Reading face a tough task this Good Friday as they make the trip to promotion battlers Sheffield United, with three points for either side vital for their respective causes.
It previously looked as though today’s teams would both be finishing in the lower half of the table after the hosts struggled in the early stages of the 2021/22 campaign under Slavisa Jokanovic, perhaps something of a surprise considering the Serbian’s previous success. They look far more comfortable under the stewardship of Paul Heckingbottom - and will probably perform much better than they did in the reverse fixture back in November.
The visitors will also be pumped up going into this tie though, as they look for redemption following a disappointing loss against Cardiff last weekend. Will that be enough to get them anything out of this game though? That remains to be seen.
As always, here are the facts and stats you need to know ahead of this afternoon’s kick-off.
What? Championship Matchday 42
Who? Sheffield United
Where? Bramall Lane
When? Friday 15th April 2022
Opposition Manager? Paul Heckingbottom
The Blades have encountered some injury problems recently with the arrival of Filip Uremovic being much-needed last month, as Chris Basham and Charlie Goode continue to sit on the sidelines.
Kyron Gordon has stepped up admirably at times - but a more experienced option was needed in their race for the play-offs and the addition of the Croatian has enabled them to retain their back-three system. They look so much better playing three centre-backs and this is why, in hindsight, they were right to dismiss a multiple promotion-winning manager in Slavisa Jokanovic in November.
Not only does their formation suit them more - but also the way they play because it was clear Jokanovic’s style wasn’t winning over a majority of the club’s fanbase. The results didn’t exactly help that - but you can understand why some were so fed up considering how woefully they played in the reverse fixture at the Select Car Leasing Stadium. They actually won that match 1-0 - but didn’t perform well enough on the night to create excitement for the Blades’ fans.
Is there anyone else other than me that wasn’t angry about the second half last weekend? I can understand why there was unhappiness because it was a poor showing but we already know the score. This is a group of players who are underperforming quite severely and need all the luck and support they can get, so a big reset is needed in the summer. In saying that, we’ve still got a job to do in our quest to secure our safety despite results going our way last Saturday. Resting on our laurels now would be dangerous, so full concentration is needed by Paul Ince’s men between now and when survival is guaranteed.
Speaking of the 54-year-old, I have to be honest and say I was probably slightly harsh on him the other day when I provided a negative reaction to reports that he was offered the job on a longer-term basis. Fair play to Ince at this stage - because he’s managed to get more points on the board than I thought and for that - he deserves a lot of praise.
However, you can definitely see him getting the sack in October or November if he’s appointed for next season and I don’t want his spell to end on a sour note. In an ideal world, he’ll get us to safety, we’ll thank him for his work when he leaves at the end of the season and he’ll then be remembered fondly.
One to Watch: Morgan Gibbs-White
Gibbs-White has undoubtedly been the Blades’ most influential player this term, recording nine goals and seven assists in 30 league appearances and showing exactly why he should be playing in the Premier League.
He was a big miss when he was out of action earlier this year and although Heckingbottom’s side managed to cope reasonably well without him, having him available can only be a good thing going into a potential play-off campaign in the coming weeks.
Unless his current loan side are promoted to the top tier at the end of this term though, it would be a surprise to see him back at Bramall Lane. Parent club Wolverhampton Wanderers may want to use him regularly next season anyway.
The Last Meeting
Reading 0-1 Sheffield United
- The Blades haven’t lost a single home game under the stewardship of current boss Heckingbottom. That’s impressive.
- Sheffield United have conceded three goals or more in just one of Heckingbottom’s 22 league games in charge. That was a 4-1 defeat to Coventry - but they have been reasonably good defensively apart from that.
- Reading have managed to get themselves on the scoresheet in each of their last five league games.
- The Royals have lost their last six meetings with today’s opponents.
My lineup: Nyland, Rahman, Holmes, Morrison, Yiadom, Laurent, Drinkwater, Hoilett, Ejaria, Ince, Joao
Between the sticks, Orjan Nyland keeps his place and although the Royals’ opponents have the likes of Billy Sharp and Rhian Brewster out, he’s still likely to be tested often this afternoon.
As most of us have been saying, Baba Rahman desperately needs to come in as a more orthodox option on the left, with Tom Holmes and Michael Morrison starting again to take care of Oli McBurnie. Andy Yiadom retains his place on the right.
Taking care of Gibbs-White could be the key to getting something from this tie - and Josh Laurent could be the man to do that with his athleticism. Danny Drinkwater doesn’t deserve to be dropped so he’s in the first 11, although I wouldn’t be against seeing Tom Dele-Bashiru in there as a quicker figure to try and stop the Wolves loanee. Laurent won’t be able to do it all on his own.
Junior Hoilett and Tom Ince start once more - but Ovie Ejaria gets another chance to shine in place of John Swift who probably won’t start. It would be interesting to see the ex-Liverpool man in a more central position if he was to be given a chance in this role.
And up top, Lucas Joao could be the man to make a difference, though he will face a big task in trying to get past three central defenders. This is one of the reasons why I was tempted to change to a 3-4-1-2 and I’ll actually put an alternative lineup down below.
Score Prediction: Sheffield United 2-0 Reading
Other Championship Fixtures
All fixtures get underway on Friday 15th April (3pm KO) unless stated:
Luton Town vs Nottingham Forest (12:30pm KO)
Birmingham City vs Coventry City
AFC Bournemouth vs Middlesbrough
Hull City vs Cardiff City
Peterborough United vs Blackburn Rovers
Preston North End vs Millwall
Stoke City vs Bristol City
Swansea City vs Barnsley
West Bromwich Albion vs Blackpool
Huddersfield Town vs Queens Park Rangers (5:30pm KO)
Derby County vs Fulham (8pm KO)