Reading look to hold onto Play-Off spot against Derby County on Easter Monday

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The Royals’ 1-1 draw away at Barnsley on Friday night left them only one point inside the Play-Offs. With Bournemouth hot on their heels, can the Berkshire side strengthen their grip on sixth place?

Reading’s season so far has been a unanimous success in the context of the club’s fortunes over the four years. Seven months ago, very few would have expected them to be anywhere near the top six by this stage of the season, but, naturally, expectations have changed and the Royals should very much be treated as a serious Play-Off side by now.

This is perhaps what is frustrating Reading fans the most. Since the turn of the year, the Royals, despite sitting fourth at the end of January, have been playing for the best part of the second half of the season to date as underdogs rather than the top-six side who should be in control of their own fortunes. It has become a case of holding onto a Play-Off spot, rather than pushing on to secure a fifth, fourth or third-place finish.

For this reason, Derby, with respect, should be very welcome opponents at the Madejski on Easter Monday. The Rams have endured a frankly dismal season, with Reading themselves inflicting the first blow on the first day of the season – a 2-0 win at Pride Park marked the beginning of a very slippery slope for Derby.

The appointment of Wayne Rooney has steadied the ship in Derbyshire, but the Rams are still languishing in 18th. Relegation perhaps isn’t as much of a threat as it was a few months ago with Rooney’s side eight points above Rotherham in 22nd but regardless, a return of three points in their last five away games certainly won’t dampen Reading’s ambitions.

The Royals come into Monday’s game off the back of a 1-1 draw at fifth-placed Barnsley. Ovie Ejaria opened the scoring in the 34th minute at Oakwell before an Alex Mowatt penalty drew the hosts level.

The wind could have been fully harnessed back into Reading’s sails when Lucas Joao was gifted with, literally, an open goal, only for him to drag an unmissable shot wide of the post much to the disbelief of Reading players, officials or fans. Joao, who has now only scored once in his last ten Reading games, is once again polarising opinion in Berkshire.

The forward is undoubtedly one of the best strikers in the league with 18 league goals so far and has been an integral part of Reading’s success this season, but he has also cost the Royals three points on more than one occasion now. Joao’s game is very much confidence driven, and one wonders whether manager Veljko Paunovic should take him out of the firing line against Derby.

Reading should have taken all three points against Barnsley, much like Derby did against Luton Town on Good Friday. The Rams earned their first win in seven games against the Hatters in what Wayne Rooney alluded to as a must-win match. Goals from Lee Gregory and Graeme Shinnie in the early stages of either half were enough to move Derby up to 18th.

“I stressed to the players before the game we cannot leave the stadium without three points today, it was as simple as that. We can’t afford to take our foot off the pedal. I want to win games and we’ve got a big one coming up against Reading on Monday”. Rooney post-Luton via The Daily Mail

Historically speaking, Reading and Derby have played small, but somewhat significant parts in each others history.

On April 1st, 2006 Reading secured the Championship title in their 106 point-winning season, against Derby County at the Madejski. Despite the score line, the Royals didn’t actually hit the back of the net until the 58th minute when James Harper put them 1-0 up. It makes the victory all the more impressive – and typical of the Royals that season – given that Reading scored four more goals in half an hour to beat the Rams 5-0.

Fast forward nine years and we come to the final day of the 2014/15 campaign. Derby hosted Reading at Pride Park, needing just a draw to remain in the top six.

The Rams were dismantled by the Royals with goalkeeper Adam Federici saving Darren Bent’s penalty to maintain the Royals’ 1-0 lead at the break. Further goals from Michael Hector and Garath McCleary added to Kwesi Appiah’s opener to dump Derby out of the Play-Offs in a rather embarrassing fashion.

On the opening day of the 2018/19 season, Derby beat Reading 2-1 at the Madejski to secure three points in Frank Lampard’s first game in charge of the Rams. A 94th minute header from Tom Lawrence put Derby on the right path from the off in a season that would see them lose at Wembley to Aston Villa in the Play-Off Final.

What can we expect on Monday?

As has applied to the majority of the home side’s games this season, Reading are the favourites and should come away from the Madejski with all three points as well as a stronger grip on a Play-Off spot. However, the Royals are notorious for being their own worst enemy in seemingly winnable games, and depending on how Derby approach Monday’s fixture, Wayne Rooney’s side could catch Reading off guard.

The Royals play best against teams that sit back, allowing them control of possession. When teams get ‘up in their face’, however, the Royals have simply crumbled on one too many occasions.

Reading now face seven proverbial cup finals, starting against Derby on Monday. The match is undoubtedly pivotal, but Veljko Paunovic doesn’t appear to see it as any more important than others this season – an approach to press conferences that he has maintained this season.

“Every game is a must-win game, a massive game and every game is a hard game. The main thing now is to recover and focus for another tough challenge”. Paunovic via GetReading.

Team News:

Reading will be without centre half Tom McIntyre, who has been ruled out for the rest of the season. Defensive partner Michael Morrison may also be missing due to a hamstring injury. John Swift could return but it’s likely he’ll only be fit enough to make the bench.

It’s in attack that Derby will be thin with Lee Gregory and Martyn Waghorn likely to miss out on Monday’s fixture due to the duo picking up injuries against Luton Town.

Head to Head:

The teams have faced each other 27 times, with Reading winning 14, Derby winning eight and five draws making up the remaining fixtures.

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