Preston North End Preview

Hello all and welcome back to another preview. We head up to Preston tomorrow with the mood amongst the supporters the lowest I can remember in an awfully long time. The full details of Ron Gourlay’s frightful ineptitude have emerged in some senses of the media, with right hand man Brian Tevrenden leaving the club fuelling more questions than ever about the current state of affairs at boardroom level. It seems like the heart of the club is being ripped out more and more with each week and each abject performance we have seen. Now, you certainly cannot pin the blame for the players disgraceful performances solely on Gourlay and the rest of the depleted hierarchy, but it certainly cannot help the mood in the group. So, with that all said and done, things can realistically only get better – can’t they?

As for our opponents this weekend, we face Preston North End. Another team who have had a far from convincing start to the season, they sit five places above us in 19th place. Aside from a 2-0 victory away at Leeds United in the EFL Cup with 10 men, no results have really stood out as being particularly exceptional. They’re without a win since the opening day of the season, having picked up maximum points against QPR. Straight forward victories for Swansea, Norwich and Derby have followed alongside draws against Bolton and Stoke. Whether Preston will be looking for anything above a mid table finish this year depends on who you ask I suppose, but I don’t think they have a squad capable of making too much of an impression towards the business end of the table. To add to what I perceive as a lack of real quality in the starting XI they will be without two of their midfielders likely to have started through suspension. One of these Ben Pearson I think is the sort of player who could really cause us trouble given the lack of quality we have in the middle of the park. Ryan Ledson is the other player out for tomorrow’s game. One player who we will certainly have to keep an eye on is Tom Barkhuizen, who has scored more goals against us than any other team in the league – so I hope you’re as excited as I am to see him get his name on the scoresheet in the 16th minute (I am sorry in advance if this comes true.) Although I don’t see a huge amount of quality in the ranks, I think Preston along with probably 23 other teams in this division won’t find a visit from Reading as a particularly daunting prospect.

As for the man in charge at Preston, we have Scottish Hardman Alex Neil. I think he is a manager who although is not the most glamorous of names who plays a Manchester City-esque for of total football, he is a very safe pair of hands. Having impressed at Hamilton in his first managerial job, he took over at Norwich and managed to get the Canaries 17 wins out of 25 games to get them into the playoffs and then subsequently the Premiership. Although relegation followed the following season, I think Neil has showed his pedigree as a good young coach. Having said this, I think his recruitment of players does need some work. He cited poor recruitment as a reason for Norwich’s poor performance in the top tier and for whatever reason I don’t believe he’s particularly shone in this regard at Preston either. On the pitch however his side at Preston has been consistent at worst, with a win rate of just over 40%. Will he pick another up against Reading this weekend? I’ll let you all make up your mind, but I think it’s clear how I see this game going.

My prediction for this one shockingly isn’t a conclusive away victory. The morale amongst players seems so low and supporters seem more reluctant to back them than ever previously. Preston is a very tough place to go and like Blackburn, probably will feel a long way from home for the players and the brave few supporters planning on making the trip up to Lancashire. Something surely needs change for results to change and the only changes we have seen since the latest embarrassing performance is the turmoil at the top of the club. Players seem dejected, fans seem to be turning to the point of anger and the board seem hell bent on making things worse. I have a bad feeling it’ll be a very easy afternoon for Preston. I’m going with a 3-0 defeat.

Matt Joy

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Sheffield Wednesday Preview

Hello all, and slight apologies for inevitably jinxing it in the middle of the week and predicting that we would get a draw. It was a frustrating game, where the same issues arose – our lack of creativity in the midfield, sloppy defending and an attack that looks short of goals. All in all then, a real recipe for frustrating football and that truly game to fruition once more on Wednesday. Back to league action then this weekend as the players prepare themselves (and arguably the supporters do so as well) for the visit of Sheffield Wednesday.

To say that this is a must win game may appear over dramatic to some, but with QPR seemingly having turned a corner having strengthened their forward line with the loan signings of Hemed and Wells, it’s of paramount importance we too get off the mark and I see this weekend as a very good opportunity to do so. A win could take us hypothetically up to the dizzying heights of 16th should we do so. A quick glance of the league table shows that we have now played all of the teams currently sat in the play-off places which does illustrate the tough spell of matches we’ve had at the start of this season with Saturday appearing to be the easiest clash we’ve had so far based on league table alone.

So, our opponents then. Sheffield Wednesday have won their last two, picking up maximum points in consecutive home fixtures against Millwall and one of two other winless sides aside from us Ipswich Town. Although I think asa club they have stagnated somewhat since their play off final defeat to Hull a few seasons ago, they do have proven Championship quality throughout their squad. I’ve always been impressed with Barry Bannan for example, who demonstrated his quality with a screamer against Millwall in the victory mentioned above. The industrious Scot is something that I’ve felt we’ve been desperately missing this year and hopefully we’ve plugged that gap with the announcement of Saeid Ezatolahi on loan from FC Rostov. Bannan incidentally extended his contract with The Owls this week, further demonstrating his importance. I believe the attacking options Wednesday have are a lot stronger than many teams in the division, with Lucas Joao, Adehe Nuhiu, Steven Fletcher and Fernando Forestieri all vying for a place in the starting line-up. With attacking options like that, you’d be surprised should Wednesday fail to score in too many games this year. Defensively however I am l

less convinced. Jordan Thorniley and Matt Penney started last time out and even though both are exciting prospects they’re inexperienced and hopefully that’s an area we can exploit. Then again, the experience of Paul McShane hasn’t exactly helped us much this year…

I think without wishing to simply sit here and list the full squad, Wednesday have a lot of talent throughout their squad. They have quality throughout their first team and subs bench, with back-up available in most areas. Jos Luhukay is the main leading the Owls this year and has enjoyed a mixed start. Before the two recent victories, there were even segments of the Hillsborough crowd booing the teams performance. He hasn’t enjoyed the brightest of starts but it’ll be interesting to see if he and his side have turned a corner following two consecutive victories in the league. Although he is not necessarily a household name for Championship supporters, the 55 year old has an impressive CV in Germany, managing big clubs such as Monchengladbach, Stuttgart and Hertha Berlin. Although he has previously endured some difficult relationships off the field with boards, resigning from Stuttgart after just 5 games following a dispute with the chairman, he has an impressive win rate averaging 41%. Then again, other managers such as Leonard Slutsky have had impressive CV’s abroad and struggled in this league. It’ll be interesting to see if he can adapt over the course of this season to his new surroundings.

Predictions time. I’m going to go with a narrow home win. Why? Heart over head. 2-1 Reading.

Matt Joy

Watford FC Preview

Hello all, welcome back to another opposition preview and one that quite frankly I’m not sure how to put together. Watford are one of those teams who whenever I watch, I truthfully do not recognise at least 2 of their players each time. They’re a strange club in the way that they are run, breeding success through unpredictability and almost reckless staff changes. However, with three wins out of three in the Premier League this year – the sporadic style of the club really appears to be bearing fruit so far this campaign. On the other hand, the mood amongst Reading supporters has increased somewhat, with two difficult away trips yielding the first two points of the season and a well-needed confidence boost for the club. Arguably, tonight’s clash could not have come at a worse time. With momentum slightly building, facing a team from the division above who’ve surprised everyone so far this season could knock us back down a few pegs. However, one could argue that Watford are unlikely to play a full strength side as they may well not be expecting the biggest of challenges tonight based on our league positioning. If we can then harness any over-confidence that may be in their squad, we could pick up a surprise result that would do wonders for our season. Only time will tell.

Rather consistent with their playing staff, Watford did appear to think outside the box when they appointed Javi Gracia. A man with no Premier League experience, he has spent his career in management mostly in Spain and the East of the continent in countries such as Greece and Russia. Having been appointed late in the January transfer window last season on the 21st of January, it isn’t really fair to judge his first season too harshly as he didn’t really have a squad of his to choose from in the second half of last season.

With the signings he has made however, Watford appear to be a lot stronger than this time last year. The loss of Richardson appears to be a big loss based on how the Brazilian has started for Everton since his £40m move from Vicarage Road in the Summer, but following his disappointing end to last season – most Hornets fans were in agreement that £40m was a great deal for the club. The return of former Barcelona winger Gerard Deulofeu for £11.5m appears a steal in this market, Ben Foster on a free isn’t a deal many Premier League teams would turn down and they’ve strengthened their defence and midfield through the signings of the versatile Marc Navarro and Ken Sema. Having dramatically slashed their wage bill with many departures as well, hopefully off the field for Hornets fans they’ll be seeing a more stable season than they have in recent years. With a strong core including Deeney, Doucoure, Chalobah, Pererya and Capoue amongst others and sensible additions mentioned above – I think Watford will do well this year.

As for tonight, it is a tough one to call. Reading may well have one eye on the league with the tough start but Watford may also have their priorities elsewhere for different reasons. We may well see changes in both starting XI’s, so a prediction is incredibly tough to make. I think we will give them a good game, but unlike Stoke last night for example, I think we’ll bow out to stronger opposition,. My neck is firmly on the line here, but I think we will lose on penalties.

Blackburn Rovers Preview

Well, here we are again, for the fourth time this season it is match day for Reading in the Championship. Oh joy. An abject display from all involved Saturday has not done much to heighten the enthusiasm for the new campaign amongst supporters, with Reading now firmly in the relegation zone and are one of the two teams yet to pick up a point. Without meaning to sound overly negative, today and this weekend could prove pivotal and really demonstrate where the season could be headed.

Should Paul Clement motivate the team to bounce back from the start we have had, the confidence amongst supporters will rise and subsequently the mood amongst the players. Should we fail to pick up at least 1 or 2 points however – we are in real danger of getting cut off at the bottom early doors. Although Aston Vill on paper appears the more difficult of the games, I feel like today’s game could be even more of a test. A long way from home on a Tuesday night against a Blackburn side who have performed well so far without a huge backing – it could feel like a very lonely place on the pitch tonight. This is where we need to stand up and be counted and prove the ever-growing amount of doubters (including myself, sadly) wrong.

Blackburn will be a very stern test however. Managed by Tony Mowbray, they have made a very solid start upon their return to the second tier. They haven’t tasted defeat yet, picking up five points from a possible nine along with a victory in the EFL Cup. Although arguably they have not played any top teams in this division, picking up four points from their away games and a draw against a team in Millwall who I think could really be pushing for the top six this year is very respectable indeed. Under the stewardship of Mowbray, Rovers have won over 50% of their games. With a win rate of 52.7% at Blackburn, statistically Mowbray has enjoyed his best time as a manager, surprising the rate of 51.1% at Celtic. As we have seen with a number of the newly promoted sides across the EFL, Blackburn have really continued their good form from the last campaign in the early stages of this season.

As for the team, we *may* have had a slice of good fortune. Although I don’t agree with celebrating injuries, Bradley Dack is touch and go in respect to his fitness ahead of this game. Should Blackburn be without Dack, our chances of getting anything certainly will rise. Following a successful start to his career at Peterborough, Dack was an integral part of the side that were promoted last year and has enjoyed a very bright start to this season, including getting the winner against Hull before limping off with an impact injury. Another player that will not be in the Starting XI is German full back Derrick Williams. It’ll be interesting to see if we could see Dominic Samuel line up at Ewood Park, as im sure he would be hungry to prove that it was a mistake to let him go. With the experience of Peter Whittingham, Danny Graham and Charlie Mulgrew amongst others working with exciting youngsters such as Adam Armstrong, Kasey Palmer and Joe Rothwell – Blackburn look set for a decent season.

Understandably as mentioned above, I doubt we will be backed by a large travelling contingent. Kudos to each and every one who makes the trip on a weekday, but it will be important for us to take the sting and atmosphere out of the game quickly. Blackburn fans will be confident of continuing their good start – so hopefully a bright start will quell the optimism. Easier said than done, however.

Predictions time and I’m going to try not to be overly pessimistic. Bolton was the first game this year when a lot of supporters thought we’d get off and running in the league and it was our worst performance yet. With no expectations on today, that appears to be when we perform better. I’m going to put my neck on the line and go for a 1-1 draw.

Bolton Wanderers Preview

We are a week on from last weeks disappointment at the City Ground and there certainly appears to have been a positive change of mood amongst supporters following the victory in the week against Birmingham City. Sure, they may have made a number of changes but at the end of the day, a victory is a victory and for the first time this season there was a nice feeling of positivity in the stadium and on social media following the result. Some have questioned Paul Clement’s decision to risk so many first team players but I believe the decision may well be vindicated if we get off the mark for the League season against Bolton. Birmingham certainly didn’t appear to value the cup that highly, so although a victory is nice, Bolton will be a much sterner test.

That being said however, this is arguably the best time to play Bolton because of the week that they have had. On the opening day, they overcame recently relegated West Brom which in itself certainly is no mean feat considering the fact the Baggies have picked up two wins and a draw since. Bolton snatched a win and were certainly the better team for a lot of the game last weekend against Bristol City. Even in the week, they put together a decent performance although they eventually lost against a Leeds United side who have started this season on fire and look to be in with their best shot of challenging for promotion since their relegation from the top tier 14 years ago. Everything was going well for Bolton and with 4 points out of 6 they look like a team who will be stronger than last season where they survived by the skin of their teeth on the final day.

This however all came before a bizarre twist in the week, where it was announced during their clash with Leeds that Reading legend Adam Le Fondre would be leaving the Macron having been offered a new challenge in the A-League with Sydney. A strange move when you consider the popularity the forward enjoyed with Bolton fans and with the transfer window already shut. It certainly didn’t quite add up and it’ll be very interesting to see the reaction of players and fans alike come 3 o’clock on Saturday.

Most if not all Reading fans will need no introduction to the man who will be planning Reading’s demise this weekend. Few people have enjoyed success and popularity amongst Reading fans as Phil Parkinson and having been voted as the clubs best ever midfielder with 60% of the vote, it is fairly easy to suggest the reception will be as warm as possible for an opposition manager. Having moved to Bolton from Bradford his tenure certainly has been a mixed bag with promotion in his first season and only just avoiding relegation last season. Parkinson will be hoping for a better campaign this time around and I’m sure all of us would hope for a similar fate, just not starting this weekend.

In terms of the players likely to give the Reading back line some headaches, one man stands out for me. Having made the step up from League One, I am very interested to see how Erhun Oztumer performs. For the last couple of seasons, I found myself (probably for the first time in my life) rather envious of Walsall fans as Oztumer lit League One alight. I was somewhat surprised to not see him make the move last season and with all due respect, I felt he could’ve gone to a club a step above the side who just about secured their Championship status. Nevertheless, keeping the elusive playmaker quiet will be vital should we pick up three points on the weekend. I’m not blown away or particularly fearful of any other players, it must be said. With Sammy Ameobi touch and go, the attacking options do appear a bit light given that Le Fondre’s recent departure has left a hole that hasn’t been filled with a loan signing (yet.) The attacking situation is so light that they are keeping a hold of youngster Connor Hall who they’d planned on letting leave on loan until a new arrival comes in.

As for predictions this week, I’m the most confident I have been so far for a home win. I think even with a shortage out wide, we will have too much for the visitors and we will come out with a 2-0 victory – much like midweek.

Matt Joy

Nottingham Forest Preview

On Saturday, we will see the first away game of the season for the boys. Having started the season in the most Reading way possible, snatching a defeat from the hands of a hard-fought point in the 94th minute, hopefully we will get our season up and running at the City Ground. Whilst some Reading fans were disappointed with the lack of incomings on deadline day, the value of keeping Liam Moore cannot be understated – no matter if it is only until January. However this weekend we come up against a side similar not only in geographical location to Derby County, but who have had similar summers. Forest are a much changed side than the one which featured in the dramatic game at the Macron Stadium in May which saw Bolton remain in the League. Just what can we expect however?

Manager

Forest are led by former Boro manager Aitor Karanka. The Spaniard has always implemented a rather pragmatic, defensive style (often perceived as boring by opponents.) Although Karankea saw success with this system at Middlesbrough, he has found it tougher at the City Ground. Having previously got the Teesiders promoted, he has found it tougher this time around. He has only managed 5 wins in his 23 games, losing double the amount they have won. It will be interesting to say how long Forest will persevere with that record in the coming campaign given the amount of money spent in the summer transfer window. Here’s hoping that Karanka records his eleventh defeat this weekend for Forest as opposed to his sixth victory.

Team

It has been a mixed bag so far for the Reds. Having played a game more than Reading, it has been slightly easier to gauge their form however it is far too early to suggest how they may do this year in a league as competitive as the Championship. With a lot of investment into the playing staff this summer, Reading will have to be wary of a number of threats across the pitch. Lewis Grabban has joined on a permanent deal from AFC Bournemouth with his quality being apparent in spells during his brief loan stint at the Madejski. Alongside Grabban, the exciting attacking midfielder Joao Carvalho adds an unpredictability and creativity behind the front men that will have to be marshalled effectively by the Reading back line. Michael Hefele has joined from Huddersfield to shore up a defensive back line that with Dawson, Fox and Osborn has substantial experience in this league. For me, despite heavy investment it will take time for these players to gel into an effective side capable of challenging the business end of the table but like their big rivals Derby – they do have the quality to do so.

Fans

With over £25m net spend in the summer, the City Ground is likely to be buoyant with optimism and excitement, despite the hosts only picking up two points out of a possible six in the opening two fixtures. The City Ground on it’s day is an excellent example of the passionate support that you can see in the second tier of English football, most recently encapsulated during their victory over Arsenal in the FA Cup last year. It’ll be important for Reading to suppress early excitement and take the sting out of the game should Forest start brightly. I do fear should we go behind, the momentum will be firmly with the hosts. The first goal this weekend will be massive.

Prediction

I don’t want to appear overly pessimistic, as I think we will be okay for a mid table finish this year, but I do see a consecutive defeat on the cards. I’m going to go with 2-0 to the hosts.

Matt Joy

Stevenage 0 Reading 0 Player Ratings

Jakkola – 6. Pulled off a couple of cracking saves, but overall didn’t have a lot to do.

Bacuna – 5. Struggled to cope with the Stevenage winger. That being said, he isn’t really a full back. Got forward well a couple of times in the first half.

Mcshane – 4. Sloppy passing and struggled to win any aerial battles.

Illori – 5. Very quiet. Didn’t do too much wrong.

Richards – 6. Only positive from the afternoon was Omar Richards confidence. Showed some decent touches and defended well. Final ball lacking.

Van den berg – 5. Broke up some Stevenage attacks well, but very sloppy with his passing.

Evans – 5. Player a couple of nice passes but overall very quiet.

Edwards – 5. Played a lot more defensively then we would have liked. Didn’t show his usual high work rate.

Kelly – 3. Possibly his worst performance in a reading shirt. Don’t remember him completing a pass? Had a couple of opportunities to put bacuna in behind and overhit both.

Mccleary – 4. Was he even playing?

Barrow – 5. Worked hard but had very little service.

Subs:

Kermorgant – 4. Feeding off scraps and could do nothing with them.

Swift – 4. Didn’t have long to affect the game. Did at least look forward when he picked up the ball.

Gunter – N/A. On the pitch for barely a minute.

Adam Humphries