The last of our ‘nightmare run of games’ is upon us as United face Reading at 8pm on Tuesday night. On current form (and the fact our away form is superior to our home form) Fulham on Saturday is as hard a game but I’ll not let that get in the way of the narrative.
The two wins in a week at Reading and Huddersfield were superb. Six points is already a fantastic haul from these ‘three’ but I have a feeling Rafa wouldn’t have expected anything less. For all the media cheerleading about how superior our opponents supposedly were to us and how we were to be ‘looking over our shoulder’ I thought Brighton and Huddersfield were incredibly blunt. Beyond set pieces and shots from distance, neither of them were able to break us down or get in behind us. Jamal Lascelles has been incredible and Matt Ritchie has shown he’s worth so much more than what we paid for him. Shelvey, the supposed arsehole who was unmanageable and only out for himself, has just put in an effective shift as a defensive midfielder, for the team. Every single player has given us 100%. We just need a likely five more wins to achieve promotion.
The next hurdle are a Reading side who have been at the right end of the league all season. They’re currently fifth in the division, thirteen points behind us. They’re currently seven points clear of Fulham in seventh, although Fulham have a game in hand. We’ve seen ourselves how quickly things can turn in this division so a defeat against us coupled with Fulham beating Leeds and winning their game in hand, and Reading are on the verge of dropping out of the play off places they’ve been in all season. Reading were considered ‘rivals’ for automatic promotion until back to back defeats at both Brighton and Huddersfield. They got back to winning ways on Saturday against struggling Wolves.
Reading’s home form is excellent, second only to Brighton. They’ve collected 40 points at home this season and have lost only twice at home to QPR and Aston Villa. That’s incredibly impressive. Our current run of games mirrors our shaky start to the season. Defeat to Huddersfield was followed up by a 4 1 route of Reading at our place in the game our season really ‘started’. 1 1 at Half time in that game and some mags were worrying about three defeats in a row. It wasn’t to be as Dwight Gayle and Isaac Hayden starred in the second half. Hayden is a massive miss for us. Reading dominate possession, much like Huddersfield but they’ve been accused of ‘pointless possession’ in some games. Manager Jaap Stam has an annoying habit of thinking his team deserve to win due to their ability to pass the ball across the back four. It is too much for most teams, who eventually make a mistake, in search of the ball. United won’t make that mistake.
Dwight Gayle should be pushing for a start. Murphy was exceptional both on Tuesday as a sub and then starting on Saturday. He’ll be unlucky to miss out but Rafa favours rotating the forward players unless your name is Dwight Gayle. Ritchie has been starting games on the left but I’d expect Goufrann to return on the left wing and Yedlin to come back in. Playing with Gayle provides us with an outlet and pushes opposition defences naturally back 10 yards, so it would be great if he was fit to start. He could be saved for Saturday depending on his hamstring and once again cause chaos from the bench. Nice options to have! Mitrovic wasn’t involved in either of the ‘biggest’ games of the season so far. Make of that what you will.
I don’t think Rafa had a points target for these ‘three’ and I believe him when he says ‘one game at a time’. We’ve had massively dubious penalties awarded against us each game and some laughable yellow cards. I’m praying for a half decent referee. Would a draw be a good result? Absolutely. I think we can win the game and why shouldn’t we? It’ll be tough again but the big players have stuck their hands up and been class.
We’re now ten league games unbeaten and the form team in the division. Would you bet against us?
Prediction: 3 0 United
ALEX HURST – Follow Alex on @tfalex1892
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