At the beginning of the season this fixture would have had three points written all over it for Blackburn Rovers. That now seems very far from the truth. Rovers hang perilously close to the drop zone and all pre-season expectation of another high flying campaign has rescinded.
On the other hand, Reading continue to float on cloud nine, finding themselves comfortably tucked into the top half of the table as we approach Christmas.
This is only the seventh time the two sides have met and the first time that Rovers have visited the impressive Madjeski Stadium.
Rovers have only managed to win away from home once this season and it will take something special to improve that on Saturday afternoon.
Reading are an exciting prospect these days with some talented individuals that play exceptionally well as a team. With Rovers facing a further defensive crisis, thanks largely to ill fortune and the F.A, the likes of Kevin Doyle and Leroy Lita will cause the Rovers back-line plenty of problems.
Steve Coppell on Rovers: “I look at their squad and think that their time will come. They have too many good players for them to be where they are and I’m sure they will, with time, climb their way up the table.“
Mark Hughes on Rovers: “Winning against AS Nancy in midweek and the good performance in the second half against Newcastle bodes well for a hard game against Reading.
“We’ve got a big period coming up, some difficult games against good opposition. But there are other matches where we feel we have a real chance to get points on the board. I’ve no worries, we’re a good team.“
Matt Derbyshire on Rovers: “I am a Blackburn fan and I have always dreamt of playing for here and now and I am getting the chance to do it. I will go out and put 110% into it. Hopefully I gave the manager something to think about last night.”
Reading Team News:
Reading will look to welcome back a couple of regular first team players. Seoul Ki-Hyeon and Graeme Murty are back in contention following niggling injuries however long term absentees, Dave Kitson and Bobby Convey continue to miss out.
Reading from: Hahnemann, Murty, Bikey, de la Cruz, Gunnarsson, Sonko, Ingimarsson, Shorey, Oster, Little, Sidwell, Harper, Hunt, Doyle, Lita, Seol, Long.
Player to watch: Kevin Doyle
Kevin Doyle is without a doubt one of the players to watch this season. He has eight league goals to his name making him the third highest scoring premiership player. It has been due to his regular turnover of goals that Reading find themselves where they are.
He has great pace and a deadly eye for goal and will ensure the Rovers defence have a busy afternoon.
Blackburn Rovers Team News:
Rovers continue to be plagued by injuries and so it looks likely that Andy Todd will again stand in at centre back. Francis Jeffers continues to be absent as does Brett Emerton.
Matt Derbyshire may get the chance to partner Benni McCarthy in attack after impressing in midweek and as a substitute last weekend against Newcastle.
Rovers from: Friedel, Neill, Ooijer, Todd, Gray, McEveley, Bentley, Savage, Tugay, Pedersen, Nonda, McCarthy, Derbyshire, Brown, Mokoena, Gallagher, Peter, Nolan.
Player to watch: Matt Derbyshire
Matt Derbyshire could be given another chance up-front considering his brief but impressive performances recently and the lack of form from Nonda.
The young Rover has impressed at youth level and in the reserves for a while now and his productive loan period with Wrexham last season seems to have given him the confidence needed to be a regular goal scorer. He has pace and a direct approach to the game that comes with youth. That could be just what this Rovers team needs.
Match Facts & Stats
Reading regularly score their goals in the first half, 14 out of the 19 scored have come in the opening 45 minutes.
Reading have lost one of the last six Premiership matches and kept four clean sheets in five League games.
Reading are looking for a 75th win in 145 League games under Steve Coppell.
The 0-0 draw at Watford last time out, was the Royals’ first goalless game in 25 League matches.
Rovers won their most recent outing in Europe, but lost the last two League games (away to Charlton and home to Newcastle), and in danger of losing three on the spin for the second time in eight Premiership outings.
Lost six of the last eight top flight games.
Won 32 and lost 32 Premiership matches under Mark Hughes.
Rovers have a problem defending for the full ninety minutes as they have conceded five goals in the last 10 minutes of top League encounters this term.
Won only one away League game all season (0-1 at Middlesbrough on 23 September).
Graeme Poll will referee this match so Rovers can expect no favours once again from the officials.
This will be a tough game for Rovers to come away from with anything. At best a draw can be achieved but it will take something special to win here.
Reading`s fearless attitude and approach to their season has made them tough to beat but also entertaining to watch. The difference in this fixture though will be decided by who starts for Rovers up front. The youth exuberance of Derbyshire could inject some life into Mark Hughes` ageing team but if Nonda continues to partner McCarthy then it will be a case of same old story.
A draw seems the obvious suggestion here but despite Reading starting to slow down, just as Wigan did around this time of year, I fancy them to take all three points.
Arsenal are next in line as Rovers travel to another new stadium in a week on the 22nd December 2006.