Reading return to league action this weekend as they take on Queens Park Rangers, who will be desperate to produce a good reaction to last Saturday’s FA Cup defeat against Fleetwood Town.
There now seems to be stability at Loftus Road after the departure of Mick Beale - but they haven’t been in the best form recently and will be keen to get themselves back on track at the Select Car Leasing Stadium.
Following their victory over the Royals in the reverse fixture, they may be confident of winning another three points but the hosts’ home form has been decent this season and that’s something the visitors will need to be wary of coming into this tie.
Can either side come out of this clash victorious? It’s a tough one to call!
Ahead of kick-off, we have some facts and thoughts for you.
What? Championship Matchday 27
Who? Queens Park Rangers
Where? Select Car Leasing Stadium
When? Saturday 14th January
Opposition Manager? Neil Critchley
It was good to get through to the next round of the FA Cup and give some fringe players a chance to shine in the process. Having Sam Hutchinson back was a boost - but it will be interesting to see whether he plays again this afternoon. Having him in the middle of the park could be useful for us - because Mamadou Loum and Jeff Hendrick need more competition for a starting spot in midfield. Having Tyrese Fornah back shortly will also be a plus for the Berkshire outfit considering how well the Nottingham Forest man has performed this term.
It’s unfortunate that we can’t make any signings at this point because a backup option for Tom Ince would be ideal (although Femi Azeez could be an alternative) - and it remains to be seen whether we can offload anyone between now and the end of the month.
With Liam Moore injured, Ovie Ejaria and Lucas Joao are the two players that are probably the most likely to leave, although both haven’t had a decent opportunity to put themselves in the shop window in recent months.
Queens Park Rangers:
You have to feel for QPR because they were in an extremely good position when we faced them last - and looked set for a bright season under former manager Beale. However, they struggled towards the latter stages of his tenure and haven’t fully recovered since, with Critchley’s side in danger of falling away from the promotion mix completely.
Burnley and Sheffield United are almost guaranteed to finish inside the top six and with the likes of Blackburn Rovers, Watford, Middlesbrough and West Bromwich Albion also strong contenders to be in the mix at the end of the campaign, QPR really need to up their game.
They have a reasonably strong squad in fairness and that’s one reason why they should definitely be looking to secure a finish in the top half - but they have work to do in January if they want to give themselves the best chance of pushing for the play-offs. The forward department is clearly an area Critchley’s side needs to strengthen - and they need to ensure they aren’t too reliant on Lyndon Dykes between now and the end of the season.
The Last Meeting
QPR 2-1 Reading
Starting XI: Lumley, Guinness-Walker, McIntyre, Holmes, Yiadom, Hoilett, Loum, Mbengue, Ince, Azeez, Long
Joe Lumley starts between the sticks again, with Tom McIntyre, Tom Holmes and Andy Yiadom making up the back three. Naby Sarr hasn’t been good enough since his return from injury and it’s currently unclear whether Hutchinson will play. The latter wasn’t great last weekend either though.
Nesta Guinness-Walker starts on the left once more even though he didn’t enjoy the best afternoon at The Hawthorns, with Junior Hoilett claiming his spot on the right as he prepares to take on his old club. Having these two on either side should help us to get forward regularly - and the duo could be game-changers if they perform well.
We could benefit from having a more defensive-minded midfield if those two start - with Amadou Mbengue getting the chance to play further up alongside Mamadou Loum who did well at The Hawthorns.
Femi Azeez performed well last weekend and should get the opportunity to start. And Tom Ince will hopefully be back to his best after being rested against Watford.
That leaves just one more spot up for grabs - and Shane Long is the man I’d like to see in the first 11 - although I wouldn’t be disappointed to see Lucas Joao start either.
Score Prediction: Reading 2-1 QPR
Here are my predictions for this round of Championship fixtures (all fixtures take place today):
Rotherham United 1-2 Blackburn Rovers
Bristol City 2-2 Birmingham City
Burnley 2-0 Coventry City
Cardiff City 0-1 Wigan Athletic
Hull City 2-1 Huddersfield Town
Luton Town 1-2 West Bromwich Albion
Middlesbrough 3-0 Millwall
Preston North End 0-0 Norwich City
Sheffield United 3-1 Stoke City
Sunderland 2-0 Swansea City
Watford 2-1 Blackpool