Reading return to the Select Car Leasing Stadium for the first time since the international break as they take on Stoke City this evening, a match that could be defining in the home side’s relegation battle.
Securing a late equaliser against fellow strugglers Barnsley, the Royals come into this tie with a bit of a bounce but will only be able to continue that with a victory tonight, especially with Derby County getting themselves back in contention with their weekend win against Preston North End.
Following their decline over the course of the season, opponents Stoke City have little to play for but will be buoyed by their win against Sheffield United on Saturday, a result that cannot be understated considering how good the Blades have been under Paul Heckingbottom.
But will this momentum pay dividends away from home tonight? We’ll soon find out.
For now, here are the facts and stats you need to know ahead of this clash.
What? Championship Matchday 40
Who? Stoke City
Where? Select Car Leasing Stadium
When? Tuesday 5th April 2022
Opposition Manager? Michael O’Neill
That late equaliser against the Tykes at the weekend was so crucial and the only real shame is the fact we didn’t steal all three points in the end. However, that first-half performance was pretty awful and that cannot be repeated if we want to give ourselves the very best chance of remaining afloat in the division.
Last weekend’s opponents may have been poor, but they were better than us in the opening 45 minutes and with all three teams in the drop zone still in the survival race, better performances will be needed. You’d take results over performances all day long - but we were never going to get anything out of that tie at Oakwell if we hadn’t improved in the latter stages of the game.
Looking at the short term is crucial for the players and management team because of the current on-field situation - but you do worry about what’s going on off it at this stage. We needed more footballing heads in the club months ago including a sporting director, with forensic planning nothing short of crucial ahead of the summer. Not only did we need these people in place months ago considering the scale of change there will be in the summer, but also to make separate plans for the Championship and League One. Whether we will be ready for the next transfer window when the season ends remains to be seen.
Where they are now is something of a shock considering they had such a productive summer transfer window, offloading those deemed surplus to requirements and bringing in the calibre of players needed to be competitive again.
A genuine process seemed to be in place and looked to pay dividends for a potential play-off push this season - but they currently find themselves in mid-table again and that has to be disheartening - especially after recruiting the likes of Phil Jagielka and Lewis Baker during the winter to strengthen their squad.
This has rightly raised questions over Michael O’Neill’s future - but it remains to be seen whether the Potters’ board stick or twist at the end of the campaign.
One to Watch: Lewis Baker
In fairness, Baker may not be available at all after missing out at the weekend, though O’Neill is hopeful of a return in time for tonight’s clash in Berkshire.
The ex-Chelsea man was superb during the second half of the 2018/19 season under Jose Gomes, so it’s no real surprise to see him thrive at the bet365 Stadium either, recording seven goals and two assists in 14 appearances since his move in January.
If there’s one criticism of the midfielder I could make, it’s the fact he didn’t get away from Stamford Bridge permanently much earlier in his career because he turns 27 later this month. However, the most important thing is that he has secured a longer-term move away from the English capital and now he has a real chance to shine.
Let’s just hope he doesn’t make the difference tonight if he’s involved.
The Last Meeting
Stoke City 3-2 Reading
- Reading have only kept one clean sheet in their last eight league games.
- The Royals have also only scored six goals in Paul Ince’s seven matches in charge. Should that be a source of concern?
- Stoke have kept two consecutive clean sheets coming into this tie, having been able to record one in their eight league games prior to that. Will the likes of Jagielka and Taylor Harwood-Bellis keep the Royals at bay tonight?
- The Potters have only failed to score in one of their past 12 second-tier matches - a pretty impressive record considering their decline.
My lineup: Nyland, Rahman, Holmes, Morrison, Yiadom, Laurent, Drinkwater, Ejaria, Swift, Hoilett, Joao
You know the drill already with Orjan Nyland between the sticks. If he can perform well for the remainder of the season, I would definitely be looking at offering him a new contract.
On the left, it has to be Baba Rahman as a more orthodox option than Tom McIntyre. The latter was crucial in putting in a block late on at the weekend - but it’s clear he isn’t a natural full-back and this is why he needs to be taken out of the starting lineup.
The rest of the backline remains unchanged with Tom Holmes and Michael Morrison ahead of Scott Dann in the pecking order - and Andy Yiadom remains on the right-hand side.
The weekend’s MOTM Danny Drinkwater deserves to retain his starting spot with Josh Laurent by the side of him. Ince may not see him as a holding player - but he can’t rock the boat too much and this is why he stays alongside Drinkwater with John Swift ahead of him.
Ovie Ejaria is perhaps lucky to still be in the starting 11 if he keeps his place tonight because he wasn’t on form in South Yorkshire - but Tom Ince’s absence means he continues there with Junior Hoilett on the right. It may be a risk to throw the latter straight back in - but the likes of Brandon Barker and Alen Halilovic haven’t played a lot for the Royals recently either.
Another man who is probably fortunate to retain his spot in the first 11 is Lucas Joao, who was poor at times last weekend and wasn’t as effective as we would want him to be. Still, he can be a game-changer and this is why it would be hard to drop him at this moment in time.
Score Prediction: Reading 1-0 Stoke City
Other Championship Fixtures
Tuesday 5th April:
Millwall vs Swansea City
Peterborough United vs Luton Town
Preston North End vs Blackpool
Sheffield United vs Queens Park Rangers (All 7:45pm KO)
Wednesday 6th April:
Middlesbrough vs Fulham
Nottingham Forest vs Coventry City (Both 7:45pm KO)
West Bromwich Albion vs AFC Bournemouth (8pm KO)