Reading are yet to win since the Championship returned on 20 June, having drawn 1-1 with Stoke and then lost 2-1 to Derby this weekend just gone. What have you made of their performances since the restart?
Generally, they haven’t been too bad but what I would say is that there hasn’t been a huge amount between Reading, Stoke and Derby, in all honesty. I’d say that they’ve been three average teams over the two games so far. I think Reading certainly had the better of the first half against Stoke when they got started again but they let the Potters back into the game in the second half and, ultimately, conceded the injury-time equaliser, which was a big blow, but on the balance of play, I think a draw was probably a fair result. It was similar at Derby, really. Reading certainly did well to stifle their threats and had a couple of really good chance in the first half but they didn’t take them and the two goals before half-time cost them and that proved to be the difference, really. Overall, they’ve not done too badly so far, they’ve just got to turn these solid performances into results.
With 49 points on the board so far, the threat of relegation is still lingering but there remains a very slim possibility of reaching the play-offs. Is it just a case of getting to the end of the season and building for the next for Mark Bowen?
Very much so. There was talk of the play-offs going into this block of games because, at that point, they were eight points off the top six, so it wasn’t impossible. But the fact they’ve taken just one point from the last six available, slipped down a place in the league and are now just seven points off the relegation zone means survival is the number one priority. I don’t think they will be sucked into the mix and the positive goal difference is probably worth an extra point as well but that threat is there and, given the record in previous seasons when they have been involved in a relegation right, it’s been until the bitter end - the sooner they can be mathematically safe the better. With the games coming thick and fast, just a few bad results could see them come close to the bottom three but I do think they’ll have enough, overall, to pull clear and finish around mid-table.
You’ve written recently about the club’s financial problems and the large wage bill of the playing squad. Would you expect there to be a significant squad overhaul ahead of next season?
Yes, they’ve got an absolutely massive squad and that doesn’t include just the players on the books - they’ve got five loan players as well. They’ve had a good academy for many years and have some good players coming up the ranks, as well as players out on loan this season who have been forgotten about, but still have contracts for next season. There will certainly be a big focus on making the squad a much more manageable size, from both a playing and financial perspective. It all depends on what spending is going to be like for clubs across Europe, but Bowen has said that if the right offer comes in for a player, they will be sold because Reading overspent last season and they need to balance the books.
Who would get your vote for Reading’s Player of the Season, up to this point?
Just like previous seasons, there hasn’t really been a standout player but maybe Rafael, the goalkeeper. He’s kept Reading in games and has made some brilliant saves this term. I think John Swift is probably up there too, as he’s had his most consistent season since they reached the play-off final back in 2017. He’s scored some great goals and, as I’ve always said, when he’s on his game and playing well, Reading usually play well.
How are the Royals likely to set up on Tuesday evening?
Matt Miazga is suspended after his red card on Saturday, so there will be a change at the back and I imagine Michael Morrison will come in. It will be interesting to see whether he plays one up front again, as he played George Puscas up front on Saturday and it didn’t really work. I’ll go for a similar 4-2-3-1 formation: Rafael, Gunter, Morrison, Moore, Richards, Rinomhota, Swift, Meite, Ejaria, Olise, Puscas/Baldock.
And finally, Reading have won two of the last three encounters at the Madejski Stadium, but what’s your score prediction for this one?
I’m not too hopeful, but they may scrape a draw. 1-1.
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