So, we face Reading this weekend in the opening home game of our 2013/14 Championship season. Reading, of coursem were relegated from the Premier League last season, finishing in 19th place. A managerial change from Brian McDermott to Nigel Adkins failed to arrest a poor season in the top flight, though Reading of course are vastly experienced at this level, having been Champions twice in the last seven years - winning the league in 2006 and 2012.
Reading have strengthened well over the Summer, befitting their status as one of the favourites to win the division. Ex-Real Madrid winger Royston Drenthe arrived from Alania Vladikavkaz on a free transfer, as did former England left-back Wayne Bridge from Manchester City. American midfielder Danny Williams signed from German side Hoffenheim for an undisclosed fee. The only permanent departure thus far has been Uche Ikpeazu who joined fellow Championship side Watford.
The Reading attack is especially potent, with Russian international Pavel Pogrebnyak being partnered by Adam Le Fondre along with rent-a-gob Jason Roberts providing back-up, when he's not giving an interview to someone or to anyone who'll listen.
Pre-season has seen Reading rack up two victories, a draw and three defeats, providing a mixed-bag of results. However, the league season proper began with a home win over Ipswich Town with former Bolton Wanderers midfielder and general flatterer-to-deceive Danny Guthrie with the winning goal.
Bolton's recent record against Reading has been mixed, since the 1995 Play Off Final (discussed here), with three wins and three defeats apiece. Bolton Wanderers are currently on a two game winning streak against the Royals, with a 3-0 home win and a 2-0 away win in the can. Overall we have faced Reading 27 times, claiming 13 victories and 10 defeats. Interestingly enough (or not, depending on your perspective), though we first faced Reading in 1901 and again in 1904, there was then an 80 year gap until we played and lost against them in 1984.
Of course we began with a 1-1 draw against local rivals Burnley, and it could be argued that we could and maybe should have taken all three, but it was a tough game and with fears of dropping into cliché it was a game that under a different manager that we could have lost. We have had no news on the Chris Eagles injury since the game, but we have had the Jay Spearing transfer news which should improve both morale and our on-field quality.
It remains to be seen whether Dougie Freedman will take a different tactical approach to the home games than the away fixtures, but given the nature and quality of the opposition then I expect that we'll see a side close to that which began the Burnley game. I expect Spearing to come in for Chris Eagles, should the winger be ruled out. In fact, that said, I'd rather Spearing played instead of Keith Andrews so that could be an "in" for the new man.
FACT - Bolton Wanderers have drawn their last three Championship fixtures.
FACT - Bolton Wanderers have scored at least twice in each of their last three home games in the Championship.
Prediction - A hard-fought game between two sides packed with experience in this division. Would normally go for a 1-1 draw but fancy us to nick it 2-1 after a tough game. The arrival of Jay Spearing will no doubt boost Wanderers' hopes should be fit enough to go straight into the midfield, as I expect and hope that he does.