Reading v West Bromwich Albion; Select Car Leasing Stadium, Saturday 15th October, 3pm
It’s not quite the dawn of a new era but Richard Beale will take charge of Albion’s trip to Royal Berkshire this weekend as Ron Gourlay continues with the search for Steve Bruce’s successor.
Beale, who has been a youth or academy coach at both Birmingham City and Aston Villa, as well as assistant to another former Albion caretaker boss, Jimmy Shan, at Solihull Moors, reported a positive week in training following Bruce’s departure, and it will be interesting to see how he sets Albion up.
His U23 side generally plays as a 3-4-3, the same formation that Valérien Ismaël was wedded to, and that Bruce used in his last game against Luton, so it would be no surprise to see that employed once again. I feel that Bruce used it purely to stop Albion conceding rather than any real attempt at tactical innovation, but Beale has reported that the players have “responded to new ideas” and I’m sure all Baggies fans are looking forward to seeing what those might be.
From a personnel point of view, Reyes Cleary hasn’t been far away from many fans’ thinking for much of the season and, with a coach who knows him well in charge and fresh from a hat trick on Monday night, one feels that this weekend is as good a chance as any for him to make his league debut. Both Grady Diangana and Brandon Thomas-Asante are reported to have recovered from the knocks that supposedly forced Bruce to substitute them last weekend, while Beale also confirmed that Darnell Furlong’s absence from the squad for the last two games was a tactical decision rather than an injury.
If Beale does opt for a 3-4-3, it is the selection of the midfield two that will pose the biggest questions. Livermore, Molumby, Okay, Swift and Rogic will all be under consideration with the caretaker insisting that every player has a clean slate under his stewardship. Livermore has impressed in recent games while Molumby has been one of the better performers this season, but those have generally been in a midfield three so it is not easy to second guess what Beale might do.
The opposition could hardly have been more difficult given the relative form of the two sides. Reading are the surprise package of the season under new boss, Paul Ince, and have the best home record in the division having picked up 16 points from a possible 21 with Sunderland the only team to leave the Select Car Leasing Stadium with three points this season following their 3-0 victory last month. Having said that, League Two Stevenage did win at Reading in the EFL Cup albeit it was a much changed line up from the hosts.
It could be that scoring the first goal proves crucial for the Baggies with Reading having lost four of the six games in which they have conceded the opening goal, all but one of them by three or more goals. Albion meanwhile, haven’t lost a match this season after scoring first – shame that it’s only happened twice!
It became clear this week that things between Steve Bruce and Andy Carroll didn’t end well with the former England striker’s comment on Bruce’s departure, and I’m sure he will be eager to show Baggies fans what they have been missing out on. He opened his account for the season last Friday with a goal from the spot against QPR, although Reading ultimately lost the match, but it is perhaps indicative of his perceived worth that it did take him until mid-September to get a new club despite having been released by Albion before the end of last season.
Another former Baggie in the Reading ranks is Shane Long who is also in his second spell at the club having moved on a free transfer from Southampton in the summer. The former Irish international also has one goal to his name this season, also a penalty, scored against Cardiff City in early August. He has missed the last four games through injury but is in line for a return to the side on Saturday.
Ince does have a number of injuries though, with Sam Hutchinson ruled out due to a calf problem he picked up in the defeat to QPR. He joins Femi Azeez, Dejan Tetek, Baba Rahman, Naby Sarr, Liam Moore and Scott Dann on the Royals’ extensive injury list.
For Baggies fans, Saturday will be a one of those strange occasions when the club is in limbo between two eras. While Jimmy Shan and Darren Morre were technically caretakers, their spells ended up being extended meaning that the last true caretaker period was the two-game spell under Gary Megson following the departure of Tony Pulis in November 2017. Going further back, Rob Kelly officially took one match before Pulis joined, albeit the Welshman was in stands. Those three games all ended in draws which means that the last caretaker manager to win a game was Keith Downing, a 1-0 victory over Newcastle United on New Year’s Day 2014.
If Richard Beale can match that at Reading, it will be the first sign that the decision to sack Bruce was the right one, albeit there aren’t too many Albion fans out there doubting that right now.
Having failed to win on each of their first eight visits to the “Mad Stad”, as Reading’s new home became known, the Baggies have won on each of their last two visits. Slaven Bilić’s team recovered from going behind to a George Pușcaș penalty to win 2-1 thanks to goals from Matheus Pereira and Kyle Bartley in February 2020 and, in April this year, Karlan Grant scored the only goal to record one of Steve Bruce’s rare victories in charge of Albion.
As a result, the Baggies are currently enjoying a six-match unbeaten record against the Royals, including winning each ofthe last three encounters. Albion’s last defeat in this fixture was in the FA Cup Fifth Round in February 2016 at the Madejski – Darren Fletcher put the visitors ahead only for goals from former Baggie Paul McShane, Michael Hector and Lucas Piazon to send the hosts, including future Baggie Hal Robson-Kanu, through to the quarter final where they were beaten by Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace.
Reading’s last league win over Albion was in January 2013 when the visitors looked to have secured the points after a Romelu Lukaku double had them 2-0 up with eight minutes to go. The Royals produced three late goals to steal the points with Russian striker Pavel Pogrebnyak scoring a stoppage time winner.
The Baggies biggest win in Reading was on their first ever visit to Elm Park in September 1927. The Baggies had been relegated to Division Two that summer while the Royals had been promoted to the second tier a year previously having joined Division Three (South) on its inception in 1920. Albion ran out 4-1 winners with goals from Arthur Flitton, Tommy Glidden, Charlie Wilson and Jimmy Cookson.
Reading have never beaten Albion by more than two goals and their biggest win was on Albion’s next visit to Royal Berkshire in November 1928. Jimmy Cookson was on the mark again with a hat trick for the visitors, but Bill Johnstone also bagged a treble for the hosts with goals from Sid Chandler and Jock Hunter making the final score 5-3.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
30 Apr 2022 – League Championship
West Brom 1 (Grant)
Albion’s Record against Reading
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