It is safe to say, Reading FC have a busy few days ahead of them. With just three days to go until the FA Cup Semi-Final against Bradford, you would be forgiven for thinking that all thoughts would be on that. Reading, however, have the small matter of a Championship tie against promotion candidates Watford to contend with first.
Reading’s last match saw them move thirteen points clear of the relegation, having beaten Brighton 2-1 at the Madejski. It was a performance and an atmosphere to be pleased with, as the Reading players gave fans something to cheer about. Since the game, manager Steve Clarke and midfielder Garath McCleary specifically have spoken out to the media saying that the gap is not enough just yet to ensure safety. The Royals will therefore be going into the match against the Hornets at Vicarage Road with the aim of getting something from the match.
“Thirteen points is a better gap than ten points but it’s still not mathematically safe, so at the moment we have to get more points.“- Reading Manager Steve Clarke
Based on recent form, Watford are certainly the favourites to get all three points from the game. The Hornets have won seven of their last ten matches, and are currently on an unbeaten run of four matches. Reading in comparison have won four of their last ten matches in the Championship. Watford also have a goal difference of +28, while Reading are some way off on -15. If you compare the top scorers of the two sides, you can see the gap that exists between them on paper. Watford have the likes of Odion Ighalo (17 goals), Troy Deeney (16 goals) and Matej Vydra (11 goals) amongst their ranks. Reading meanwhile are not as prolific in front of goal with their top scorers being Simon Cox (8 goals), Nick Blackman (5 goals) and Jamie Mackie (5 goals). Cox, in particular, has recently gone off the boil, with Reading somewhat struggling to find goals. The Watford home crowd have witnessed a 7-2 victory over Blackpool and 5-0 win over Charlton so far this year, so they do not seem to have this problem. Earlier on in the season, the reverse fixture ended with a Watford win, despite a first-half red card, defeating Reading 1-0 courtesy of an Almen Abdi goal.
With the FA cup match only a few days away, the lineup that Clarke picks to face Watford will be important. Though he has said that the Championship is his priority, Clarke must be aware of the potential impact of playing his strongest players against Watford. Consequently, it is possible that players like the in-form Jamie Mackie will sit out of the weekend’s game. It would be a difficult choice for Clarke to make, however, with Mackie currently being the only Reading player to score in seven games. Cox has sat out for the last two matches, so may be called upon to take his place. Reading’s latest signing Zat Knight, 34, could feature for the Royals and fellow defender Alex Pearce could return to the starting lineup following his injury. One interesting point to note, is that several of the Reading youngsters were not included in the U-21 squad that played Middlesborough on Friday. Some drastic changes to the team are therefore being expected amongst many of the fans. Watford may also make some changes, with Almen Abdi and Ighalo both having hamstring injuries.
While some are writing the match off before it has even begun, it is guaranteed that whoever is picked to play will put in a professional performance to try and take something from the game. Though the personnel may be different, fans will be hoping for another positive display. Going into the Bradford game at the Madejski on the back of two victories, will give everyone a huge boost.