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A midweek trip to Loftus Road is the reward for Reading's dismissal of Peterborough in Round 2, as we take on QPR in the Capital One Cup.
Ah, cup competitions... Whether you use them as matches to rotate the squad, or go all-out in the hope of reaching Wembley, there's no doubting that cup games have an extra edge to them. Reading fans have seen it all in the past few years - from Steve Coppell's reserves grabbing a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in the FA Cup, to the incredible scenes at Anfield as Shane Long nodded Brian McDermott to a full-time job in January 2010. Royals fans will be hoping for a good performance to take some pressure off the team's weak start in the Premier League.
It was a strange game which got Reading to this stage, as they shared 4 goals in 8 first-half minutes with Peterborough before an own goal secured a 3-2 win, and with it the Royals' passage to the third round for the first time in four years. QPR, meanwhile, coasted through against League One side Walsall, winning 3-0 thanks to goals from Shaun Wright-Phillips, Bobby Zamora and Jose Bosingwa.
In the League... well, both sets of fans will be hoping for a welcome distraction, as both sets of hoops sit dead bottom of the table, with QPR nestled just above the Royals in 19th. But just like Reading they'll be looking at their start as a relatively tough one, with losing trips to Spurs and Man City sandwiching a creditable 0-0 draw with Chelsea at Loftus Road. They'll be hoping all memories of that 5-0 spanking at home to Swansea on the opening days of the season have been forgotten.
Head To Head
Loftus Road hasn't been the happiest hunting ground for Reading in recent years - the last two visits to West London have resulted in 4-1 and 3-1 defeats. QPR did the double over us in 2010/11 in their title-winning season, grabbing a 1-0 win at the Mad Stad. It was in the 2005/06 season that we last won at Loftus, James Harper and Ivar Ingimarsson securing a 2-1 victory for the record-breaking Royals. The last time we met in a Cup competition might be one few will remember - 4-0 to the Royals at Elm Park in September 1964 in the Second Round of this very competition.
A tricky one for Brian McDermott, but what we do know of the Royals manager is that he takes the cup competitions seriously (or the FA Cup, anyway, after the runs of 2010 and 2011 - let's not speak of 2012..). But at the same time if he puts out a full-strength squad and they lose against a rival team, the confidence could be dashed even more. We might see some changes at the back - Adrian Mariappa and Shaun Cummings could make their first starts of the season as they try to stake a claim in a defence which has conceded 11 goals in 5 games in all competitions.
Jimmy Kebe is another player who could return to the side after being declared fit, but McDermott might choose to play him off the bench rather than plunge him in at the deep end. As for the attack, Brian might choose to put Noel Hunt up front along side Pogrebnyak to try and release the Russian's workload in holding the ball up and winning headers.
QPR boss Mark Hughes will probably field a similar side to the one which saw off Walsall, which was pretty much at full-strength. Rob Green might be given a chance to re-stake his claim between the sticks after the arrival of Julio Cesar, though he'll be hoping the result won't be the same as the last time the Royals travelled to London with him in goal... Scorer in the last round Bosingwa is ruled out with a hamstring injury, as is fellow defender Anton Ferdinand.
Reading (4-4-2): McCarthy; Cummings, Mariappa, Pearce, Shorey; McCleary, Leigertwood, Guthrie, McAnuff; Hunt, Pogrebnyak
QPR (4-4-2): Green; Nelsen, Hill, Onuoha, Dyer; Wright-Phillips, Park, Faurlin, Hoilett; Cissé, Zamora
Roger East, from Wiltshire (hopefully not a Swindon fan!)
It's almost a year since we were ref'd by Mr East, who oversaw Reading's 2-2 draw with Derby at the Mad Stad last October, as Adam Le Fondre showed his quality with two well-taken goals to rescue a point against the Rams. He also oversaw Reading's 3-3 draw against Northampton in the (then) Carling Cup in 2010, which we lost on penalties 4-2.
This is Mr East's first season refereeing Premier League matches, and in the two he's been allocated so far he's shown two red cards (Chico, Swansea and Odemwingie, West Brom) and given one penalty. In the last round of the Capital One Cup he oversaw Everton's 5-0 trouncing of Leyton Orient. So we can expect fireworks tomorrow night...!
Match: QPR 10/11, Draw 11/4, Reading 10/3
To Qualify: QPR 1/2, Reading 2/1
The Tilehurst End Prediction
If Reading can find the sort of resilience which served them so well in difficult away games last season (see West Ham, Southampton, Brighton) then there's no reason they can't at least secure a draw. One thing is for sure - there will be goals, with both defences averaging over 2 goals a game in the League. So for that reason, I'm going for a 2-2 draw, with QPR just edging it in extra time. But still, at least we can then concentrate on the League...