Sheffield United travel to Reading tomorrow as both clubs look to seal a place in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
The Blades head into the game as heavy favourites. However, the Royals will be keen to keep their cup run going given their lowly league position in the Championship table.
With that, then, our site writer, Lee Connor, caught up with a couple of hardened Reading fans for their perspective on the game. This is part two of our new series of fan perspective pieces.
Here’s the thoughts of season ticket holder, Charlie Firth (@dingcharlie) and The Tilehurst End writer, Harry Chafer (@harry_chaferr) to get the lowdown on the Royals ahead of the clash with the Blades.
As I write this, Reading are just five clear of safety. When this goes live, you could be within two points of the drop. Are you confident of survival and what’s gone so wrong? Didn’t you make the play-off final under Jaap Stam only a few seasons back?
Charlie – Theories as to how that play off final season ever occurred are still debated amongst Reading fans to this day. I am of the belief that it is the single greatest fluke in sporting history, and deserves to be studied, because my word we were awful at times that season. . The following season, where we were nearly relegated, is where we should have finished in that play off year.
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I am confident of survival. This is the best Reading side for some time, but we are annoyingly inconsistent. Some of our results and performances this season have demonstrated that we are way too good to go down, so it is really frustrating to be pulled into the relegation scrap once again.
Harry – I am confident of survival because we are a much better team than we have been in the last 2 or 3 seasons where we have really struggled – only surviving on the last day in the 2017/2018 season, for example. It would be a disaster if we were to go down this year but I am very confident of that not happening. In terms of what’s gone wrong, you should really be asking what hasnt gone wrong! We were good in Stam’s first season, but our recruitment and decision making at the top of the club in the summer of 2017 sent us on an almost never-ending downwards spiral which we are only now beginning to see the light from.
Mark Bowen’s the man in charge now. How’s he getting on and is the right man for the club long-term?
Charlie – The million-dollar question! Objectively, Bowen has done a really good job. Everyone was against him following the dubious nature of his appointment, especially given how popular his predecessor Jose Gomes was. But, to his credit, he has pulled us out of the relegation zone and, until now, positioned us safely in midtable.
Is he the right man in the long term? I have my doubts. While initially I was impressed with the tactical flexibility of Bowenology, the lack of tactical identity the team has is now to our detriment. There have been times where the team simply doesn’t know how to play.
Harry – He’s done well all in all. The sacking of Jose Gomes and the circumstances under which Bowen was hired didn’t set well with a lot of Reading fans, including myself. But he has been getting results and sending us up the table rather than constantly looking over our shoulders. In terms of him being the right man long-term, I’m not so sure. His current deal runs till 2021. But he has shown a bit of naivety in recent weeks which might suggest he isn’t right for us long-term but I guess time will tell.
To this week’s clash for Reading with Sheffield United, then. Do you see the FA Cup as an unwanted distraction or are you enjoying the run?
Charlie – I am desperate for this run to continue, as frankly it’s the only thing that’s been mildly interesting about this season. I am pretty sure we’re too good to do down, so to go all out and enjoy the kind of cup run that took us to the semi-finals in 2015 and the quarter-finals in 2016 is a necessity in my eyes. Otherwise this season has very little to it.
Harry – Every fan loves a cup run, and with us being in mid-table mediocrity at the minute in the Championship, it’s nice to have something to play for and seeing how far we can go. Of course, you will know yourselves, that nothing ever lasts in the Championship so in a couple of weeks we could be scrapping for our lives or aiming for the Play-Offs. But everyone loves an FA Cup run, don’t they?
Last season we saw you off 4-0 at Bramall Lane with relative ease. What impressed you that day and did you expect the Blades to do as well as they have?
Charlie – In the two years Sheffield United joined us in the Championship, I was seriously impressed every time we met. It was very clear to me from an early stage quite how talented a manager Chris Wilder was. And given the rate at which we have flown through managers over the last few years I’m green with envy at what a genius he is. Given how much I think of him, I am not particularly surprised that Sheffield United are a success in the Premier League. Though I thought it would be a year before you chased European football.
Harry – Relative ease is being nice! I remember being there that day and telling my Dad that you guys were the best team I’ve seen us play in a very long time. You’re a very good team, and proving that with where you are in the Premier League at the minute which is just huge credit to everyone involved with your club.
In terms of Reading, who are the danger men United need to be wary of?
Charlie – By a distance, our two best players are John Swift and Ovie Ejaria. Swift has been with us for four years now and only over the last year or so has he managed to perform at a top level consistently. He has a vicious strike on him, a Premier League quality creative flair and an eye for a trick or two. He is our main creative outlet and has been one of the Championship’s best midfielders this year, with five goals and nine assists.
Harry – Ovie Ejaria and John Swift – our two match winners. Both capable of playing much higher up than where we are at this point in time, so we’re very lucky to have them. Two very natural gifted footballers who can cause any teams problems if they get into their stride. Put it this way, if we are to get any kind of result on Tuesday, they will both have to be at the top of their game and they will both play a very big part.
And finally, for a bit of fun, if you could take just one Blades player for your team, who would it be and why?
Charlie – Just one!? This Reading side has been crying out for a consistent finisher all season, so a player of the calibre of Oli McBurnie or Billy Sharp (who, typically, we only managed to squeeze two goals out of in 2013/14) would be quite something. I’ll go for McBurnie, as he is the younger man, but frankly who wouldn’t I take from your squad!?
Harry – Ollie Norwood. Which is frustrating because he was with us for a few years before going to Brighton. He is just a very, very good footballer and his passing range is a bit of a joke. Plus, we are missing someone in that deep lying playmaker role and Norwood seems to have made that his own in recent times.
I’m sure he will be a big threat on Tuesday.