It’s ‘league action only’ now after our FA Cup departure midweek at the hands of Fulham, and it’s an opportunity to get another one over the royal losers, Reading.
When we faced the Berkshire outfit earlier this season, we were eking out the last minutes of having a fit striker, and bizarrely turned on some champagne football, something we’re now very familiar with (in spells). Reading, at the time, were flying, and when Ellis Simms limped off in the first half to join Ross Stewart on the mid-to-long-term injury list, it was hard to see how the foreseeable would look. But Patrick Roberts and Jack Clarke turned on the sexy, we swaggered away 3-0 winners, and bagged the goal of the season in waiting.
Saturday’s visitors are on a scruffy run of form where wins have been hard to come by but, already enjoying a lengthy tenancy in the Championship, they may just do enough to survive the drop for another season.
Nepotism aside, it’s clear that Tom Ince is their standout player with plenty of goals and assists this year and an endless desire to keep running. Femi Azeez is also one to watch, and the top-tier pedigree of Shane Long can’t be ignored. Lanky ex-Mag Andy Carroll returns from suspension this weekend, and may well be needed, as injury doubt plague striker Lucas Joao.
As for the Lads, we managed to get through the Fulham game relatively unscathed, meaning the long-term injury list only (I say only) includes Ross Stewart, Corry Evans and Elliot Embleton. In the present, Niall Huggins continues to drift in and out of the squad with mysterious niggles, and Lyndon Gooch’s hip flexor is still on the mend. Aji Alese should continue in what is now a settled back four, especially with Dennis Cirkin confirmed as being unavailable again while he goes through the concussion protocol.
It’ll be interesting to see how Joe Gelhardt gets on in a game slightly more suited to his skills than Millwall away, where he wasn’t exactly the horse for the course. Saturday may give an opportunity to see a little bit more of Pierre Ekwah, who in his cameos against Fulham has looked a strong, athletic midfielder, which is sort of what we are after. Isaac Lihadji is still a bit of a mystery, and though his international clearance to play has now been granted, it’d be a surprise if we saw much of him this weekend..
The Lads should be considered favourites for this game, and will want to start making the Stadium of Light a harder place to visit, echoing what they did to smoggy Middlesbrough last month.
A win would push us back into the play-off mix, which will no doubt make the board a little nervous, as it’s all about the long-term vision. Note: We should NEVER turn down a chance at promotion.
I’m fancying a 2-0 win and maybe a goal for one of the new arrivals, leaving Reading fans sulking into their Waitrose bags all the way back to boring Berkshire.
Ha’way the Lads.