After ending their brief winless streak at Coventry last weekend, Valérien Ismaël’s team welcome Reading to the Hawthorns on Saturday looking to keep up the pressure on the top two with another victory.
This weekend’s fixture is the first of a run of four games in December against teams in the bottom seven of the Championship and Albion need to secure an impressive points haul from those games should they hope to narrow the gap to the automatic promotion places.
Saturday’s opponents are in a slightly false position having been deducted six points for breaching financial rules, without which they would be 16th place rather than 20th. They were also the subject of a transfer embargo last summer and were only able to sign a handful of loans and free transfers. Most notably, Baba Rahman and Danny Drinkwater joined on loan from Chelsea and then, in November, they added to their ranks with the signing of free agent, former England striker Andy Carroll, on a short term deal. The 32-year-old scored his first goal for the Royals in their 3-2 win at Swansea City, a game that also saw Drinkwater net his first for the club.
After guiding Reading to the brink of the play-offs last season, Veljko Paunović has been unable to mount a promotion challenge this season, with their financial problems being a major factor. They have managed to record one or two impressive results this season, particularly on the road. As well as their win at Swansea, they also beat Fulham 2-1 at Craven Cottage and, after a run of five wins in six matches the Royals were as high as seventh in mid-October, but four straight defeats saw them drop down the table. Eight points from their last five games has stabilised things albeit the application of the points deduction three weeks ago has left them looking nervously at the relegation zone five points below them
Ismaël has a decision to make as he welcomes both Jake Livermore and Jayson Molumby back from suspension which is likely to see Taylor Gardner-Hickman drop out of the starting line-up despite a man-of-the-match performance at the CBS Arena last weekend. The Frenchman is a fan of his club captain and I fully expect to see Livermore back in the side alongside Alex Mowatt to reform what has been his first choice midfield pairing all season.
I would be surprised too many other changes depending on whether Matt Phillips has recovered from the injury that saw him miss out on the Coventry match. Robinson and Grant combined well against the Sky Blues and I expect them both to start.
Reading normally like to play out from the back and it will be interesting to see if they change their approach as many sides have done at the Hawthorns this season. Against Coventry, the Baggies were able to fully implement Val-ball, particularly in the first half, as Mark Robins’ side played out from the back fairly consistently and it resulted in the visitors winning the ball in the attacking third on ten occasions, a season high. If Paunović keeps his passing style, I would fully expect Albion to be similarly effective but, if the Royals are more direct we will see whether Ismaël’s team can repeat the performance against Bristol City which was their best display against a defensive approach.
The hope is that the rediscovery of the goalscoring touch will give the team confidence to take into this match and they can be more composed in front of goal. I think that the team has performed well in recent weeks but failed to get the goals their play deserved until last weekend. If they can keep that going, Reading should be on their way back to Royal Berkshire with nothing to show for their efforts.
Albion are currently enjoying a four match unbeaten record against Reading having struggled against the Royals for a while winning just twice in the previous thirteen meetings between 1997 and 2016.
However, the Baggies haven’t lost a home league game to Reading since February 1988 when Linden Jones scored the only goal of the game to send Ian Branfoot’s side home with all three points. The Royals have won at the Shrine in both the League Cup and the FA Cup since then, but Albion have won nine and drawn two of the last eleven league meetings with an aggregate score of 22-5.
Albion’s last win in this fixture was the 4-1 victory under Darren Moore in 2018 when Dwight Gayle’s double was added to by further goals from Harvey Barnes and Kyle Bartley. That wasn’t their best win over the Royals, however – for that, we have to go back to just the fourth meeting between the clubs, a Division Two fixture in March 1929. On that occasion, it was the legendary Jimmy Cookson who grabbed a brace with Jimmy Edwards, Tommy Glidden and Arthur Flitton also scoring in a 5-0 victory.
Reading have only won at the Hawthorns by more than one goal just once, a 4-2 win the second leg of a second round League Cup tie in October 1995 with Jimmy Quinn, their Joint Player-Manager at the time, scoring twice for the visitors to send them through to round three with a 5-3 aggregate win. The two clubs met in a Division One fixture four days later, also at the Hawthorns, and this time the hosts won 2-0 thanks to second half goals from Dave Gilbert and Bob Taylor.
Albion and Reading have only been in the top flight together for one season, 2012/13, with each side recording a victory at home. The Royals’ only other top flight seasons were between 2006 and 2008 with the sides swapping divisions either side of that spell.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
12 Feb 2020 – League Championship
Reading 1 (Pușcaș (pen))
West Brom 2 (Pereira, Bartley)
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
21 Aug 2019 – League Championship
West Brom 1 (Zohore (pen))
Reading 1 (Ejaria)
Last win at the Hawthorns
6 Oct 2018 – League Championship
West Brom 4 (Gayle (2), Barnes, Bartley)
Reading 1 (Bacuna)
Albion’s Record against Reading
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