Both Watford and Reading are eyeing up Premier League promotion, making Friday's fixture a key battle at the top end of the Championship. Mark O'Haire previews the encounter...
"The Hornets have registered W14-D3-L3 to cement their place in the automatic promotion places"
Watford v Reading
Friday April 9, 19:45
Watford denied on Teesside
Watford's six-game winning streak was halted on Easter Monday as the Hornets were forced to settle for a point away at Middlesbrough. Xisco Munoz's men were held to a 1-1 draw in a dull fixture at the Riverside; Ismaila Sarr deflected the ball home for the opener in what was the only real moment of note from an unattractive first half on Teesside.
However, Yannick Bolasie equalised with little more than 10 minutes remaining of an equally drab second period. Now Xisco is plotting improvement from his Watford outfit, feeling his side could have offered more in attack and said that, although disappointed in the result, he is considering how the Hornets can continue to build for promotion.
Xisco said, "We fought today, we gave our best, sometimes when you play against good teams it's difficult and the most important thing is we took a point. Right now I am only thinking about what we can work on to get better for the next game."
The Watford boss was handed an injury boost ahead of kick-off, with Joao Pedro ruled fit enough to start. Ken Sema also returned to the starting XI, a move that saw Pedro start in the centre of the three-man attack. Few major alterations are expected here.
Paunovic delighted with Reading success
Reading manager Veljko Paunovic said he was delighted with 'every aspect' of his side's performance as they ran out 3-1 winners over Derby on Easter Monday at the Madjesi Stadium. Michael Olise opened the scoring with a fantastic strike on the stroke of half time, before second-half goals by George Puscs and Lucas Joao sealed the Royals' victory.
The Serbian said, Iit was a very good game in every aspect. The application and maturity we played the game with were very promising for this team. With six games left, that is what you need to win. The execution was clinical and defensively we did a good job. The goal we conceded was almost unstoppable. I'm very happy and pleased with performances like this."
It wasn't all good news for Reading, though. Bayern Munich-bound Omar Richards limped off and will need to be assessed ahead of Friday night's fixture. Elsewhere, Michael Morrison has been ruled out until the end of the regular season and John Swift's return has also been postponed for the time being. Joao is hoping for a recall to the starting XI.
Watford and Reading have been regular competitors this decade with the Royals enjoying slight head-to-head dominance during that period with a W9-D8-L6 return. The Berkshire boys were 1-0 winners the duo locked horns at the Madjeski Stadium back in October and have also posted W4-D4-L3 in their 11 trips to Vicarage Road since the start of the century.
Watford 1.855/6 have been one of the division's form sides since Xisco Munoz arrived. The Hornets have registered W14-D3-L3 to cement their place in the automatic promotion places, whilst underlying performance data suggests the hosts have been the division's most dominant during that period. Watford also boast a divisional-best W16-D2-L2 at home.
Reading 4.804/1 haven't strayed outside of the top-six all season and the Royals continue to cling to the final play-off position. Veljko Paunovic's posse have returned W9-D6-L5 in their past 20 outings but have tended to toil when taking on the Championship's leading lights this term, returning W5-D6-L7 against fellow top-half teams, including W2-D5-L2 away.
Watford have largely proven to be mean defensively since Xisco Munoz took charge, as well as clinical in forward areas. The Hornets boast 11 shutouts in their past 20 Championship contests, and 15 clean sheets in 28 going further back. Despite scoring in 17 of 20 outings since Christmas, that's meant goal-heavy games have been reasonably hard to come by.
Reading's own improvements in defence have led to eight of the Royals' past 11 encounters ending with Under 2.5 Goals 1.608/13, as have 65% of the visitors' away days across the campaign as a whole. In fact, 35% of the trips outside of Berkshire have produced a maximum of one goal, suggesting a low-scoring showdown could be on the cards again.
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