AFC Bournemouth will be hoping to build on their impressive showing against Birmingham when they host Championship leaders Reading on Saturday (12.30pm kick-off).
Jason Tindall’s team turned on the style to triumph 3-1 against the Blues at St Andrew’s, a win which left them in fourth place ahead of the international break.
In the lunchtime kick-off on the same day, Reading suffered a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Stoke City at the Madejski Stadium, a third reverse on the trot.
The Royals made a flying start to the season under new boss Veljko Paunovic (pictured below), the former Atletico Madrid and Real Mallorca midfielder who was appointed in August.
Wins in their first four league games against Derby (2-0), Barnsley (2-0), Cardiff (2-1) and Watford (1-0) propelled them top spot in the Championship.
And after dropping their first points in a 0-0 draw at Middlesbrough, they responded with a hat-trick of victories against Wycombe (1-0), Rotherham (3-0) and Blackburn (4-2).
Leading marksman Lucas Joao has added six league goals to his hat-trick in the Carabao Cup against Colchester, with nine already two more than he netted throughout an injury-interrupted 2019/20 campaign.
Although the Stoke defeat came on the back of losing against Coventry (3-2) and Preston (3-0), the Royals still top the pile, just a point clear of Norwich and Watford and two ahead of the Cherries.
Ahead of the clash, afcb.co.uk caught up with Jonathan Low who covers the fortunes of Reading for Berkshire Live.
READING IN PROFILE
Manager: Veljko Paunovic (appointed August 2020)
Club captain: Liam Moore
Last game: Reading 0-3 Stoke City (Championship)
Leading goalscorer 2020/21: Lucas Joao (nine in all competitions)
League position: 1st
Past six league results: WWWLLL
afcb.co.uk: What was behind Reading’s blistering start to the season?
JL: A combination of clinical finishing and solid defending. They didn’t create too many chances but converted them when they were presented with them and were very tight at the back.
Defensively, they were extremely sound and conceded only one goal in their first seven games. It was the perfect mix of being clinical in attack and solid defensively.
They didn’t have too many injuries in the first seven or eight games and had a very tight-knit squad. The players they brought in gelled pretty much instantly and the manager got everyone onside.
He came in a week before the season started but created a really unifying togetherness and forged a really good team spirit which has kept them going.
Although they didn’t always play too well in the games they won, they did enough to secure the three points.
They had a bit of luck along the way but it was a perfect mix where everything came together and momentum got them through.
afcb.co.uk: And what has their recent run of three successive defeats been down to?
JL: A major part of it has been injuries and they now have a few crucial players out, most notably the captain Liam Moore.
He’s a centre-back and probably played his best football for Reading over the first couple of months of the season. He got injured towards the end of the 3-2 defeat against Coventry.
They have conceded six goals in their past two games so that shows how much of a miss he has been, both defensively and with his leadership.
Ovie Ejaria has missed the past four matches. He’s a playmaker and has been crucial in the team’s ability to create chances and offers a goalscoring threat as well.
Yakou Meite has missed the past three matches and he adds physical presence to the side up front. John Swift has been out for most of the season. He’s another playmaker who is crucial in the final third.
Felipe Araruna and Tom Holmes have also been injured, meaning the squad has become stretched and it’s becoming a bit too much at the moment.
afcb.co.uk: What’s the general mood among supporters about Veljko Paunovic’s appointment?
JL: Very few people knew anything about him to begin with so it was a bit of a left-field appointment.
Fans hoped his appointment would be a stroke of genius but, realistically, had no idea what to expect.
Others feared the worst for the club given his lack of experience and indifferent spell at Chicago Fire.
In Mark Bowen, they had a safe pair of hands who was solid but not necessarily spectacular.
He’s won over the players and the supporters with the run of results so far. They are experiencing a bit of a blip at the moment but everyone is still very much behind him.
He’s created an excellent team spirit which has helped them on their run. He’s brought in some of the younger players, making sure there is a pathway from the academy.
He’s a workaholic and is very meticulous in his preparation for games.
When things were going right, he was keen to dampen expectations and, likewise, when they have had a few defeats, he’s been clever in his analysis in saying it’s not the end of the world, they are still learning, still on a path.
All things considered, they are still top of the league so he hasn’t done too badly.
afcb.co.uk: Tell us a little about Lucas Joao (pictured above)?
JL: His goalscoring record for Reading is incredible. He came in from Sheffield Wednesday at the start of last season and had an excellent start.
He got injured at Fulham on New Year’s Day and Reading were never the same side without him during the second half of the season.
When he’s been on the pitch, he’s been absolutely superb. He’s got 15 goals in 30 games for Reading. When he’s fit, he’s been pretty much unplayable.
That showed at the start of this season when he got nine goals in his first 11 games but it could easily have been a couple more.
On his day, he’s brilliant. He’s tall and has good footwork. He’s good in the air and good at bringing others into play.
He wasn’t presented with too many chances in those first 11 games but, when he was, he was clinical.
When fully fit and on form, he’s one of the best strikers in the Championship.
afcb.co.uk: Apart from Joao, who is Reading’s one to watch?
JL: I’d probably say Michael Olise (pictured below). He’s an attacking midfielder, a playmaker. He turns 19 at the start of December and has really added assists and goals to his game this season.
He scored two good goals against Barnsley and Blackburn and he’s very skilful on the ball and glides past players. He’s got a huge array of tricks up his sleeve.
The criticism last season was he didn’t have much end product but he has certainly added that this season. For what it’s worth, he’s been linked with a few of the top Premier League clubs.
When he’s on form, he can produce a defence-splitting pass, he’s got an eye for goal, good set-piece delivery and is not bad in tracking back as well so he’s really turning into an excellent all-round player.
afcb.co.uk: Are any players either injured or suspended against the Cherries?
JL: Liam Moore is injured but could be back and it’s the same with Yakou Meite.
Ovie Ejaria has been out with a muscle injury but could be back and Tom Holmes is a doubt with a hamstring injury. He could be back but probably won’t start.
Felipe Araruna is out with a knee injury and John Swift with a hamstring injury.
afcb.co.uk: What’s your score prediction?
JL: Unfortunately, I’m going for a Reading defeat, probably 2-1 to Bournemouth.
You can follow Jonathan on Twitter – @jonathanl50
Officials: Darren Bond (referee), Robert Hyde (assistant), Nigel Lugg (assistant), Dean Whitestone (fourth official).