Reading will be looking to get themselves back on track this afternoon in front of the TV cameras as they face Stoke City.
The Potters will be hoping to pick up their form following the appointment of Alex Neil, something that was seen as a coup by many considering he was progressing well at Sunderland before his switch to the bet365 Stadium. Despite having the ingredients to be pushing at the top end of the table in recent years though, they haven’t been able to mix them together well enough to be a genuine promotion contender.
They will be hoping that changes under the guidance of Neil though - and may be fancied to take a point or three from this tie considering the players they have at their disposal.
Ahead of this clash, we have some facts and thoughts for you!
What? Championship Matchday 8
Who? Stoke City
Where? Select Car Leasing Stadium
When? Sunday 4th September 2022
Opposition Manager? Alex Neil
Writing this on Saturday evening, we haven’t done any further business since deadline day and that’s understandable. It does seem as though a striker is the top priority before a midfielder comes in so it may be a surprise to see one of Massimo Luongo or Amadou Salif Mbengue announced anytime soon.
It may take some time for another striker to come in though, so it remains to be seen whether Luongo and/or Mbengue are willing to be patient. Considering the latter was released from Metz earlier this summer and probably doesn’t live in England at this stage, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he’s staying at the club hotel and with that, he may stay put for a bit longer.
At this stage though, he would probably need to be signed for the first team because it would be difficult to see him accept a role in Noel Hunt’s side at this stage.
Paul Ince seems to be pretty transparent on transfers anyway, so let’s hope we can get some information from him after today’s clash. You’d think at least one free agent will be coming in soon - but it’s currently unclear how close we are to our wage limit.
In terms of midweek’s game, we need to put it behind us as quickly as possible and get at least a point from this upcoming tie to keep our momentum going at home. Whether we can do that though remains to be seen.
There’s a part of me that thinks the sacking of Michael O’Neill was calculated - because the Northern Irishman was great in terms of recruitment.
I’m not silly enough to think O’Neill has been the only man responsible for bringing some decent additions to the bet365 Stadium - but he may have played a big role and this is why the Potters probably kept him on instead of sacking him at the end of last season.
And with the Staffordshire outfit’s board making the decision to relieve him of his duties last month, that gives Neil plenty of time to get his side back into the promotion mix. I can’t help but feel the appointment of the Scot was a shrewd one with his previous promotion-winning experience at Norwich City - and they have also weakened a league rival in the process with the 41-year-old leaving Sunderland to take up this post.
In terms of their lineup for their midweek clash against Swansea, their backline wasn’t the strongest but they certainly have some decent players up top and good options on the bench too, which could be key in this tie with the Royals’ current lack of depth with injuries.
Connor Taylor is one defensive player to keep an eye on though - because he could grow into a magnificent asset for the Potters if given a sufficient amount of game time to develop.
Opposition Player I’d Like: Liam Delap
Speaking of young players, I’d happily take Delap if there wasn’t a limit on the number of loan players we could have in a matchday squad.
He may not have fully proved himself at a senior level yet - but that’s because he hasn’t had a real chance to and after establishing himself as a prolific goalscorer in Manchester City’s academy in recent years - he would certainly have a chance of being an asset at the Select Car Leasing Stadium.
One thing he probably has over Dwight Gayle is the fact he’s got a point to prove and will only improve at his stage, so he could be an excellent addition as a fifth forward option alongside Lucas Joao, Shane Long, Yakou Meite and Femi Azeez (if he can get back to full fitness and stay fully fit).
Bringing in a new forward should be a non-negotiable considering Joao, Meite and Azeez’s injury record, so it’s reassuring to know that Ince is on the same page.
The Last Meeting
Reading 2-1 Stoke City
Starting XI: Lumley, Rahman, McIntyre, Sarr, Yiadom, Hoilett, Fornah, Loum, Hendrick, Ince, Long
Joe Lumley can’t really be blamed for any of the goals in midweek, so he comes in once more ahead of Dean Bouzanis, who will be looking to take his starting spot at some point.
And with Naby Sarr out of action, Tom McIntyre simply must move back into central defence with Sam Hutchinson and Andy Yiadom for company. Leaving Tom Holmes out was a difficult decision, but Junior Hoilett didn’t do much wrong at Bramall Lane and probably deserves to start ahead of Holmes who wasn’t at his best. Some will disagree with my selection, which is fair enough. If Baba Rahman is fully fit though, he needs to start.
In the middle of the park, it was tempting to take Jeff Hendrick out, put Tom Ince in an advanced midfield role and have Shane Long alongside Lucas Joao in a 3-4-1-2 system, but moving too many things around may cause unneeded disruption. In fairness, taking Holmes out of the starting lineup could be disruptive too.
One thing most Reading supporters will agree on though is having Tyrese Fornah back in the starting lineup alongside Mamadou Loum - and there were some classy touches from the latter in midweek despite the result. Let’s hope his quality shines through once again today.
Up top, Long comes in for Joao following an underwhelming couple of performances for the latter, who may need a bit more time to get himself back up to speed. When the Angolan is on top form though, he can be a game-changer so I hope he gets the full backing of the crowd this afternoon regardless of how many minutes he gets on the pitch.
In terms of a score prediction, I just have a bad feeling about today but perhaps that’s because the Potters will be so keen to perform well for a new manager. I’m going for a 2-0 defeat - but let’s hope the boys can prove me wrong.
Score Prediction: Reading 0-2 Stoke City
There are only three other fixtures left during this round of Championship games but we’ll make some predictions regardless:
Huddersfield Town 1-1 Blackpool
Hull City 1-3 Sheffield United
Middlesbrough 2-1 Sunderland