Following Reading’s late equaliser against Swansea City yesterday afternoon, Derby County have been relegated to the third tier of English football, a relief for the Royals who must have seen the Rams as a threat prior to that.
Although Wayne Rooney’s men were always battling against the odds in their quest for survival, they had dragged themselves back from a 21-point deduction to a position in which they look to be favourites to force their way to safety just a couple of months ago.
A change of fortunes for Paul Ince’s side and Barnsley’s resurgence harmed the Rams’ chances though – and the latter didn’t exactly do themselves any favours – especially with their recent form.
Quiz: What club do these 25 players from the Reading FC 2016/17 squad play for now?
Yesterday wasn’t just a good day for the Royals though – but also for Peterborough United who built on a promising win against Blackburn Rovers with another victory as they overcame fellow strugglers Barnsley at Oakwell.
This 2-0 win in South Yorkshire has all but consigned the Tykes to relegation and has also given the Posh a real chance to try and catch Reading who currently sit in 21st.
But do they really have a fighting chance of remaining afloat in the division? We have compared the two sides’ fixtures going into the final few games of the 2021/22 campaign.
Ince’s men have a reasonably mixed end to the campaign, going up against fellow lower-half side Hull City at the MKM Stadium, returning home after that as they face West Bromwich Albion before they head to Kenilworth Road at the end of the campaign to face Luton Town.
In their reverse fixtures this term, they won just one point from nine against these three teams, just reinforcing how difficult their task will be in maximising their points return as they look to put safety beyond all doubt.
Not only were they unable to pick up many points against the trio – but they scored just once in over 270 minutes of Championship football when coming up against them – with Tom Holmes the only man to get on the scoresheet with a spectacular bicycle kick.
However, it isn’t as if they disgraced themselves defensively against them either, conceding four in these three matches and this will give the Royals a considerable amount of hope after scoring the same amount against Swansea yesterday.
Hull, West Brom and Luton have also kept just four clean sheets in 15 games combined when taking into account their last five league fixtures, so there are definitely defensive vulnerabilities that can be exploited and the Berkshire outfit will be looking to make the most of that in the coming weeks.
Grant McCann’s side have enjoyed a slightly better points return than their fellow strugglers, but not by much with one win and two losses against Nottingham Forest, Millwall and Blackpool earlier in the season.
Similarly to the Royals, they were unable to keep clean sheets against any of their upcoming opponents, conceding six goals (two more than Reading) and scoring twice in the process (one more than the Royals).
Manager McCann will know more than anyone else that a similar set of results won’t be enough to keep them afloat in the second tier with a seven-point gap currently separating them and Ince’s side, so they will need to improve both going forward and defensively against these three outfits to give themselves the best possible chance to remaining in their current division.
On paper, Forest looks set to be their hardest opponents having gone unbeaten in all but one of their previous 12 league games, scoring in 10 of these matches and recording 26 goals during this remarkable run.
They have also conceded just six times, leaking just one goal every two games during this set of games and that just shows how much of a tough opponent they will be at the Weston Homes Stadium in the strugglers’ next fixture.
Neil Critchley’s men will also be a tough opponent, but with the Seasiders going winless in their five league fixtures prior to their 6-1 hammering of Birmingham, that will give Posh real hope.
But they will have a real task in getting past Millwall’s defence, with the Lions having the best defensive record outside of the current top two, conceding just 42 goals in 44 league games so far this term.