For those who like an omen before having a flutter, cast your mind back to Grand National Saturday in 2006.
Reading travelled to Cardiff, newly crowned as champions of the Championship, and promptly won 5-2. In one of the quirks of the fixture list, the Royals will again travel to the Welsh capital on the day of the Grand National this year, and would most certainly take a repeat scoreline if offered. Of course, a lot has changed between now and then. For a start, that match was played at Ninian Park, whereas the hosts now play at their eponymous Cardiff City Stadium. Teams are now allowed seven substitutes instead of five and only two of the five Reading replacements that day – Shane Long and Brynjar Gunnarsson – are still at the club. That is double the number of starters still contracted to the Royals, with only Ivar Ingimarsson left on the books. The Royals skipper is out for the rest of the season through injury so Brian McDermott is guaranteed to name a completely different XI on Saturday to that selected by Steve Coppell. It has been all change at Cardiff too, with only Joe Ledley still involved from the match played four years ago. Riccardo Scimeca, who started that day alongside Ledley, retired earlier this season due to injury, although Dave Jones remains the Bluebirds’ manager.
After all the changes at both clubs, it is curious how little has changed in the standings of the two teams. The Royals were enjoying their best ever season but had been a steady top-half club in the second tier for the previous few years. Cardiff went in to the match in eighth position and currently sit just a few places higher in fourth. The current City side are arguably a little stronger than their 2006 counterparts but there is relatively little progress made over four years. Reading have been on a bigger journey in that time and would see their 12th place position as disappointing, and would have similar sentiments if they went eighth by winning their games in hand. Yet having overcome their awful first half of the 2009/10 season, McDermott’s side are not too far removed from where they were in the middle of the decade. It is only through tasting the lofty heights of the Premier League that the Royals would be disappointed at finishing a season with a chance to reach the Championship play-offs. The league season is played over 46 games and it does not matter how you start or perform in the closing stages, it is about where you finish. In the two seasons before racing to promotion, Reading finished seventh and ninth, and a similar finish looks very likely this time around.
Cardiff have been in very good form recently, winning five and drawing two of their last seven games, but a punt on a 5-2 scoreline in Reading’s favour would not be a complete waste of time. The Royals have looked devastating in attack at times of late, and could have helped themselves to more than the three they put past Coventry on Monday. The free-flowing attacking style bears more than a passing resemblance to Coppell’s team, and their recent results would put them in contention for the league title if extended over a whole season. The Bluebirds may also be finishing the campaign strongly, but they have kept just two clean sheets in their last 14 matches and Reading will fancy themselves to score. Having rested Gylfi Sigurdsson and Shane Long for Monday’s hammering of the Sky Blues, McDermott has the luxury of bringing two goal scorers back into a side that also has Simon Church, Grzegorz Rasiak and Jimmy Kebe in form in front of goal. Cardiff will also fancy their chances of finding the net, with Matt Mills’ four match suspension confirmed after his appeal against his red card at Ipswich failed. With Ingimarsson unavailable, Zurab Khizanishvili and Alex Pearce should start. The Georgian has been impressive when called upon during his loan spell, but Pearce will take time to find his feet again after a long spell out of the team. Kalifa Cisse is the other alternative but, like Pearce, he is short of match practice.
Lightning rarely strikes twice but football has been known to throw up more than its fair share of d