Barnsley v Reading
Friday April 2, 17:30
Barnsley targeting the top-six
Barnsley boss Valerien Ismael has targeted at least four wins from the Tykes' remaining eight league games to cement a place in the Championship play-offs. The Reds are currently fifth with 64 points, five points clear of the sides outside the top-six although seventh-placed Bournemouth have a game in-hand over the surprise-package from South Yorkshire.
Ismael's outfit saw their 12-game unbeaten run (W9-D3-L0), with nine wins from the last 10, ended with a 2-1 home derby loss to Sheffield Wednesday before the international break. Those 12 encounters came in a hectic 37 day period and the Tykes management were keen to allow the squad the opportunity to rest and refresh during the welcome break.
Ismael said: "If you want to get in the play-offs you will need maybe 75 points, if you see the statistics of the last years. We need four wins from the last eight. The international break comes with a big welcome. Now it is time to recover, see our families and rest. We will come back with a big freshness and a good mindset for the last eight games."
Reading hope to find clinical touch
Reading head coach Veljko Paunovic bemoaned his side's finishing as the Royals played out a 1-1 draw with QPR before the international break, a third fixture without success for the Berkshire boys. Yakou Meite scored in his third successive game to earn Reading a share of the spoils, although the Royals only hit the target with two of their 17 overall efforts at goal.
Paunovic said: "In the first half, we created some very good chances and a couple which we missed - and I have the same comment for the second half. It's concerning that it's repeating - the creation of so many opportunities which we don't execute properly.
"We can't afford in the Championship - or in any other league - to miss so many opportunities."
The Serbian hopes the international break will give his players the chance to reset ahead of the last eight games, and the visitors are hoping to welcome back a couple of key components in the coming weeks. Playmaker John Swift might be available in the coming days, with Michael Morrison and Andy Yiadom potentially returning to action soon too.
Barnsley and Reading have locked horns on 17 occasions in league football since 2008/09 with the Royals enjoying significant head-to-head dominance.
The Berkshire outfit have posted a W10-D5-L2 supremacy, a run of results that includes a current seven-match unbeaten streak against the Tykes (W4-D3-L0), as well as a 2-0 triumph in the reverse.
Barnsley 2.407/5 have enjoyed a remarkable turnaround under Valerien Ismael's leadership. Arriving at Oakwell in October with the Reds only outside the relegation zone on goal difference having not won any of their first seven league fixtures, the Tykes have since collected 60 points from 31 games (W19-D3-L9), including W10-D2-L4 as hosts.
Reading 3.505/2 haven't strayed outside of the top-six all season and the Royals are hoping the brief rest will allow them the opportunity to sustain themselves. Veljko Paunovic's posse have returned W8-D5-L5 in their past 18 outings but have tended to toil when taking on the division's leading lights, returning W5-D5-L7 against fellow top-half teams this term.
Barnsley have fired blanks just twice in their last 13 outings, scoring multiple goals on eight occasions, and the Tykes have also seen the Over 2.5 Goals 2.255/4 barrier broken in five of their previous seven Championship clashes. The hosts' high line and aggressive press can occasionally leave the Reds' defence exposed and so clean sheets aren't overly common.
Reading's improvements in defence have led to seven of the Royals' past nine encounters ending with Under 2.5 Goals 1.574/7, as have 63% of the visitors' away days across the campaign as a whole. Nevertheless, a low-scoring repeat at Oakwell looks far too short to support at the current quotes and therefore a goals approach is best left alone.
Instead, I'm keen to take on the generous 2.407/5 quotes on a home success. The hosts are ranked third on Expected Points (xP) over the last 12-game sample in the Championship, posting a 63% Expected Goals (xG) ratio. The Reds also feature prominently amongst the leaders for xG from open play, as well as shots from inside the penalty area, and appear underrated.