Having tasted victory at Madejski Stadium for the first time in the league since January last time out, Reading look to make it two home wins on the bounce against Crystal Palace on Tuesday. Arriving on the coach with the visitors will be an old adversary of the Royals, Neil Warnock. Having enjoyed many a ding-dong with Steve Coppell and co over the past few years, Warnock will arrive in Berkshire to find a new man in the Reading dugout and new cast of players on the pitch.
Warnock’s presence on the Mad Stad touchline brings memories flooding back of Reading’s record breaking Championship winning season when his Sheffield United side were the Royals’ only rivals for the title. Despite running Reading reasonably close during that amazing season, and continuing the rivalry in the Premier League, Warnock has not tasted victory against the club since 2002, either with the Blades or last season with Palace. Belligerent and vindictive, you can be sure Warnock will be keen to finally get one over Reading, regardless of the fact is it now Brendan Rodgers he is pitting his wits against. Palace lost heavily at home to Doncaster at the weekend and so will be looking to bounce back with a win.
In contrast, Rodgers and his boys had a weekend to remember, coming away with three points from a team who were just a point ahead in the Championship table, Sheffield Wednesday. Among the goalscorers was Kalifa Cisse, restored to the starting line-up after warming the bench and the reserves’ changing room of late. For once, speaking out publicly about frustration at a lack of chances seems to have paid off. The Mali international had told BBC Berkshire that he was looking at his options after growing frustrated at not playing. He moaned: “At my age I need to play regularly. I understand and respect the manger’s choice and opinion but I have to look for myself. To sit on the bench and play five minutes here and 10 minutes there is difficult. You want to play and help the team but you have to just wait and train hard. I don’t want to stay in this situation for a long time.”
Cisse’s problem has been that his attributes do not sit at ease with Rodgers’ preferred way of playing. Reading’s current style of play is more about having technical ability on the ball than putting yourself about physically, and Cisse has had to play second fiddle to more cultured colleagues. The Royals’ recent improvement in form has come with a central midfield partnership of Brian Howard and Marek Matejovsky on show, two players that are better in possession than at winning it back. With Howard out with a broken jaw, Cisse was restored to the line-up, perhaps in an effort to appease him after his outspoken plea for first team football. What he was able to add to the team was a bit of bite, something that can help make the side harder to break down now that things seem much improved going forward. It was perhaps no coincidence that the team kept a clean sheet for the first time in 13 games with Cisse’s steel added in to Reading’s flair style.
Despite starting with both Simon Church and Grzegorz Rasiak, Rodgers stuck to the 4-3-3 formation that he favours with Church operating from the left-wing and Rasiak through the middle. The Welsh striker-cum-winger exited early with a back injury and was replaced by Jimmy Kebe, who is likely to continue against Palace if Church is unfit. In previous games, it has been a straight choice between Church and Rasiak for the starting spot in the centre, with Rasiak enjoying a bit more success. The Pole is less mobile than Church but his aerial ability has shone through in recent weeks. With his former Watford teammate Jobi McAnuff in exciting form, Reading will look for more success with McAnuff supplying the bullets from the wing for Rasiak to shoot home.
In other news, the club deserve praise for lowering ticket prices for season ticket holders for the FA Cup home clash with Liverpool. Loyal Royals will be able to attend the game for just £15 instead of £20 which is the price for non-season ticket holders. The club have also seen sense and reintroduced Royalty Points levels for member sales after consultation with the supporters’ trust, STAR. The move ensures that regular attending fans who may not have had the finances to commit to a season ticket this year have a chance to get a ticket before the casual fan who is only attracted to the game because of the opposition.