Fulham face Reading for the first time in four-and-a-half years when we make the trip down the M4 to the Madejski Stadium on Saturday (3pm).
The Royals ended their exile from the Barclays Premier League when they lifted the npower Championship trophy last season, although had it not been for the Whites’ miraculous ‘Great Escape’ at the end of the 2007/08 campaign, then the Berkshire club would never have suffered relegation in the first place.
Martin Jol will have almost a full complement of players to choose from at the weekend after Damien Duff returned from illness and Bryan Ruiz recovered from the injury that ruled him out of last Saturday’s victory over Aston Villa.
Reading are one of only two Premier League sides still searching for their first win of the season, with only three draws to show from their seven outings so far. They are, however, faring well in the Capital One Cup after knocking out Peterborough United and Queens Park Rangers by three goals to two on each occasion.
The Royals began their first season back in England’s top flight with a home game against Stoke City and they needed a 90th minute Adam Le Fondre penalty to earn a 1-1 draw at the Madejski. Three consecutive league defeats followed courtesy of Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion, before they secured consecutive 2-2 draws with Newcastle United and Swansea City.
They gave Liverpool a scare in their most recent outing, although Raheem Sterling’s goal proved enough to secure a home win at Anfield. Reading came out strongly in the second half and may have taken something from the game, had it not been for the form of Brad Jones.
Last time out
Reading 0-2 Fulham 12.04.2008
We went into the game knowing that anything but a victory would make Premier League survival all but impossible. The boys in red and black stripes refused to let nerves take the better of them though, as they produced arguably their strongest performance of the season to comfortably see off our relegation rivals on their own turf.
Simon Davies was in scintillating form and created both goals for his side. First, he sent in an exquisite left-footed cross which Captain Brian McBride slid home with aplomb. McBride then showed fantastic technique in the second half when he volleyed against the woodwork, before Jimmy Bullard and Brede Hangeland also hit the bar as we pushed for that crucial second goal.
With just one goal between the two sides, it was a nervy finale for the visiting fans until a marvellous double one-two between Davies and Erik Nevland sent the Norwegian through. Erik kept his composure to expertly fire across Marcus Hahnemann for his first Fulham goal. It was the first of four wins from our final five matches of the 2007/08 campaign that ultimately secured our Premier League survival.
Reading players to watch
Pavel Pogrebnyak: Fulham fans know plenty about the big Russian after his successful loan spell in SW6 during the second half of last season. Pogrebnyak followed up a debut goal against Stoke City with a hat-trick against Wolves and the winner against local rivals Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road to ensure a place in the hearts of Whites fans. He has four goals for his new club already and Brede Hangeland will certainly have his hands full when the pair meet as opponents on Saturday afternoon.
Jobi McAnuff: Reading’s club captain has made more than 130 appearances for the Royals since signing over three years ago and has become a focal point of his side’s midfield. McAnuff is commonly utilised in a wide position but is capable of playing through the middle too and has been an ever-present for Reading in the Premier League this season.
Danny Guthrie: A free signing from Newcastle United in the summer, for whom he scored an absolute screamer at Craven Cottage last season in a 5-2 defeat. The box-to-box midfielder has an impressive range of passing and is also something of a set-piece specialist.
Bet Butler Odds
Fulham betting partner Bet Butler makes the Whites favourites ahead of Saturday’s match, pricing us at 2.60 compared to Reading’s 2.94.
A draw gives decent odds at 3.55, whereas if you fancy Fulham to repeat our Southampton scoreline, then you’d get odds of 15/1 at 2-2.
Dimitar Berbatov will lead the line for Fulham and the Bulgarian is favourite to open the scoring at 6.5.
Goals have been a regular feature of our matches this season and if you plump for over 2.5 goals on Saturday you’ll find odds of 1.89, while over 3.5 goals can be backed at 3.05.