Can the Royals bounce back this weekend?
After an agonising loss in midweek at home to Brentford, Reading return to the Madejski Stadium once again this afternoon to face Gary Rowett’s Millwall.
Although Brentford are likely to go on and win the league, the Royals must maintain the same performance levels if they are to take all three points today, something the home side will be desperate to do as they look to solidify their place in the top six. Right now, that has to be the realistic aim and if we can win today, it will give us the platform to go on and do well in the remainder of the season. Will the favourites win it today though or can Millwall come out victorious?
Here are the facts and stats you need to know ahead of this one.
What? Championship Matchday 29
Where? Madejski Stadium
When? Saturday 13th February 2021
Opposition Manager? Gary Rowett
Well, our first loss of 2021 was absolutely gutting. After playing so well in the first half, Brentford were clinical late on and punished us for our lack of depth on the bench. The decision to take Alfa Semedo off for Sone Aluko was a bit baffling for me, although the former has not started in a little while so that might be the reasoning behind it but we lost that bit of physicality in midfield that we needed. Other than that though, we put in a performance we can be proud of even if we didn’t play as well in the second half. A massive shoutout has to go out to Michael Morrison and Tom McIntyre yet again, they were superb in the heart of defence against Ivan Toney for most of the game.
There was some bad news on Wednesday though. Jonathan Low’s breaking news that John Swift and Yakou Meite would be out of the Brentford game was a massive blow to the Royals - and you just felt we needed them two if we were going to take anything from Wednesday night’s game. According to Veljko Paunovic on BBC Berks, they will be out for a couple of weeks, joining Liam Moore, George Puscas and Felipe Araruna on the sidelines. We can only hope all five will be back as soon as possible. To finish on some good news, Andy Yiadom made it through the 90 minutes on his first start for a while and is set to start again (barring any injuries in training) today - and in such a busy period - let’s pray everyone comes through the next month unscathed.
After having their own unbeaten run ended on Wednesday, Reading will be looking to do the same to Millwall who have been in decent form of late, scoring four times against Sheffield Wednesday in their last League game. Recent draws and clean sheets against Watford and Norwich City were also pretty impressive and this is the reason why the Royals must not underestimate today’s opponents. Without Swift and Meite, scoring becomes a harder task - but can Millwall’s defence hold firm again?
They may have to travel to Berkshire without Ryan Leonard and Michael Kieftenbeld, who are both doubts for this afternoon’s tie. Both had scans this week to investigate the extent of their injuries picked up against Sheffield Wednesday last time out and Gary Rowett will be hoping they recover as quickly as possible. One player who is set to return is Jed Wallace, who scored a great free kick against Reading earlier on in the season at The Den. Midfielder Billy Mitchell could also return for this first time this season after a lengthy layoff.
The Last Meeting
Millwall 1-1 Reading
In a quiet first half, Millwall took the lead through a Jed Wallace free kick just before half time, which could been a soul-destroying moment after such a poor run in the Championship. However, Michael Olise changed the game and Reading looked a lot better going forward when he came on for Alfa Semedo - and it was the academy graduate’s measured through ball for Lucas Joao in the 53rd minute that allowed the forward to fire the ball home.
Even though the away side couldn’t find a winner, this proved to be the turning point for the Royals who improved their form massively after that. After a gutting defeat in midweek, will another fixture against Millwall be a positive, vital point in the season? I hope so.
Consolidating a playoff spot is the aim of the game.
The Last League Match
Reading 1-3 Brentford
After a poor performance against Stoke last weekend, the Royals made a fast start and managed to get ahead in the 24th minute when Lucas Joao (just about) converted a penalty. Josh Laurent was the man brought down for the spot kick.
Brentford did draw level just over ten minutes later though when Josh Dasilva took advantage of a quick free kick, prevented Laurent from getting a tackle in and then striking the ball past Rafael. Unstoppable.
With just five minutes to go, the home side were still fully in the game but two goals from Dasilva and Ivan Toney made it 3-1 and killed the tie. In the end, they were clinical and showed exactly why they are nailed on to win automatic promotion this season. Let’s hope we have not been too disheartened by this result because we need all three points this weekend.
- Reading have yet to draw a single home game this season. The home side would not be satisfied with a point this afternoon though.
- The Royals have won two, lost two and drawn one against today’s opponents in the last five meetings between the two sides. Finely poised.
- Millwall have been better away from home this season than at The Den, winning 20 out of their 35 league points in 2020/21 on the road.
- The Lions have actually conceded less than a goal per game in the Championship so far this season. Getting the goals have generally been the problem.
Likely Reading lineup: Southwood, Richards, McIntyre, Morrison, Yiadom, Rinomhota, Laurent, Ejaria, Olise, Esteves, Joao
As the Royals look ahead to this afternoon, I have made two changes to the starting lineup, including one surprise in many people’s eyes.
As many of you know, I have backed Rafael throughout this season and given him multiple chances despite his errors. However, I can no longer go on selecting him regardless. The Brazilian has now made quite a few costly errors this season. Coventry City (A), Stoke City (H), AFC Bournemouth (A), Brentford (A), Luton Town (H) and Brentford (H) all spring to mind.
If this was an outfield player, I would have hooked him two or three errors ago and I must have some consistency. For that reason, Luke Southwood comes in for me this weekend in what will be his first Championship start. Yes, it will be a risk but keeping Rafael in goal will also be a risk. Perhaps some time away could help the 30-year-old - but you just know he’s going to have a worldie today to shut me up. I hope he does.
In the defence, I will stick with the same back four. For me, Andy Yiadom looked quite sharp all things considering, Omar Richards had good spells despite questions over Brentford’s second goal and the centre back pairing continue to shine.
Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent were also back to their best after shaky performances against Stoke City. When they play well, the team plays well. Both will be vital as we enter a very busy February and March period. In fact, the next time they will be able to catch their breath will be in the latter stages of March during the next international break. In all fairness, Josh Laurent could catch the eye of Gareth Southgate between now and then. The guy is a monster.
In front of the pair, Ovie Ejaria gets the nod again on the left wing, Michael Olise moves to the centre in place of Alfa Semedo and Tomas Esteves come in on the right wing to provide a bit of width in the absence of Yakou Meite. Semedo did alright on Wednesday but I just feel we can give Olise that central role on Saturday after his vastly improved performance - and Aluko just didn’t do enough when he came on to warrant a place in the starting lineup. The thought of Esteves on the wing excites me though and he has come close once or twice to scoring for the Berkshire side.
Up front Lucas Joao starts again. Nothing else to say on that.
Score prediction time. I haven’t predicted us to win for a few games now - but today is the day. 2-0 is what I will go for, with Lucas Joao and Michael Morrison getting amongst the goals. We seem to have no trouble scoring even with key players absent - but we must keep Joao fit. That will be the key to success this season. He could be the difference between securing a playoff spot and falling just short.
There is one more prediction I would like to make and this is guaranteed: I will be single on Valentine’s Day.
Score Prediction: Reading 2-0 Millwall
Other Championship Fixtures
All Saturday 13th February (3pm KO) unless stated:
Nottingham Forest vs AFC Bournemouth (12:30pm KO)
Birmingham City vs Luton Town
Cardiff City vs Coventry City
Derby County vs Middlesbrough
Huddersfield Town vs Wycombe Wanderers
Norwich City vs Stoke City
Rotherham United vs Queens Park Rangers
Sheffield Wednesday vs Swansea City
Watford vs Bristol City
Brentford vs Barnsley (Sunday 14th February 1pm KO)