After conceding a stoppage-time equaliser against Queens Park Rangers at the weekend, Reading will be looking to make amends in front of their home crowd at the Select Car Leasing Stadium tomorrow night.
The Royals face fellow strugglers Peterborough United in Berkshire in what could be a crucial tie for one man: Veljko Paunovic. A loss could bring the curtain down on the Serbian’s managerial career at Reading, so if anyone needs a victory, it’s him.
Both Lucas Joao and Yakou Meite have been ruled out for the long term, leaving the 44-year-old with a limited number of options in attack. The centre-forward position is a particularly weak position for the second-tier side right now with George Puscas as the only senior option there and the club unable to agree a deal with reported target Andy Carroll as things stand.
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Whether the EFL have blocked this potential deal or the Berkshire outfit have just been unable to agree a wage package remains to be seen, but the cold fact is they have no other option but the Romanian up top, similar to the left-back position.
An injury to loanee Baba Rahman would leave them with no fit, senior player in this position, something the Royals struggled majorly with prior to the Chelsea man’s arrival. But as the only option on the left, he has to start.
Who else starts with him though? We take a look at the starting lineup Paunovic could potentially field tomorrow night.
You can never be too confident against Darren Ferguson’s side who can be excellent on their day, but you would think Reading would go with four at the back to maximise their attacking threat at home, against a side they will be expecting to win against.
Between the sticks, Rafael Cabral keeps his place. He was at fault for none of the three goals against QPR at the weekend and even made a smart stop just before Stefan Johansen fired home the west London side’s third.
As mentioned, Baba Rahman also retains his place along with Liam Moore and Andy Yiadom despite Rahman and Yiadom’s participation for Ghana on international duty – but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Michael Morrison dropped after a string of poor performances during the 2021/22 campaign so far.
Scott Dann wasn’t fit enough to come in on Saturday but considering how dire the Berkshire side’s defence has been, conceding 19 goals in just six league games, it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see Veljko Paunovic throw him in. He is fighting for his job, after all.
Andy Rinomhota was an unexpected absentee on Saturday, but Tom Dele-Bashiru did a decent enough job in his place and did enough to deserve another start in the heart of midfield alongside Josh Laurent.
Rinomhota starts on the bench – and Danny Drinkwater may well join him there depending on the 31-year-old’s fitness. If he’s up to speed, it would be hard to see him not earn a place on the bench ahead of his potential debut.
In a more advanced position, John Swift takes his place in the central role as usual after scoring a hat-trick against QPR, although the coaching staff will be wary of utilising him too much considering his injury record last season. They will need to wrap the 26-year-old up in as much cotton wool as possible.
Ovie Ejaria and Alen Halilovic start either side of him – and you couldn’t mention the latter without noting his assist for Swift’s first goal at the weekend. That ball from the former Birmingham City man was sensational and he will be hoping to make a similar impact tomorrow night.
George Puscas was also half-decent in the last game. He starts up top on his own again – but it’s clear he needs a goal to increase his confidence and set him on a better course for the rest of the campaign.
With the likes of Ejaria, Swift and Halilovic to support him, you feel it’s only a matter of time before he gets in and amongst the goals.