Burnley simply must get a result at Reading to keep up with the top six, writes Jamie Smith.
This week has seen the revelation that Prince Charles – future King Charles – him of the giant lugs – is a Burnley fan. Does anyone care? Thought not, let’s get on with more important matters – namely a clash that could shape the rest of our season, away at fellow play-off contenders Reading.
Of course we have happy memories of trips to the Madejski. Martin Paterson and Steven Thompson’s stunning goals secured a place in the play-off final three years ago – a similar result tonight could spark a run of form that leads us into the top six.
The Clarets lost at Southampton last week but are still on the shoulder of the top six after a comfortable 2-0 win at home to Barnsley on Tuesday night.
And that team just about in the top six, the one Burnley must currently set their target at, is of course Reading. Playing Friday night gives us an advantage over the fellow hopefuls, but only if we win. Lose and we face slipping away, although there is plenty of time remaining. Win on the road yet again and we remain in contention, closing the gap on those above us, leaping to seventh in the Championship table and piling the pressure on those around us in the table.
The game does not need to be hyped any more, but it is huge.
Burnley are boosted by the return of pacy strikers Martin Paterson and Danny Ings from injury, the latter forward making his Clarets bow on Tuesday night. Junior Stanislas is still out, however, while Kieran Trippier should be fit despite taking a knock to the back against Barnsley.
Charlie Austin got the goal he desperately needed on Tuesday and that will be a huge boost to his confidence. The timing – with Paterson set to complete his latest comeback – could not be better for the former brickie.
Brian McDermott’s Reading will go into the game without their captain Jobi McAnuff, who has had surgery on a hernia problem, while Andy Griffin and Shaun Cummings could miss the match with hamstring strains, although Tomasz Cwyka may be able to return.
For all the prizes at stake for the Clarets, there is even more on offer for the Royals. They seek a fourth straight league win that would see them overtake three teams and go into third spot temporarily. Should they win, they would close the gap on the top two to only a couple of points.
Burnley are going for a ninth away win of the season but it will not be easy, Reading have the second best defence in the division and have not conceded in their last three matches. Although the Clarets have tightened up of late, we cannot match that excellent record.
Since shipping four at Norwich City in the FA Cup with an experimental team, we’ve let in just three goals in six matches – a vast improvement on the start of the season and dare I say it – we seem to have stopped shipping goals in the last few minutes.
It’s a tricky one to call. Reading have won eight at home, the worst home record in the top six, and the Clarets have already won at Middlesbrough and West Ham this season. We have nothing to fear.
Although we don’t draw on the road, that’s what I’m going for. It will probably be a tight game, with one goal either way deciding it, but both sides have enough going forward to trouble the scorers.
Prediction: Reading 1-1 Burnley