Albion travel to the Madejski Stadium looking for their fifth league double of the season having completed two in recent weeks against Swansea and Preston, although it would be their first over Reading for nearly a quarter of a century.
José Gomes’s team have had a difficult season but have had something of a recovery recently. The Portuguese took over at the Berkshire club just before Christmas but took a while to get the desired response. On 19th January, there were firmly ensconced in the bottom three with just 23 points from 28 games, but since then, they have lost just three times and almost doubled their points total in half as many games. The Royals have lost just once at home since New Year’s Day, a 3-0 defeat to Leeds United, winning four of their last five at the Madejski.
They’re not quite out of relegation danger yet, five points above Rotherham, who currently occupy the remaining unfilled relegation place, with three games remaining.
All these factors add up to Reading being a dangerous opponent, but one that Albion should be capable of overcoming.
Second tier Easter Monday fixtures away from home have been relatively successful for the Baggies in recent years. The 1-0 win away to Coventry City in 2002 immediately springs to my mind on a pivotal day in the promotion race that season as I covered in my Step back in time article, but Tony Mowbray’s team also won away on Easter Monday in 2007, 2-1 at Carrow Road, while the games in 2004 and 2010 were drawn at Millwall and Watford respectively.
Faint hopes of a top two finish remain for Albion, although it needs both Uniteds to earn no more than two points from their last three games with the Baggies winning all theirs. If they are to win the first of those at Reading, it will be the club’s first ever win at the Royals’ current stadium.
The main aims for Jimmy Shan, however, are threefold – to ensure that Albion finish above Aston Villa to ensure a play-off semi-final second leg will be at the Hawthorns, to generate momentum ahead of the post season, and to manage the squad to ensure everyone is fit and raring to go.
One player that won’t be involved in the run-in, however, is Gareth Barry who is to undergo surgery and will not be sure of earning a new contract once his expires this summer.
Thankfully, Gibbs and Phillips seem to be now back to full fitness while Ahmed Hegazi is Albion’s one injury concern following Friday’s win over Hull City. The Egyptian would be a huge miss were he to sit out any part of the play-offs. The fact is that Albion have not won a league game in which Hegazi has not played. He has missed just seven league games this season and the Baggies’ record in those games is drawn four and lost three.
With JRod having sat out the game against Hull, it could be that Shan opts to rest Gayle for the trip to Berkshire. The Newcastle United loanee has played every minute of every game since his February suspension for simulation and it would not be a surprise to see him at least dropped to the bench.
Chris Brunt is the other player that we are likely to see rested. The veteran skipper has been a vitally important player since Shan took control of the first team playing every game other than the defeat to Bristol City.
I’d expect to see Livermore return and I think Phillips may get just his third start since New Year’s Day. Stefan Johansen has impressed in recent games and may well continue.
It will also be interesting to see whether the forgotten man, Sam Field, gets a look-in at all in the remainder of the season. After impressing in the FA Cup win over Wigan, Field was involved in every Albion squad until the draw with Ipswich, Darren Moore’s last game. Since then, the academy product has been absent from every squad suggesting that there is either something personal between Shan and Field, or Shan just doesn’t rate him. His only football since Moore was sacked was in the England U20 match against Poland on 21st March and for the Albion U23s against Manchester United on 5th April.
Jefferson Montero and Wes Hoolahan have also been completely ignored by Shan and, while neither has done enough to warrant a regular first team place, both have offered something on occasion. Having said that, I’d much prefer to see opportunities given to our own younger players than to an average loan player and an ageing winger who is unlikely to be playing next season.
Shan has a difficult balancing act – he needs to spread the workload, but he can’t afford to drop too many points and stay ahead of the rampant Villains.
Monday’s match will be the 42nd meeting between the teams and the 32nd in the league. It will be the Baggies’ eighth visit to the Madejski Stadium which, like the New Den, is a venue at which they are yet to record a victory.
The closest they came was in January 2013 when a Romelu Lukaku double put the visitors 2-0 up only for Reading to hit back with goals from Jimmy Kébé, Adam Le Fondre from the spot and a winner from Pavel Pogrebnyak all in the last eight minutes.
On their last visit, in the FA Cup 5th Round in 2016, Albion again took the lead through Darren Fletcher just after half time. Former Baggie, Paul McShane, equalised within five minutes before Michael Hector and Lucas Piazon made the final score 3-1 to the hosts.
The Baggies last victory away to the Royals was nearly a quarter of a century ago in a Division One fixture at Elm Park in January 1995. Andy Hunt opened the scoring for Alan Buckley’s side before an injury time goal from Kevin Donovan made sure of the points.
Albion’s first ever trip to Elm Park remains their biggest ever away victory against Reading. It was a Division Two fixture in September 1927 and the visitors helped themselves to the points thanks to a 4-1 victory with goals from Arthur Flitton, Tommy Glidden, Charlie Wilson and Jimmy Cookson.
The Royals biggest win over Albion came in the very next match between the sides at Elm Park in November 1928. Jimmy Cookson actually notched a hat-trick, but the hosts triumphed 5-3 thanks to a hat-trick of their own from Bill Johnstone and further goals from Sid Chandler and John Hunter.
That was the only time that Reading beat the Baggies in the first nine meetings between the sides. In the tenth, Albion went to Reading for a League Cup second round match in September 1967 protecting a proud record of having lost just one tie, a final, in the competition so far. Having won the League Cup at the first time they entered it in 1966, Albion lost in the final to QPR the following season. Reading, however, had no respect for the Baggies’ pedigree in the competition and made it two League Cup defeats in succession with a 3-1 victory thanks to goals from George Harris (2) and John Sainty – Ian Collard scored for Alan Ashman’s Albion.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
6 Oct 2018 – League Championship
West Brom 4 (Gayle (2), Barnes, Bartley)
Reading 1 (Bacuna)
Last meeting at Reading
20 Feb 2016 – FA Cup 5th Round
Reading 3 (McShane, Hector, Piazon)
West Brom 1 (Fletcher)
Last win at Reading
14 Jan 1995 – League Division 1
West Brom 2 (Hunt, Donovan)
Albion’s Record against Reading