Reading Preview vs Sheffield United (H)

Well well well, Paul Clement’s time in charge of the Royals is over.

The timing is at a difficult stage of the season, but not a surprise as Nigel Howe begins his reign at CEO with quite a bang. Clearly the intent on erasing the era of Ron Gourlay, Howe has sacked the manager that Gourlay brought in to replace Jaap Stam.

Six wins in 28 games is certainly not good enough. Clement should recieve credit for steering the team away from relegation last term, but little has improved.

Scott Marshall, who has been working wonders with the U-23’s this season, going the last 14 games unbeaten, will take charge of the first team until Clement’s replacement is appointed. What it means in terms of team selection is unclear, though with Nigel Gibbs still at the club, it would be unlikely for drastic changes to be made. Reverting to a 4-3-3 seems a sensible option for the weekend’s game at home to Sheffield United.

Marc McNulty confirmed that both Liam Kelly and Liam Moore are bith back in training, so we can expect to see them in the match day squad. Liam Moore is a certainty to start providing that he is fully fit.

Paul Clement’s sacking has come despite positive showings against Leeds and Stoke. It almost makes Saturday’s game irrelevant, which is a very strange thing. But the Reading squad must take a hard look at themselves and realise that they have a lot of answer for. They have an opportunity to start fresh with a new manager, so there is an added incentive to perform on Saturday.

Last Saturday’s performance against Stoke was positive in terms of character and mental strength shown. Tom Ince’s wonder strike would have completely knocked the stuffing out of the side 3/4 games ago. But certain players, namely Rinomhota, Bacuna, and Yiadom were relentless in their work and set the tone for the rest of the side. Yakou Meite and Sam Baldock made a brilliant impact from the bench, and Mo Barrow grew into the game more and more and rounded off his performance with the equalising goal.

Given the stature of the recent opponents, four points from the last three games would be a brilliant return. Sheffield United are a side more similar to Leeds in terms of style, more dynamic and fluid than Stoke.

The most intriguing aspect of the game will be the shape that Marshall/Gibbs opt for. Given that the Blades are quite consistent in their formation, it would be a huge shock to stick with the narrow midfield seen recently. It’s no secret that Utd like to operate with three centre-backs and wing-backs providing a great deal of width. With Mo Barrow nearing full fitness, I expect him to be in from the start. With the threat of the wing-backs, two natural wide players would be much better suited to nullifying their threat.

Liam Moore will hopefully be fit – Ilori and Blackett weren’t at their strongest against Stoke, so his return would be a welcome one. Chris Gunter put in an improved performance at left-back, so whether it’s him or Blackett will be another interesting choice. There is the chance that both will play in a back five to match up with the visitors. It’s unclear at the point of writing whether there will be any additional absentees from last weekend.

With all this in mind, my predicted lineup is as follows;

GK: Anssi Jaakkola

RB: Andy Yiadom

CB: Tiago Ilori

CB: Liam Moore (C)

LB: Tyler Blackett

CM: Leandro Bacuna

CM: Andy Rinomhota

CM: Liam Kelly

RM/RW: Garath McCleary

ST: Yakou Meite

LM/LW: Mo Barrow

I was feeling positive at the start of the week, but I worry what impact Paul Clement’s departure will have on the players’ mentality. I can hope for 2-2 draw, with some real fight and spirit on show.

Picture Credit: Reading FC

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