performance. He gets another go with John Swift and Junior Hoilett keeping their starting spots.
Yakou Meite may have played earlier in the week - but he comes in from the start for Tom Ince who could probably do with a game or two away from the starting lineup.
And up top, Lucas Joao gets the nod again. You would certainly back him to get on the scoresheet again and I believe he will - but that may not be enough for the win despite the hosts’ best efforts.
Score Prediction: Reading 1-1 Millwall
Other Championship Fixtures
All fixtures get underway on Saturday 5th March (3pm KO) unless stated:
Fulham vs Blackburn Rovers (12:30pm KO)
Bristol City vs Birmingham City
Derby County vs Barnsley
Hull City vs West Bromwich Albion
Middlesbrough vs Luton Town
Preston North End vs AFC Bournemouth
Queens Park Rangers vs Cardiff City
Stoke City vs Blackpool
Swansea City vs Coventry City