Club Focus – Reading – No holidays for the Royals over Easter

There will be more on the minds of the Reading squad than Easter this weekend with two massive games scheduled in 48 hours for the Royals.

Saturday sees a tough trip to Roy Keane’s Ipswich, a team that have spent much of the season in and around Reading in the Championship table. For large parts of the campaign, it looked highly possible that the two sides were fighting for one spot in the division next season. The Royals struggled to find any sort of form under new manager Brendan Rodgers, whilst Ipswich did not manage a single victory in their first 14 matches. Whilst Reading’s plight could be rationalised by the big changes that had taken place over the close season, it was harder to understand quite what had gone wrong for the Tractor Boys. Keane had enjoyed a flawless start to his managerial reign at Portman Road, taking over for the last two games of the 2008/09 season and leading his new side to victory in both. With some solid investment in the squad, it was expected that Ipswich would be challenging for promotion but instead they opened with eight draws and six defeats. Like the Royals, their form has improved and they are now up to 16th in the table, but there is still a realistic chance of relegation and they will need to make the most of their home games to ensure survival. A win for the visitors would almost guarantee safety for Reading, putting them a minimum of 10 points clear of the drop zone with most sides having five matches left.

Following on quickly from the trip to Suffolk is a home game with Coventry. Going in to the weekend, both sides are separated only by goal difference, with Reading in 11th and the Sky Blues 12th. The two clubs have outside shouts for a place in the play-offs, with the Royals having two games in hand. The match will therefore have a lot resting on it for Chris Coleman’s side who will be running out of games fast if they are still targeting the top six. Their defender Richard Wood has claimed that they are not thinking of the play-offs but insisted they are determined to finish as high as they can. It is little wonder considering how flat their form was this time last season. The final eight matches failed to yield a single win, with just one victory in the last 13 games. The Royals will not be concerned by such matters, focussing solely on the formidable run of form that has seen them go from being discussed as relegation candidates to play-off possibles in two months. Having already won at the Ricoh Arena this season, Brian McDermott’s team have the chance to complete a rare double.

McDermott should be able to call again on Jay Tabb who has recovered from the injury that ruled him out of last weekend’s home draw with West Brom. The tenacious midfielder had featured strongly over the past couple of months, forming a solid alliance with Brian Howard in the centre of the park. Tabb will be especially keen to feature in Monday’s match with Coventy, having spent two and a half seasons at the club before moving to Madejski Stadium, but McDermott appears to have him pencilled in for the trip to Ipswich rather than bowing to sentiment and saving him for his Sky Blue reunion. Viewed as more of an attack-minded player upon signing for the Royals, Tabb has impressed in a more defensive role in recent times, acting as a shield to the more adventurous Howard. Having filled in at right-back on occasions, Tabb is displaying a useful versatility and an impressive sense of team play. These traits make him ideal for McDermott’s strategy of utilising a tight unit of 14 or 15 players among whom there is marginal rotation based on fitness and availability.

Taking six points over the Easter weekend would be a massive boost for Reading’s hopes of a play-off spot and is not impossible considering the opposition. Regardless of whether they reach the top six or not, McDermott will want his side to finish as strongly as possible and these games against mid-table opposition are ones that his team need to keep on winning if they are to establish themselves as a dominant force in this division. With just two days between the matches, it will be important to gain something from the visit to Ipswich to then go in to the home match with Coventry on a roll. Having not lost at home in 2010, the Royals could be unstoppable on Monday if they have the added confidence from a victory over the Tractor Boys.

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