*No, I am not just picking this game as it is a rare opportunity to preview my own team!
Friday 11th March – 19:55 – Madjeski Stadium
The only remaining non Premier League side in the FA Cup, Reading have a chance to create another shock in the first quarter-final of the weekend when they host Crystal Palace. The Royals surprised West Brom with a 3-1 in the last round after they had beaten Huddersfield Town (via a replay) and Walsall previously in this season’s competition. Reading are slowly turning into a ‘cup team’, as they reached the semi-finals last year, and are in the last eight for the fourth time in seven years, which no other side can better. Brian McDermott’s side are also the highest scorers in the cup in 2015-16, with 14 goals. It’s been another disappointing season in the league though, as they started very well before dropping down to mid-table, losing 3-1 to Huddersfield Town on Tuesday night. You could say the same for Crystal Palace’s season, as the Eagles were hanging around the European spots at the start of the campaign, but haven’t won in the top flight in 2016 and now sit in 15th, having lost 2-1 to Liverpool last Sunday. This bad run of form is why there’s a good chance we could see a shock on Friday night, but Palace have beaten Southampton, Stoke City and most impressively Tottenham Hotspur so far in the cup this year. It’s a return to the Madjeski Stadium for boss Alan Pardew, who controversially quit as Reading manager in 2003, so it will be interesting to see what kind of reception he gets. Neither of these teams have ever won the FA Cup, with Reading being semi-finalists in 1927 and 2015, whilst Palace were finalists in 1990 and haven’t reached the last four since 1995.
- Paul McShane and Hal Robson-Kanu are likely to return from respective calf and Achilles injuries but their FA Cup top scorer Matej Vydra is doubtful with a hamstring problem.
- Brian McDermott will make a late decision on the Watford loanee, but it is likely he will start on the bench, meaning January signing Deniss Rakels should start up front.
- The Royals will be without cup-tied pair George Evans and Yann Kermorgant, who have previously played for Walsall and Bournemouth in the competition.
- Jason Puncheon returns for Crystal Palace after six games out with a hamstring injury, while goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey is also fit again.
- However, Connor Wickham has been ruled out of the next two games with a thigh problem and Marouane Chamakh has suffered a hip injury.
- Kwesi Appiah (knee), on loan at Reading last season, and James McArthur (ankle) are both long term absentees.
The Key Battle: Chris Gunter vs Yannick Bolasie
Royals right-back Chris Gunter has recently signed a new two year contract at the Madjeski Stadium, allegedly taking a pay cut to do so. It shows how much the Welshman values his role in Berkshire, and the feeling is mutual, with Gunter being an ever-present in the side ever since he joined in 2012.
The 26 year old will also be Wales’ first choice at Euro 2016, and testing himself against these Premier League quality players will only help his preparation. He kept James McClean relatively quiet in the last round against West Brom, but Yannick Bolasie is a whole different beast.
The pacy winger is one of the few Palace players I am seriously worried about on Friday, with Reading’s inability to defend against fast attackers. Bolasie has recently returned from a hip injury, and was instrumental in Palace’s fifth round win against Premier League title chasers Tottenham Hotspur.
With Connor Wickham out injured, the DR Congo international is the biggest threat in Alan Pardew’s side, partly in fact due to his weird, but effective self-titled ‘Bolasie swipe’ that somehow outwits his opponents.
Reading wins = 30 / Crystal Palace wins = 25 / Draws = 25
*According to http://www.11v11.com
Last Meeting: Reading 2-2 Crystal Palace (21st April 2012)
Premier League-bound Reading clinched the Championship title, despite being held to a draw by a stubborn Crystal Palace side. Visitors Palace took a surprise lead when Wilfried Zaha stroked home, but Kaspars Gorkss equalised soon after. Adam Le Fondre put the Royals ahead after Jason Roberts’s red card, before Glenn Murray’s superb strike levelled. Striker Roberts, signed from Blackburn in the January transfer window, was sent-off for an apparent elbow towards the end of the first half. [BBC]
Brian McDermott: “It would be fantastic to be able to walk out at Wembley, and that’s what it’s about. The FA Cup means an awful lot to this football club – to the fans, the players and the owners. We want to put on a really good performance and enjoy the occasion, which is really important, and we’ll see what the outcome is.”
Alan Pardew: “The Premier League situation is causing us concern but not one where we don’t think we can get out of it. We have a starting 11 to win this competition but we have to negotiate a really difficult hurdle with Reading away.”
The Referee – Mike Dean
- Last FA Cup game: Arsenal 0-0 Hull City (20th February 2016) – 5 yellow cards, 0 red cards
- Last Reading game: West Ham United 4-2 Reading (19th May 2013) – 3 yellow cards, 0 red cards
- Last Crystal Palace game: Swansea City 1-1 Crystal Palace (6th February 2016) – 3 yellow cards, 0 red cards
2015-16 Record: Games = 30 / Yellow Cards = 92 / Red Cards = 8 / Penalties = 8
Infographic (courtesy of Sporticos)
All stats only taken from FA Cup and correct up until 10/03/16
Stat of the Match
Crystal Palace have progressed on all three occasions they’ve met Reading in the FA Cup – in 1930-31 (after two replays), 1931-32 and 1952-53 (after a replay).
Where Can I Watch It?
The game is being shown live on BBC One from 7:30pm, with kick-off 25 minutes later. The highlights will then be two days later on Sunday evening at 11pm.
My Prediction: Reading 2-2 Crystal Palace
Reading’s home form, cup spirit and my own personal bias make me think we won’t lose this one on Friday. But we’ve conceded five goals in the last two games so the defence is low on confidence. Palace will take the lead early on through Wilfied Zaha before Hal Robson-Kanu, who always scores in the FA Cup, equalises. Emmanuel Adebayor will then put the Premier League side back in front before Matej Vydra, on as a substitute, grabs a dramatic late equaliser to take the tie to a replay.