Two teams from opposite sides of the tracks clash on Saturday when struggling Reading welcome promotion playoff-contending Sheffield United to tow in the Championship.
The Madejski Stadium, Reading, England
Key Stat: Despite being behind in the overall head-to-head, Sheffield United have only lost once to Reading in their last eight matches.
Expert Verdict: Sheffield United come off a home loss in their last fixtures, but it came at the hands of a very capable Leeds United side that may well win automatic promotion. That sets them up well, even away from home, for a contest with Reading, who continue to be a persistent bunch of strugglers in the division. The Blades won't find it easy, but they have enough about them to nick a victory.
Paul Clement will be without defensive midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi and winger Callum Harriott due to injuries for this match.
A player that is usually tasked with a defensive presence, Leandro Bacuna has become even more important for his side this term with three goals and three assists. He will be needed in both capacities to see out a valuable three points. Garath McCleary is another to watch. The Jamaican has had a lot of injury problems over the last couple of seasons, but he has a ton of pedigree and can bring them back with his leadership.
Reading have three draws, a loss, and a win in their last five matches:
2-2 home draw vs Stoke
1-0 loss at Leeds
0-0 draw at Wigan
2-2 home draw vs Ipswich
3-2 home win vs Bristol City
Defenders:Yiadom, Ilori, Blackett, Gunter
Midfielders:Rinomhota, Bacuna, Swift
Attacking Midfielders:McCleary, Loader
Chris Wilder will have a full team to pick from as his side look to bounce back from a tough defeat against second place Leeds.
Billy Sharp scored goals for fun last season against Reading, registering three in the two games, both wins, and will come into this fixture having already scored ten goals this term. Mark Duffy, their attacking midfield man is another to keep a watch. He scored once against the same opponents last term, and he has begun the season well with three goals and two assists so far to help his team challenge once more for the promotion places.
United have in their last five matches:
0-1 home loss vs Leeds
2-3 win at Brentford
2-2 draw at Rotherham
0-0 home draw vs Sheffield Wednesday
1-0 loss at Nottingham Forest
Defenders:Basham, Egan, O Connell
Midfielders:Baldock, Norwood, Fleck, Stevens
Forwards:McGoldrick, Duffy, Sharp
Reading have only faced Sheffield United 28 times before, and it has been a very tight rivalry to date. Reading just edge it with 12 wins, 11 losses, and five draws. Last season, the Blades took both matches, winning 1-3 at Reading in February and 2-1 at home in October.
Bet365 have the following odds available for this match:
Reading are at 10/3 to win, a draw is at 13/5, and a Sheffield United win is at 4/5.
At the start of the round, Reading will find themselves in 21st place in the table with just 18 points from their first 20 matches of the season. That total put them above both Millwall and Bolton, but only does so due to goal difference. That is an uneasy pill to swallow, as is the fact they’ve gone four matches winless now. Three of those games have been draws, but at some point you have to turn those points into three. Sheffield United come into the weekend in sixth place, clinging on to the final playoff place currently. The Blades have 34 points and are just above Derby as a result. A win, in theory, could get them as high as third by the end of the weekend.
At home, Reading have just not been good enough. They don’t have the worst record in the Championship, but they only have taken 11 points from ten affairs, putting them below all but three teams. Two wins and two draws in their last four is encouraging, but they need to keep doing well at home to stave off relegation. The Blades, meanwhile, have the league’s fourth best record away from home with 16 points from ten outings so far. They have five wins and four losses, showing they are up-and-down and have just one win from their last four, so it is hard to tell when they will turn up and play their best football when on the road.
No for both teams scoring is at 11/10 via Ladbrokes.
Sharp scoring twice or more is at 6.5 via Betfair.
Reading haven’t tasted victory in a while, and it is causing them a lot of problems in the table. With Sheffield United in dire need of points to stay in the top six, they will use their superior quality to see out a win.