After an unexpected victory at Goodison Park last weekend, Albion return to FA Cup action on Saturday with a trip to the Madejski Stadium to take on Championship outfit, Reading.
That second win in 35 years at Everton was a typical Pulis performance, although with more than 30 shots on goal from the hosts, the Baggies goal definitely led a charmed life. But after a run of disappointing results, Pulis has pulled out an unexpected result which is particularly impressive given the injuries to McAuley and Morrison. Jonas Olsson was magnificent and James Chester showed signs of the player Albion played £8 million for.
But despite playing with two strikers and Sessègnon, the Baggies offered precious little as an attacking force and, when Crystal Palace visit for the televised game next weekend, they have to show much more up to produce a performance that may go some way to pacifying the fans. Many, however, may well be beyond the point of no return when it comes to Tony Pulis.
A second successive appearance in the quarter finals of the FA Cup would offer some excitement to the end of the season, and having avoided the other ten Premier League sides in the last sixteen, Albion have a great chance against a team that have not won a league game since 2nd January. Reading are also looking to get to the last eight for the second season in a row having lost to Arsenal in the semi-final last season.
After an encouraging start to the season under former Baggies head coach, Steve Clarke, that saw them in 2nd place in mid-October, Reading only won one of the next eight Championship games. That run, coupled with Clarke’s flirtation with the Fulham job that he ultimately turned down, saw the former Chelsea coach sacked in early December. That led to the return of Brian McDermott for his second spell at the Madejski having been in charge for four years between 2009 and 2013. Ironically, it was Steve Clarke who was in the Albion dug out opposite McDermott the last time the two clubs met in January 2013.
The former Leeds manager has failed to turn around Reading’s league form presiding over just two wins in his ten league games in charge in which the Royals have scored just six goals. They haven’t conceded many either, however, just eight, with their last two games at home to Wolves and Burnley finishing goalless.
In the FA Cup, however, there is a startling contrast as they have scored eleven goals in their three games so far despatching Huddersfield Town 5-2 in a third round replay and hammering Walsall 4-0 in the last round. Former Baggies loanee, Matěj Vydra, has discovered a taste for the cup this season scoring six of Reading’s eleven FA Cup goals which compares to just two goals in 21 appearances in the league, although he is likely to miss the game through injury.
Another former Baggie, Paul McShane, is also at the Madejski having moved from Hull City last summer. The 30-year-old Irishman has taken the captain’s armband for the Royals, although he has only recently returned from injury.
The Madejski has not been a happy hunting ground for the Baggies. Since Reading moved from Elm Parkin 1998, Albion have played at Reading on six occasions and are yet to taste victory drawing three and losing three. On their last visit, that run appeared to be about to come to an end after a brace from Romelu Lukaku saw Albion enter the final ten minutes with a two goal lead, but goals from Kébé (82), Le Fondre (88) and Pogrebnyak (90) saw the hosts grab the points in dramatic style.
You have to go back more than 20 years for Albion’s last win at Reading, when Alan Buckley’s team won 2-0 at Elm Park in January 1995 thanks to goals from Andy Hunt and Kevin Donovan.
In cup competitions, Reading have the upper hand with Albion having progressed just once in the six occasions they have been drawn against the Royals. That win was the first time they were drawn together in the FA Cup Third Round back in 1948. Roy Finch and George Dury scored for the Baggies as they won 2-0 at the Hawthorns against the team that were then in Division Three (South). It would be nearly 20 years before the clubs met again, in the League Cup in 1967. Having been on the wrong end of an upset in the League Cup Final a few months earlier when they lost to Third Division QPR, Albion suffered another exit to a third tier team in their very next match in the competition as Reading triumphed 3-1 at Elm Park.
Having lost over two legs in the League Cup in 1995, Albion were drawn against Reading in the FA Cup three times in six seasons from 2006. Reading progressed on each occasion, although they needed a replay in 2006 and 2010. The last FA Cup meeting, in the third round in 2011 at the Madejski, was decided by a single goal by Shane Long who moved to the Hawthorns the following summer. That was the last time that Albion were beaten by a lower league team in the FA Cup.
James Morrison and Callum McManaman remain on the sidelines and the match is likely to come too early for Gareth McAuley. Chris Brunt is available again having come off the bench at Goodison Park last Saturday.
Reading’s impressive young midfielder, Aaron Tshibola, suffered an ankle injury in the round four game against Walsall and could well be out for the season. Matěj Vydra and Danny Williams are both injury doubts which could mean a start for Latvian striker, Deniss Rakels. New signing Yann Kermorgant is cup-tied.
The two clubs’ respective league form suggest that this match will not be a goalfest, but as I pointed out earlier, Reading have been free-scoring in the cup so far. The absence of Vydra may well have an impact on that, however, and I’m expecting another tight game. As unwelcome as it might be, I can see this one resulting in yet another replay for the Baggies.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
12 Jan 2013 – Premier League
Reading 3 (Kébé, Le Fondre, Pogrebnyak)
West Brom 2 (Lukaku (2))
22 Sep 2012 – Premier League
West Brom 1 (Lukaku)
Last win at Reading
14 Jan 1995 – League Division 1
West Brom 2 (Hunt, Donovan)
Albion’s Record against Reading
|Premier League Record|