Reading are back in action for their first match of 2023 as they travel to The Hawthorns to face West Bromwich Albion, with the hosts arguably the favourites to take the three points.
Today’s home side are in much better shape than they were prior to the reverse fixture between the two sides in mid-October, with Carlos Corberan enjoying a reasonably successful start to life in the Midlands. The mood couldn’t be any worse following his first game in charge with Sheffield United claiming a 2-0 victory - but Albion have managed to turn things around and will now be looking to secure a place in the top six at the end of the campaign.
The Royals will be hoping to disrupt their momentum - but will they be able to? Let’s wait and see.
We have some facts and thoughts for you ahead of kick-off!
What? Championship Matchday 26
Who? West Bromwich Albion
Where? The Hawthorns
When? Monday 2nd January
Opposition Manager? Carlos Corberan
Considering the strength of their squad, you would certainly back them to be in the promotion mix at the end of the season. Winning a top-two spot may be a big ask now considering how well Burnley and Sheffield United are doing - but a play-off spot is certainly within reach. There may be others who will be hoping to secure a top-six place including Watford, Norwich City, Coventry City, Middlesbrough and Luton Town - but Albion have a decent amount of quality and depth in their first team.
Jed Wallace is one player who needs to be monitored closely because he can be lethal in the final third along with Daryl Dike and former Royal John Swift. Tom Rogic is another player who has impressed at times since his arrival and you would back Okay Yokuslu to make an impact too following his brace against Preston North End.
Attack will surely be their best form of defence for the remainder of the campaign considering the options they have at their disposal - and it would be difficult to see them sitting back at any point this afternoon so it will be interesting to see whether the visitors can counter effectively.
You definitely feel the Royals need a couple of goals if they want to come away with three points - and they have the potential to get on the scoresheet multiple times considering the number of set pieces they had against Norwich City.
This afternoon’s game will be a tough test though and I was much more confident of picking up a point or three at Carrow Road - but we shouldn’t be written off.
A point in Norfolk is always a good one considering the strength of the Canaries’ side - but we could have easily won if we had made the most of our set-piece opportunities. The hosts had their chances too though - and we’ll definitely take a draw. It’s another point closer to safety on our journey to 50 - and it would be a big boost if we could get another one or three this afternoon.
Is it just me that’s trying to find three teams that will almost definitely finish below us this season? 21st is all we need - but let’s hope we can finish much higher than that. If we can, I’m sure we will all be satisfied.
The Last Meeting
Reading 0-2 West Brom
Starting XI: Lumley, Guinness-Walker, McIntyre, Holmes, Yiadom, Hoilett, Loum, Hendrick, Meite, Long, Ince
Joe Lumley starts between the sticks once again - but there’s one change in defence with Nesta Guinness-Walker coming in for Naby Sarr. The latter has spent a considerable amount of time on the sidelines this season so his underwhelming performances are understandable - but he should come out now.
I wouldn’t be too upset to see Amadou Mbengue come in either - but I’m not sure whether he would be suitable in midfield when we play the 3-4-3 system.
Guinness-Walker and Junior Hoilett should provide us with a bit of attacking threat in the final third, with the former’s presence allowing us to go forward on the left-hand side. Too many of our attacks against Norwich happened on the other flank.
Mamadou Loum and Jeff Hendrick start again with Sam Hutchinson out, though I’m not convinced about the former two.
And Andy Carroll gets a rest with Shane Long coming in. Carroll was pretty effective in our last outing - but he probably shouldn’t play too many games in a short space of time.
Score Prediction: West Brom 2-0 Reading
Here are my predictions for this round of Championship fixtures:
Birmingham City 1-2 Middlesbrough
Norwich City 0-2 Watford
Stoke City 2-1 Preston North End
Swansea City 0-2 Burnley
Wigan Athletic 0-2 Hull City
Queens Park Rangers 1-3 Sheffield United