MILLWALL host Reading in what is an early relegation six-pointer at The Den on Boxing Day.
Both sides are locked on 19 points with the Lions in the drop zone on goal difference. Between them they managed just eight wins in the opening half of the season.
Alex Grace spoke to Royals fan Simeon Pickup.
Why do you support Reading?
Originally I was a Man United fan, but my Mum (a Reading fan) took me to a Reading game in 2004. I’ve been a loyal Royal ever since.
Also as I come from Aylesbury, I don’t really have an obvious local team to support. I never fancied the prospect of Wycombe Wanderers or MK Dons, the only league sides in Buckinghamshire.
What has been your favourite season following the Royals?
2011-12, when we defied the odds to win the Championship. We’d lost the play-off final the season before to Swansea City, so were on a downer going into 2011-12. However, the team showed real character and determination to beat West Ham and Southampton to the title.
We didn’t have a huge amount of individual quality in the side, but it was a well-drilled, passionate team that never knew when it was beaten. A 4-2 win at Upton Park was a real highlight, as was sealing promotion at home to Nottingham Forest, and the pitch invasion that followed.
And the worst?
Last season, 2017-18. Again, we were following a play-off final defeat, but this team lacked the mental strength to bounce back.
We’d been so optimistic of promotion going into last season, but in the end everything fell apart. Recruitment was dire, injures stacked up, key players and the manager, Jaap Stam, who I deeply respect, couldn’t react to those problems.
In the end we only managed only three league wins in the second half on the campaign and were extremely lucky to stay up.
What are your thoughts on the appointment of Jose Gomes?
It’s a big risk. He’s an unknown quantity to pretty much all of us, having never managed in England before. And his track record so far is okay but largely unimpressive.
He also plays a technical, possession-focussed style of football that the squad may or may not take to. That said, the club needs a shake-up and he should provide that. He was also impressive in his first interview with the club, appearing confident of his chances of turning our form around.
With January just around the corner, do Reading need to strengthen and if so in what positions?
Very much so. We need to bring first-team quality in – probably all over the pitch, certainly in midfield and at the back. However, the biggest issue is outgoings. Reading need to trim their squad to improve morale, free up funds and give space for youngsters to come into the squad.
There could be as many as a dozen departures, but we are talking about under-performing players, so they may not be that easy to shift out.
Would avoiding relegation be a success this season?
That’s absolutely the main aim, but I also want to see the team growing under Gomes and developing it’s own style, with young players coming through.
Given the fact both teams are on 19 points, with Reading outside the relegation places on goal difference, how big a game is this?
It’s huge. We need wins wherever we can get them. This is certainly a six-pointer. Hopefully, we also have a morale edge having beaten you earlier in the season.
What are you expecting from the Lions on Boxing Day?
Like last time, you’ll make it tough for us, probably out-fight us physically and cause us problems with aerial balls into the box. We got away with dealing with an aerial barrage earlier in the season, so we’ll have to be a lot better this time around.
Who are Reading’s danger men?
Leandro Bacuna has developed into an effective, combative midfielder this season and can give us real presence in midfield.
Yakou Meite and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson are our biggest goal threats, but both have struggled with injures recently.
Otherwise, we don’t have any consistent threats. I’ll mention John Swift and Garath McCleary who can, on their day, give us a vital creative spark.
Likewise, which Millwall players do you fear?
Jake Cooper. He’s strong defensively and is a threat from set-pieces. Plus, former players always score against us.
What are your thoughts on Lions boss Neil Harris?
I don’t know too much about him, but he’s certainly got a passion for the club and a connection with the fans that a lot of managers in this league don’t have. He’s done very well over the last few years and I hope he sticks with you.
If you could sign one of his players who would it be and why?
Jem Karacan is still a huge fan favourite at Reading, and we could really use his passion and energy in midfield.
What is your predicted Reading starting XI and formation?
Jaakola; Yiadom, Osho, Blackett, Richards; Bacuna, Rinomhota; McCleary, Swift, Barrow; Baldock
Finally a score prediction?
Millwall 2-2 Reading
Graphic: Millwall FC