By Matt Rowson
You do have to wonder whose benefit this is for.
What sort of individual is really going to be drawn to Reading versus Watford as a televised spectacle at 11am on Boxing Day? Apart from those of us who would have been at the game but for the extra ammunition that the bizarre kick-off time and associated transport issues have provoked on the part of relatives of a non-footballing persuasion.
The discussion concerning Sky's mastery over football scheduling is a tired one; however whilst the right to move games for their own purposes is one that they undoubtedly pay for, I can't help but resent the imposition of this nonsense purely to facilitate the illusion of a busy schedule. It's not as if they've ever needed an excuse for yet another narcissistic review of Sky's role in all that is great and good in British football and the world in the past, so a two-hour gap would hardly be tough to fill.
I can't have been the only one to afford half a second's pleasant thought to Sky as we battered Pompey whilst Sky's selection, Chelsea-Fulham, remained goalless. Similarly, there will be some small consolation here if, as seems possible, this one finishes nil-nil.
Possible, because as we now have to bust a gut to create chances in the absence of much pace in attack, Reading have to cope for a couple of months without twelve-goal leading scorer Dave Kitson, impressive in both our encounters earlier in the season but newly sidelined with ligament damage. Despite their lofty position, Reading have hardly been flowing with goals, so the return after a long injury break of Nicky Forster will be welcome. Forster is the Royals' second highest scorer with four, but may still be rusty after his long absence.
Reading's other striking options are the willing but limited Lloyd Owusu, and occasional wideman Dean Morgan, used in Forster's absence but not highly regarded on the messageboards. Shaun Goater has been a disappointment and hasn't featured for a while in the face of rumours of appearance-related payment milestones approaching.
In midfield, Steve Sidwell and James Harper form a familiar central pairing; Sidwell was at the centre of a minor spat last weekend when some Dai Thomas-esque gamesmanship led to former teammate Jamie Cureton losing his rag and getting himself sent off. The wide berths on Saturday went to former Burnley layabout Glen Little and flaky ex-Leicester and Brighton winger Paul Brooker. American Bobby Convey, who has yet to convince, is likely to be on the bench and Andy Hughes could also be moved forward from fullback with Graeme Murty's return to fitness.
Captain Murty will play right-back if considered fit enough whilst Nicky Shorey, who scored the only goal in the weekend win over QPR, will play on the left. Boris and H's international teammate Ivar Ingimarsson will play in the centre with Ibrahima Sonko but with Adie Williams' departure to Coventry this is another area where Reading's slim squad is weak - veteran Ricky Newman is the likeliest deputy.
Marcus Hahnemann, who looked to be on his way before Jamie Ashdown defected to Portsmouth in the summer, will be in goal with the highly rated Jamie Young on the bench.
Our reserves' 3-0 victory in the League Cup in September remains Reading's only defeat at the Madejski this season; it's a tough game, but buoyed by this knowledge and by our two excellent-looking loan recruits, we've as much chance of ending our poor run of results here as anywhere. The quality of the opposition, after all, has been largely irrelevant in our recent run - we lost to an appalling Coventry side, but mashed Pompey in the cup. This is all about us.
Have a good Christmas.