Sky Bet Championship football is back – and Neil Harris’ Millwall side will look to pick up where they left off prior to the international break as they make the trip to the Madejski Stadium to face Reading.
The Lions followed up a remarkable comeback draw at Nottingham Forest with a tremendous win over Aston Villa at The Den – also coming from behind – in their last League outings, whilst Paul Clement’s Reading sit one point and one place below in the table having lost their last two matches.
Established 147 years ago, Reading are one of England’s oldest clubs. Joining the League football system in 1920, The Royals have remained a League side ever since, and have won the second-tier title on two occasions since the turn of the millennium. The first of these triumphs came in 2006, when Steve Coppell guided Reading to a gargantuan 106 points in a Championship season in which the team lost just two of their 46 games, and saw every outfielder in the squad score during the campaign. An eighth-place Premier League finish followed, before The Royals suffered relegation in 2008.
Reading’s sole other season in the top flight was in 2012/13, after Brian McDermott steered the club to their second Championship title. The club have remained in The Championship for the last five years, experiencing mixed fortunes including an agonising defeat on penalties to Huddersfield Town in the 2016/17 Play-Off Final. The Royals did however reach Wembley on another recent occasion, taking Arsenal to extra-time in the FA Cup Semi-Final in 2015 under Steve Clarke – with Lions midfielder Jem Karacan a significant part of the club’s achievements during this era. Reading finished 20th in The Championship last season, three points above the drop zone.
Ones to Watch
Andy Yiadom (3) joined Reading in the summer after departing relegated Barnsley, for whom he spent the second half of last season as captain. The full-back has progressed well throughout his career, making his name at Barnet both in and out of the EFL. Initially an encouraging defender and wide player at non-league level, Yiadom made his League debut for The Bees in 2012, moving north to Oakwell four years later. The 26-year-old is comfortable on both the left and right side of the defence, displaying a dangerous energy going forward, and was a stand-out performer alongside Lions striker Tom Bradshaw during a poor Barnsley season last year, thus earning him his move. After representing England ‘C’ as a non-league player, Yiadom made his senior debut for his native Ghana at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.
John Swift (10) has made an encouraging individual start to this season for Reading. The south-coast-born midfielder has chipped in with a goal and two assists from six starts, and shows plenty of development on the potential which saw him granted his senior Chelsea debut in 2014 as an 18-year-old. A technically gifted ‘box-to-box’ style midfield man, Swift earned EFL experience during loan spells with Rotherham United, Swindon Town and Brentford, before a permanent move to the Madejski in 2016. The 23-year-old has played regularly through the England youth ranks, representing every level from U16 to U21. Swift was part of Gareth Southgate’s U21 side to win the first of three successive Toulon Tournaments in 2016, and will view the recent senior call-ups of Mason Mount and James Maddison as inspiration to seek an opportunity of his own to go one further.
Modou Barrow (17) arrived in Berkshire in 2017 after being brought to the Premier League by Swansea City in 2014. The exciting wide forward spent his early playing days in Sweden, where he moved from his native Gambia as an 11-year-old. Prolific stints with Mjolby Sodra and Ostersund among other clubs earned him his chance in the UK, where he has since made over 100 competitive appearances. Pacey, daring and agile on the ball, Barrow is a traditional winger who can also play through the middle, and has also donned the colours of Nottingham Forest, Blackburn Rovers and Leeds United on loan – making his Gambian international debut in 2015.
Jon Dadi Bodvarsson (23) is pushing to return to Clement’s side on Saturday after missing October’s matches with a calf injury. The Iceland striker has hit seven Championship goals this campaign, averaging the target every 81 minutes in what is the best goals-to-minute ratio of any player above four goals in the division. The Royals have been defeated in the two games missed by Bodvarsson, who scored 10 times last season after his move from Wolves. Tall, powerful and a confident finisher, the striker scored for Iceland in their successful Euro 2016 campaign, in one of 41 caps so far. Still just 26, Bodvarsson has played in Norway, Denmark and Germany as well as his homeland, and will be the one to watch should he be fit to lead the Reading line this weekend.
In the Dugout
Paul Clement took over at the Madejski following the departure of Jaap Stam at the end of last season. The 46-year-old was previously in charge of Swansea City in the Premier League, whom he left last Christmas. Although his playing career only stretched to non-league level in contrast to father Dave and brother Neil, Clement’s coaching experience for his age is unparalleled and he became a full-time coach in 2000. He went on to become a high-profile assistant manager firstly at Chelsea, and later European giants like Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich. Clement has also assisted Gareth Southgate with the England U21 side, and was introduced to full management with Derby County in the 2015/16 season. As a coach, Clement has won titles in England and France, as well as the Champions League, Club World Cup and several domestic trophies.