Football has finally returned to the Madejski Stadium. The new Championship season commenced last weekend, with Reading just losing out on any points in an undeserved 2-1 defeat to Birmingham City. Since then the Royals have booked their place in the second round of the Capital One Cup, defeating Colchester United in extra-time courtesy of a collectors item of a goal from Chris Gunter.
Reading’s next opponents, and first to the home ground this season, are Leeds United. Last season the equivalent fixture ended with a 2-0 victory for Leeds during a period where Reading struggled to find their home form. Reading fans and players alike will be hoping that they have moved on since then and hit the ground running this season at the Madejski. With Leeds only having two recovery days following their defeat in penalties to Doncaster Rovers (a game where they played a fair portion with ten men) the Reading squad should be in a better state going into Sunday.
“We aren’t going to settle on the level of performance we’ve had this week- we want to use that as a base and say ‘let’s get better’. We’re trying to improve game to game, and I think the longer the squad is together, we’ll only improve.”- Reading Manager, Steve Clarke
One exciting piece of news going into the weekend was the signing of Paolo Hurtado. While he is not a striker, Hurtado has the potential to make an impact out wide in an area that Reading have recently been struggling in. The Leeds game will come too early for him, however, as he is still requiring a work permit. As a result, who Steve Clarke opts with in the wide positions will once again be interesting.
News from Clarke during his latest press conference suggests that the team will be relatively unchanged from the one that opened against Birmingham last week. Pavel Pogrebnyak, Garath McCleary and Tariqe Fosu all remain injured, while Dominic Samuel has been added to the list following his worrying injury against Colchester. The departure of Hope Akpan on a permanent basis to Blackburn and Jake Taylor on loan to Motherwell means that even fewer players will be available. While the squad is currently a little on the light side, there is enough quality in the ranks to hopefully take all three points.
“It’s not good to be physically tired and also mentally- we need to pick up the players and the players have to pick themselves up.”- Leeds United Manager, Uwe Rosler
Leeds, meanwhile, will not be able to call upon Lewis Cook following his red card and subsequent three-game suspension against Doncaster in the cup. With his squad having to play over two hours of football, over an hour of that being with ten men, changes from Thursday’s squad will be expected. Leeds fans have completely sold out their allocation for the game so an atmosphere will be present no matter the result.
While the match itself is excitement enough, Reading fans have co-owner Sasima Srivikorn’s self-penned song to look forward to prior to kick-off. The moment that will have the most resonance with fans, however, is the minute of applause for Eamonn Dolan. #21ForDolan quickly emerged following news of his chemotherapy and fans from both sides are set to emphatically support the Reading Academy Manager. As Clarke has said, “He is a good friend, and when your friends are down, you back them up. So we’re all right behind Eamonn.”
With the added meaning behind this game for the home side, it would be even more special for Reading to get all three points. Starting the new home season on the front foot is vitally important, especially if the team want to get the fans back on side after last season’s performances at the Madejski. No matter the result this will be a match to remember, but Reading would appear to be the team with the edge.