Reading will be hoping to extend their mini-unbeaten run to three tomorrow night as they face an out-of-form Sheffield United at the Select Car Leasing Stadium.
Putting in a much-improved performance against Nottingham Forest after new signing Andy Carroll made his debut just after the hour mark, with Scott Dann getting on the end of the corner to make it 1-1 just a few minutes later, they will be looking to carry this momentum into this midweek tie against Slavisa Jokanovic’s men.
On paper, this should be an away win for a recently-relegated Blades side that are currently under the stewardship of a two-time promotion-winning manager, with a considerable amount of depth in various areas of the pitch after their demotion from the Premier League.
Quiz: Have Reading FC ever won an away game at each of these 20 stadiums?
But the Royals also have players of a high calibre in their side, with Scott Dann, Danny Drinkwater, John Swift, Baba Rahman all impressive names to have at their disposal in the second tier.
However, they currently sit just two points above the drop zone after their six-point deduction last week for breaking the EFL’s Profitability and Sustainability rules, so this is arguably a game they must get something out of in their quest to drag themselves away from any relegation danger.
What system will manager Veljko Paunovic opt with though? Will he revert to a back four after seeing that switch change the game at the weekend? Will Andy Carroll win his first start for the Berkshire outfit?
We have had a go at selecting our Reading lineup ahead of tomorrow evening’s clash.
As usual, it has to be Luke Southwood between the sticks ahead of Rafael Cabral. He made an important save late on against Forest – and you have to be impressed by his all-round game. With Cabral’s contract running out at the end of the campaign, Southwood is likely to be the long-term option in goal and will still be buzzing after going on international duty with Northern Ireland.
Ghanaian duo Baba Rahman and Andy Yiadom start at wing-back, a role that suits both with the former’s defensive vulnerabilities and willingness to get forward, and the latter’s attacking threat. Both will continue to be an attacking threat tomorrow.
Like the rest of the team, the central defence also remains the same with Liam Moore, Scott Dann and Tom Holmes providing a nice mix of youth, leadership and experience at the back.
Holmes was particularly impressive at the weekend – but may face a tough task against the likes of Billy Sharp and Iliman Ndiaye when the Blades come to town.
Captain Moore has endured mixed performances in his last two outings, arguably being at fault for both Birmingham and Forest’s goals but making a vital header against the Blues and blocking Lewis Grabban’s goal-bound shot on Saturday.
He needs to cut out those errors if he wants to remain in the starting lineup with Tom McIntyre potentially on his way back.
Danny Drinkwater came back into the starting lineup at the weekend after missing the Millwall and Birmingham games before the international break, putting in a steady display but starting alongside Josh Laurent to cover for his defensive weaknesses.
Starting Drinkwater against a side of United’s quality is essential – and his passing range will be a real asset in this one.
The duo of the Chelsea loanee and Laurent will allow Ovie Ejaria and Premier League-linked John Swift to take up a more advanced position.
Having both at the top of their game will be crucial to get past the likes of John Egan and Chris Basham, both of whom will be full of confidence after keeping a clean sheet against high-flyers Coventry City on Saturday afternoon.
Their creative quality, along with Rahman’s and Yiadom’s wide threat, should provide George Puscas with plenty of opportunities to get on the scoresheet for the first time this season. Breaking that duck will be crucial for his confidence – and considering Andy Carroll may not be fully match-fit yet – he may have to spend the first hour on his own up top.
It would be a shock to see Carroll start tonight, but when he’s fit to start, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Paunovic switch to two up top with a potential 3-4-1-2 system on its way.