Divisional rivals seem to be a problem for the Royals at the moment as the club languish in the relegation zone. Whilst the second half performance last weekend against Nottingham Forest was a great improvement on the first, it still seemed that Reading had more fear of a top Championship side than they did for Liverpool from the division above. Drawing West Brom will be much like facing them in the league, a match you would not risk too much money on backing the Berkshire boys. With Arsenal having dropped out to Stoke and Tottenham facing a tricky replay at Leeds, the FA Cup is really starting to open up. League matters are still head and shoulders above the prestigious cup in terms of importance, but the chance of a run to Wembley suddenly looks possible. Being paired with the Baggies takes the gloss off that promise a bit.
It was an excellent showing by Brian McDermott’s team against Burnley and they fully deserved Gylfi Sigurdsson’s late winner. Adam Federici had to pull off a couple of stunning stops to keep the Clarets out, but it was Brian Jensen who was the busier of the keepers. The giant Dane might look like he has enjoyed a few Chicken Balti Pies in his time but he continuously defies his size with a lithe goalkeeping display. The Royals would have sealed the game somewhat earlier but for Jensen, although Burnley also got some help from referee Andy D’Urso. The challenge on Jobi McAnuff midway through the second half was blatantly worthy of a penalty and you would have backed Sigurdsson to put it away after his Anfield coolness. At least Mr D’Urso’s declination of the vociferous home appeals gave the Madejski Stadium crowd a raucous voice which did not subside for the rest of the game. The ground may have been half empty but there was still a reminder of how good the atmosphere can be when the fans have something to get excited about. Now the team need to help that cause with some tasty displays in the league.
Those fans who did not fancy shelling out for a match ticket might be regretting their decision. Not only did they miss the team actually winning at home for once, but they were also robbed of the promised option to watch the game on the FA website. Royals fans who had opted for this method of viewing will not be clamouring to support future online-only broadcasts of games.
Once again, joy at FA Cup progression needs to be put to one side as a key league fixture comes quickly into the picture. Bramall Lane is the venue for Tuesday night’s Championship game as Reading renew acquaintances with Sheffield United. August’s Mad Stad meeting between the sides brought the Royals’ first league goal of the season at the fourth attempt, but the joy of Matt Mills’ early opener was soon tempered by a 3-1 defeat. Reading had the upper hand in clashes between the two teams for the majority of the last decade but have seen their dominance over the Blades subside over the last year. Having enjoyed promotion together in 2006, United are now the only one of the pair with realistic promotion ambitions to chase. Parallels can be drawn between this game and the match with Forest. Going into the game at the City Ground, Forest had lost days earlier to Premier League opponents in the Cup whilst Reading had beaten Liverpool. For this match, the Blades have also just lost to Premier League opposition whilst Reading have taken another top-flight scalp. It was Forest who got out of the blocks quicker than the hungover Royals and McDermott will press the need to start better against United if the Royals are to avoid a similar fate. With Sheffield Wednesday winning for the third straight game under Alan Irvine, Reading are now four points off of safety and cannot afford to drop points in the next few weeks.
On a non-football related note, Mills has been the subject of some unexpected press interest in recent days. His relationship with busty Hollyoaks actress Emma Rigby has featured in the tabloids, adding a bit of glamour to the Reading ranks. Not since Sir John Madejski was seen escorting Cilla Black has there been any WAG action at the club and the soap star’s presence is a far cry from the more homely image of the Royal Families charity fundraising of the wives and girlfriends of Royals players in recent years.