With the surprising defeat to Blackpool well and truly behind us following a clinical showing against Birmingham, the Whites return to comforting surroundings of SW6 with a renewed sense of confidence. Standing in their way of another 3-point haul is the team with the equal worst defensive record in the Championship, Reading.
Absolutely no doubt about the result then, surely?
I think most of us are old enough and pessimistic enough to realise things are never quite as simple as they appear on paper, as the result last Saturday showed, but the majority of performances thus far have certainly injected a sense of optimism that hasn’t been felt since the 23-unbeaten run. Even during the last promotion season, you always felt there was a dodgy performance just around the corner.
It’s a cliché, but a very true one, that the Championship is a marathon, not a sprint, and the players have had a full-on last few weeks given the international games interspersed with a manic league schedule, so it’s up to Silva and his team to keep them focussed on the matter in hand, as well as to try and minimise the potential for burnout. We are fortunate to be in a position where we could rotate our starting XI and still feel confident of a win, but this is certainly not a time to be getting complacent and whilst Reading may have a sieve of a defence (and they’re first choice ‘keeper is on the sidelines with a broken hand thanks to a falling out with a whiteboard), they are showing potency in their attack having scored 13 goals, which is equal 3rd in the league behind ourselves and QPR. The Championship’s top scorer, John Swift, has scored 4 in his last 2 (and 7 overall plus 3 assists), including a hat trick against the Shepherds Bush lot, so he’s definitely a threat that will need to be nullified.
Given his run of games, coupled with jetting between multiple time zones, perhaps it’s time to give Tim Ream a bit of a breather, in much the same way that Antonee Robinson was against Birmingham. Alfie Mawson has looked perfectly capable of filling in when he’s been called on, and as long as no one touches him and he stays uninjured, I’d have no issues with him starting against the Royals to give Ream a bit of respite.
I think we’ll see Jedi coming back into the left back spot in place of Joe Bryan, hoping to capitalise on the fragility of Reading’s backline with his pace. Unfortunately, Fabio Carvalho is missing again and with Reed looking like he will too, so my preference would probably be Onomah in that role now that he’s available again, although Silva may choose to give Domingos Quina another go from the outset; obviously he didn’t impress too much on his debut but he’s going to need game time to get into the swing of things. On the flip side, Nathaniel Chalobah’s first start was a roaring success so I think we can expect to see him lining up alongside Seri once again, with BDR and Harry Wilson keeping their places on the wings. On paper, this really is a fantastic team, especially at this level so it’s hard to see anything but a comfortable win once again in front of the Fulham faithful.
SCORE PREDICTION: Fulham 3-1 Reading
PREDICTED LINE-UP: 4-2-3-1
H2H LEAGUE RECORD (OVERALL)
- PLAYED – 44
- FULHAM WINS – 18
- DRAWS – 10
- READING WINS – 16
- GOALS SCORED – 67
- GOALS CONCEDED – 56
H2H LEAGUE RECORD (HOME)
- PLAYED – 22
- FULHAM WINS – 11
- DRAWS – 5
- READING WINS – 6
- GOALS SCORED – 38
- GOALS CONCEDED – 27
LAST 5 GAMES
- FULHAM 1-2 READING
- READING 1-4 FULHAM
- FULHAM 1-0 READING
- READING 1-1 FULHAM
- READING 1-0 FULHAM (PLAYOFF – 2ND LEG)
BIGGEST WINS AT CRAVEN COTTAGE
- FULHAM 5-0 READING (2016/17)
PLAYERS IN COMMON
Sone Aluko, Chris Baird, Wayne Bridge, Paul Brooker, Terry Bullivant, Mike Conroy, Maurice Cook, Danny Guthrie, Marcus Hahnemann, Michael Hector, Jeff Hopkins, Ray Houghton, Terry Hurlock, Stephen Kelly, Zat Knight, Lucas Piazon, Chris Martin, Paul Moody, Oliver Norwood, Peter O’Sullivan, Frank Parsons, Pavel Pogrebnyak, Liam Rosenior, Orlando Sa, John Salako, Seol Ki-Hyeon, Nicky Shorey, Steven Sidwell, Neil Smith, Tony Thorpe.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Sone Aluko’s transfer to Reading for £6.7 million in 2018 is the fourth biggest transfer fee that Fulham have received when they haven’t been in the top division.
- It’s also the 7th biggest sale in the clubs overall history.
Here’s a Reading perspective from the Elm Park Royals podcast ahead of tomorrow’s game…
What are your expectations for Reading this season?
Reading clearly outperformed last season, but there’s no delusion amongst the fanbase that this year will be tougher. Reading have been under a ‘soft’ embargo for a while, which may also have played a part in being unable to retain (or at least garner bigger fees for) Michael Olise and Omar Richards. Lucas Joao went cold toward the end of the year, and is now out injured leaving George Puscas – who divides opinion – as our only fit centre forward. Anything above the relegation places would probably be viewed as a positive, and there’s now an expectation that the loanees we brought in at the end of the window (Scott Dann, Baba Rahman, and Danny Drinkwater) should have enough quality to steer us clear fairly comfortably.
What are your strengths and weaknesses as a squad?
Strengths have to be John Swift who’s already close to having his best goalscoring season. He’s kept us in games that we have no right to be in, and a hat-trick at the weekend against QPR felt like it could have been a turning point before they came back. Even then he kicked off the win against Peterborough midweek, and scored the winner in our only other victory.
We look all over the place defensively though, especially from set pieces. It’s not an exaggeration to say that we look close to conceding every time the opposition have a dead ball situation anywhere around the area (although somehow we’ve staved off any goal from a corner up until now). An injury to captain Liam Moore midweek means there will have to be a rejigging at centre back, and we can only hope that somehow makes things better.
The manager’s decision making has also been called into question – with his substitution of Puscas last weekend for a defender causing some ire. His hands were tied earlier in the season given the lack of depth within the squad, but hopefully Dann and Drinkwater can get themselves fit enough to take part and alleviate that slightly.
What is your reaction to your transfer window dealings?
Obviously there’s some real quality in the players we’ve brought in. Drinkwater is a Premier League winner, Dann has 250 PL appearances. The issue is that they all come with big question marks. Dann, Drinkwater, and Rahman have all struggled with fitness – as I mentioned the former pair were apparently not fit enough to even take to the bench. Halilovic has never really lived up to his potential, and Junior Hoilett is the wrong side of thirty.
But in many ways Reading just needed bodies, and there’s a potential upside to every signing that is beyond what fans would have hoped for. The issue will be whether we ever get to see it.
If you could have one Fulham player at The Royals, who would you sign and why?
I would not be averse to seeing Michael Hector in a Reading shirt again. He must be close to the record number of loans out, but despite that he’s carved out a decent career for himself! Those defensive issues we’re having might be magically sorted! I’d also happily take Paulo Gazzaniga off your hands because our goalkeeping department has some question marks over it, and he’s got a lovely smile.
How do you see the game panning out?
Paunovic tends to set up the team to negate the opposition, and we tried to take all the sting out of the game against Peterborough, so would expect a very similar tactic at Craven Cottage. Whether that’ll be enough given the quality we’re facing… I doubt it. I guess the one positive is that Birmingham were the ones to face the backlash after your Blackpool match rather than us. I would love to be positive, but I think it’ll be a loss.
FULHAM 3-0 READING