For this 'great escape' to happen we'll probably need to do one thing we haven't managed in nearly a year... win away from home. Not since that magical night at St Mary's have we taken all three points and our trip to Alan Pardew's struggling Newcastle presents as good a chance as any to end that run. Ahead of the game we're please to welcome back Ben Woolhead from Black'n'White & Red All Over. to give us his thoughts on Saturday's game.
How have you viewed Newcastle's season so far?
A bit of a car crash, and unexpectedly so. While we were aware we'd punched above our weight last year, this time around just about everything that could have gone wrong has. Our best players - Papiss Cisse, Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa, Fabricio Coloccini, Cheick Tiote - have been continually injured, suspended or just spectacularly out of form. Even Demba Ba did little more than contribute vital goals. Defensively we've been woeful. Our attacking players have regularly struggled to create much, in which case we've slipped to narrow defeats, and even when we've managed to score a few goals, we've conceded more at the other end (the post-festive double whammy of 4-3 at Old Trafford and 7-3 at the Emirates were very painful indeed, even though we'd not anticipated getting anything from the games beforehand).
The last time we met, Demba Ba's hand settled an interesting 2-2 draw, what were your thoughts on that game?
We were very lucky to get a draw - and not just because the handball wasn't spotted. (Incidentally, I wouldn't blame the referee for missing it - it all happened very quickly and looked like a textbook diving header at first - but must admit to feeling uncomfortable that Ba didn't own up.) The impression I got from my Royals-supporting companion and all around was that it was the best you had played this season, at least up to that point. We were terrible and an embarrassing defeat would have been entirely justified. As it was, we escaped with a fortuitous 2-2 draw as we had from Goodison Park the previous away game - but it was just papering over the cracks and the sustained losing streak was just around the corner.
During that game Reading fans were having fun chanting '8 years for Pardew you're having a laugh' While that was mostly in jest, are there fears that Ashley has made a blunder with that decision?
Personally, I don't think so. Pardew worked wonders last season and is largely blameless this season - he's had horrendous injuries and suspensions to contend with, and there's not much he can do with players who are out of form. Similarly, it's not his fault that our summer recruitment was inadequate - something that has been cruelly exposed by the injuries, suspensions and additional European fixtures. That said, some of his tactical decisions and substitutions have been questionable of late, so he's not immune from criticism certainly. It's worth pointing out too that although you rightly say he has an eight-year contract, he'd apparently only be entitled a year's salary if sacked - so it's not quite the rash decision it might have appeared.
How active are you expecting Newcastle to be this transfer window?
How active do we need to be? Very. How active do I expect us to be? Time will tell. After all, we have a long history of spectacular failings in the transfer window and what we need to do isn't always what we end up doing. The board have conceded that we should have bought more established players in the summer to strengthen the first team as well as the youthful reserve squad (Vurnon Anita was the only major addition). The need to rectify that situation has only been exacerbated by our league predicament and the departure of Demba Ba. Unlike Andy Carroll two years ago, at least Ba's move was completed very early - which means there's no room for excuses if a replacement isn't secured, not even if 'Appy 'Arry Redknapp continues to poach those we line up for the role... The potential loss of club captain Coloccini for personal reasons would be a huge blow too, especially when we're already in desperate need of a new central defender. To be honest, though, we could benefit from strengthening in pretty much every department except in goal. An established French international full-back in Mathieu Debuchy is a good start, mind.
Who should Reading fans be worried about this weekend?
Cisse is likely to benefit from Ba's departure by being played in his preferred role through the middle more often, and there have been a few signs of late that he might be rediscovering the electrifying goalscoring form of last spring. Sylvain Marveaux has mildly impressed in recent weeks in Ben Arfa's absence, but he might be squeezed out of the starting XI by the returning Cabaye, who will hopefully be hungry to be involved following a protracted spell on the sidelines. Meanwhile, if Nile Ranger makes an appearance you can probably afford to leave him repeatedly unmarked on the six-yard area...
Anyone Newcastle are worried about?
Danny Guthrie, of course - the curse of the old boy. He surely has to come good at some point, and the likelihood is it'll be against us. (Incidentally, we were amused to see he seems to have retained his inbred dislike of Sunderland, having refused to travel there earlier in the season...) Your wingers pose a bit of a threat and might be able to exploit Davide Santon - he's having a good season generally but has looked fatigued of late. But the main worry will be anyone who runs at Mike Williamson, who currently looks afraid of his own shadow.
I think we'll win - but then I thought that when we were down at your place. It's a must-win fixture for us, really, and we've got home advantage and the probable boost of Cabaye's return from injury. We also stopped the rot defensively by keeping a clean sheet at Norwich. Your comeback last weekend was eye-catching, but it didn't disguise the fact that for 80 minutes you were very much second best to West Brom, and your defence and central midfield look ripe for exploitation.
Where do you think both teams will finish come May?
I think we'll evade relegation (though by how much depends on this month's signings) but may well struggle to achieve even the modest ambition (after last year's success) of a top-half finish. I'm afraid I don't see anything other than relegation for the Royals, especially with QPR flashing the cash. £300,000 midfielders from Crawley aren't a renowned source of salvation.
Any advice for travelling Royals?
Get to the ground early, and take an oxygen mask - you might need it for the climb up the stairs. The away end is not advisable if you suffer from altitude sickness! If you fancy a stiff drink or two to psyche yourself up for the climb, you could try the Strawberry pub right outside the ground. Very much a Toon pub, and you'd need to get there early (before about 1.30), but it's a great little place to soak up the pre-match atmosphere.
Thanks again to Ben and you can follow him on Twitter @blackwhiterao