This is arguably the most important week in Reading FC’s history. With the tough game at playoff-hopefuls Brighton and another away game at Southampton on Friday, the run-in is not allowing Reading fans to catch their breath at any moment.
It was a different story during the 05/06 season. Reading were promoted with a record breaking 106 points, scoring an unbelievable 99 goals and losing only twice in the process. Promotion was secured in March and, whilst no fan will admit it, the form we were playing in meant that the expectation of gaining Premier League status came a while before it was mathematically confirmed.
But this season is something quite alien to a Reading fan. Our late surge last season came too late to prove a real challenge to the top 2 and fans were happy with a playoff place. This year anything less than automatic promotion will be a disappointment. With a tougher string of final games than Saints and West Ham, Reading really need to grind results out and that is exactly what happened last night at Brighton.
Nearly doubling the amount of shots on target Reading had, the home side looked like they were good for a win. However, Reading knew they had to get an early goal in order to relax on the ball, especially with an injury-stricken midfield, and Ian Harte’s deflected free kick went in on 14 minutes; his third goal in four games. Brighton did look dangerous, with Vicente striking the crossbar and Federici saving a Barnes penalty, Reading did well to hold on; as they say, a sign of a good team is one that can win ugly.
This momentum will be taken to St Mary’s on Friday evening and what a huge game it is going to be. Reading have proved they can get 3 points at tough away fixtures, having done so at the likes of West Ham and Middlesbrough since the start of the new year, and there is no better chance than Friday’s televised game to show that we have the quality to be a Premier League side.
Gus Poyet has admitted that Reading are the best team in the league and hopefully Nigel Adkins will have to concede the same thing in his post-match interview on Friday night. Ricky Lambert is clearly their man to watch but our defence is capable of holding him off. With 19 clean sheets this season, our back 5 will be a tough match for Lambert, the league’s leading goalscorer who has netted 10 more times than his nearest competitor.
Reading’s midfield is a bit of a concern with many injuries – Leigertwood and Tabb both doubts again, whilst Jem Karacan is out for the rest of the season with a broken ankle suffered in the win against Leeds. Our makeshift midfield will have to step up once more on Friday; local lad Hayden Mullins will likely start again with Jobi McAnuff continuing in the centre to replace Karacan’s composure on the ball – McAnuff has proved he can do this in previous games.
Whatever happens this week, the match is set up to be the game of the season and the atmosphere will be electric. If Reading win we will have gained 43 points out of 48 which is not the form of a team looking for a second place finish; it is the form of champions.
Thoughts? Contact me on Twitter @JackPeedell
Thanks go to Joe Deeks for his input on this article.