Regardless of the result, Saturday at the Madejski will be a special day for all involved. The Ryan’s Royals Project will culminate this weekend when Reading face Blackburn Rovers, with the players donning a one-off special edition kit to mark the occasion.
Fourteen-year-old Ryan Duvall is behind the initiative which has continued to inspire Reading FC fans, as well as football fans around the country courtesy of its coverage in the national press. Ryan is a pupil at The Avenue School, a Special Needs Academy in Reading, and is a big fan of the club. Following a visit to the school, club captain Jem Karacan was so impressed with Ryan’s story and the kit design he had created for his school project, that he suggested the club make the shirts in his honour.
Back in March, Ryan’s dreams became a reality when it was announced to him and his classmates that the Royals would be wearing his kit when they played Blackburn at the Madejski. The match-worn shirts will be auctioned off following the game, with proceeds going to the Avenue School.
The club encouraged fans to tweet #RyansRoyals at 7pm on Thursday evening to raise awareness of the project, and fans duly responded with their tweets reaching an overwhelming 1.5 million people. Tickets have been reduced for the game to only £10 for adults and £5 for concessions, so the stadium should be packed for Ryan’s big day. With results being underwhelming for the Royals recently, fans will be hoping that the squad will be able to pull something out the bag on such a special day against tough opposition.
The last time the two sides met this season, back in November at Ewood Park, Blackburn were the victors, winning 3-1. A Rudy Gestede brace and a goal from midfielder Ben Marshall were enough to give Rovers victory, despite a goal from Glenn Murray seeing the sides go in level at half-time. Blackburn have had one less day to recover than Reading following their tough FA Cup Quarter-Final match against Liverpool where, unlike their Championship counterparts, they failed to make it through to the Semi-Finals. Reading will be hoping that this will give them a slight advantage going into Saturday. With Blackburn currently sitting in 10th in the table, and promotion seemingly out of their grasps, the Royals will have a greater incentive to get something out of the game.
“It will be a difficult game but we say that every week in the Championship. And when you’re playing at the level we’re plying just now then every game is difficult.”– Reading Manager Steve Clarke
Reading will have to start finding the net, however, if they are to do so. Reading’s top scorer of the season, alongside Simon Cox, scored last time out against Blackburn. For most clubs this would be a positive omen going into a game, but it will be difficult for Murray to help out the Reading side from the Crystal Palace ranks. Pavel Pogrebnyak has done a fairly decent job in his absence, scoring three goals in his last three games for Reading. Jamie Mackie has also been amongst the goals, scoring against the likes of Ipswich, Bolton, Brighton and Bradford. With Murray currently enjoying the best period of his career so far, scoring five goals in five starts in the Premier League, it is easy to think that Reading may have been in a better league position had they been able to hold onto him. The fact that he is still Reading’s joint top-scorer is a concern, especially coming towards the end of the season.
Blackburn do not seem to have the same problem when it comes to finding the net. Their top scorers Jordan Rhodes and Gestede are seemingly having a competition amongst themselves, scoring seventeen and sixteen goals respectively this season. To provide a comparison, that means between them they have scored over sixty percent of the total goals Reading have scored this season so far. Reading’s ability to find goals this season has been a real issue for them, and Blackburn’s threat up front may be too much to handle.
In terms of starting lineups, Reading will have to cope once again without Michael Hector at the back, as well as Danny Williams and Nathaniel Chalobah in midfield who are all still injury concerns. Even if they are deemed fit enough to play, it is difficult to see Steve Clarke taking any unnecessary risks with the FA Cup Semi-Final quickly approaching. Following a poor performance from Zat Knight last time out against Blackpool, this may be the opportunity for Jake Cooper to take his place in the starting lineup. Pogrebnyak and Mackie may also start, following a failed experiment against Blackpool in the last game resulting in them both coming on at half-time. With Karacan being one of the lead instigators in the Ryan’s Royals project, it would also be apt if he was able to start in midfield for the side.
Blackburn, meanwhile, have four players back in contention following their FA Cup game, with Jay Spearing, Paul Taylor, John O’Sullivan and David Raya all available. Defender Alex Baptiste is out after injuring his hamstring against Liverpool, making him the fourth central defender that Blackpool will be without for the game. Gestede may also be a doubt due to a hamstring problem.
Recent results have been poor for both sides, so the teams will be looking to get back to winning ways on Saturday. Reading have failed to win any of their last four games in the Championship, with their last league win coming against Brighton at home. That win was also the only victory for Reading at home in their last five games at the Madejski. Blackburn, meanwhile, have lost three of their last four games in all competitions, but did beat Leeds 3-0 last weekend. Their form is also better on the road, with Rovers being unbeaten in their last six away games. If Reading continue to remain poor in the final third, it is easy to see Ryan’s Royals consigned to their fifth Championship game in a row without victory.
The home victory against Bradford in the FA Cup showed exactly the kind of impact an enthusiastic crowd can have on the Reading side. A similar attendance this time around in honour of Ryan’s Royals could make all the difference as Reading strive to stop the rot. After such a poor performance against Blackpool last time out, things can only get better. Right?