Sports Mole previews Saturday’s Championship clash between Middlesbrough and Reading, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
Middlesbrough return to Championship action on Saturday afternoon looking for the victory which will keep the pressure on the teams in the playoff places.
Middlesbrough have been one of the form teams in England since the arrival of Chris Wilder with six wins and two draws coming from his nine games in charge.
Boro were able to take a break from league matters last weekend with a FA Cup tie at Mansfield, and a much-changed side came through by a 3-2 scoreline.
While Wilder was quick to praise the efforts of the League Two outfit, he will have quietly been impressed by the character of his players with many of them having a point to prove ahead of a return to the Championship schedule.
Providing that Boro’s backline stays fit, they have every chance of remaining in contention for promotion, but they head into this game still outside of the top six despite their six-game unbeaten run.
At a time when Boro are very much on an upward trajectory, the same cannot be said of their opponents who continue to face an uphill task to remain in the division.
Since holding a 2-0 advantage against rivals Derby County on January 3, everything has gone wrong for the Royals, who have followed a draw in that game with defeats versus Kidderminster Harriers and Fulham.
The loss at National League North side Kidderminster in the FA Cup particularly hurt given the distance between the clubs in the English football pyramid, and it had ramifications for their efforts three days later.
At one stage, Reading shipped four goals in 15 second-half minutes, and their supporters have every reason to call for a change in the dugout.
That said, Veljko Paunovic cannot be solely blamed for Reading’s issues this season and as the Serbian keeps calling for, a collective effort both on and off the pitch is the only combination which will keep the club outside of the relegation zone.
Middlesbrough Championship form:
Middlesbrough form (all competitions):
Reading Championship form:
Reading form (all competitions):
Wilder is expected to call upon much of the team which started the 2-1 victory at Blackpool on December 29.
New signings Aaron Connolly and Balogun are likely to be named on the substitutes’ bench at best.
With Scott Dann suffering a calf injury, Paunovic must decide how to reshuffle his team with his decisions not paying off against Fulham.
Youngster Michael Stickland could be handed his first Championship start as a direct replacement, a move which will help prevent Andy Rinomhota being given too many minutes after his comeback from injury.
George Puscas is an alternative in the final third, but Paunovic may feel that he cannot make many changes to his team.
Middlesbrough possible starting lineup:
Lumley’ Bamba, Dijksteel, Fry; Jones, Crooks, McNair, Tavernier, Peltier; Watmore, Sporar
Reading possible starting lineup:
Southwood; Tetek, Holmes, Stickland, Bristow; Drinkwater, Laurent; Hoilett, Swift, Dele-Bashiru; Carroll
We say: Middlesbrough 3-0 Reading
On the back of the last two matches, the last thing that Reading would have wanted was a long trip up North to face the in-form team in the division. While Reading can play without expectations, Boro should have more than enough to cruise to victory at the Riverside Stadium.