Football League Expert & Columnist
The springed Royals
Peter Beagrie can't wait to witness the youth and pace of Brian McDermott's Reading against Watford.
Last Updated: 12/01/12 4:18pm
The transformation of Reading Football Club under Brian McDermott has been amazing.
Since their days in the Premier League they have lost millions and millions of pounds worth of talent. The Kitsons, Hunts and Doyles have all gone and only last summer they lost the goalscoring prowess of Shane Long.
But the club started to operate in a different way under McDermott with young players being given the chance to shine.
He took them to the Championship Play-Off Final last year before losing to a Swansea side that had a few more matchwinners, but instead of returning with a hangover this year the players look like they've been given a tonic and are currently occupying a play-off berth.
I find their play refreshing to watch, as they utilise the pace of Jobi McAnuff and Jimmy Kebe on the break. It's also nice to see Simon Church being given the opportunity to showcase his talents up front.
They are perfectly suited to playing away from home and I'm looking forward to a wide open game when they go to Watford, live on Sky Sports, on Saturday.
They are playing full of confidence and if they have ideas of cementing a play-off spot they will be looking to win a game like this.
However, you can't write anybody off in the Championship and Sean Dyche, having been given his first managerial opportunity, is going about his business quietly and confidently.
At the time of writing, Watford are 18th in the Championship on 30 points and are six clear of the bottom three. Looking the other way, they're only nine points off the play-offs, which shows the level of consistency they've achieved.
There have been a lot of changes in personnel this season, both on the pitch and in the back-room staff, so I feel Dyche has acquitted himself really well.
Marvin Sordell has been asked to fill the boots of star striker Danny Graham and has caused no end of problems for all the Championship defences. This game should be a good platform for him if he's fit and he plays.
Watford have only lost four times at home this year, but if they'd converted a few more draws into wins they could be higher up the table. However, when you consider the talent they've lost they'll see their current position as a success. It would be brilliant if they could finish anywhere between 14th and 18th.
I would suggest they need to try to use a bit of physicality against Reading's balanced set-up. If they start with a high tempo they might be able to bully their opponents on Saturday.
But with Alex Pearce at the heart of the Royals defence they certainly don't have a soft centre and we should be in for a terrific game.
Another game with massive implications in the Championship this weekend is the Nottingham Forest v Southampton fixture.
The Saints' lead at the top has narrowed after a recent blip and things have got a bit too close for comfort for Nigel Adkins' men. They'll want to give themselves a bit of breathing space up there.
But for Nottingham Forest, currently in the relegation zone, it has been a season of woe. You would think they have the squad to stay up - but I can remember saying that back in the 1990s when they fell out of the top division!
They spent years in League One and will be desperate not to revisit that time. The loyal fans keep turning up every week, but must be shaking their heads and waiting for the one result that will kickstart their season.
But there's always plenty of twists and turns in this league, as Southampton will tell you. They've only won one of their last six, but are still top because the teams around them haven't been able to capitalise.
I'm looking forward to seeing how the plot unfolds for the rest of the season. Blackpool are poised just outside the top six, Birmingham have plenty of games in hand... it's impossible to call what will happen in the Championship.
It's going to be fascinating.
A Cup cracker
We saw a cracking Carling Cup semi-final between Crystal Palace and Cardiff and both teams will still think they can go through.
Palace showed the strength and resilience to keep a clean sheet, but despite a 1-0 scoreline most people are tipping Cardiff to overturn the deficit on home soil.
The first leg was played at a fantastic tempo and was a fantastic advert for the Championship. Wilfried Zaha proved himself once again to be an outstanding talent; his trickery and wizardry on the ball was a joy to behold. He just needs to add a bit of consistency and end product.
From the owners down, everybody associated with Palace seems to have the club in their veins these days. It's usually a phoenix that rises from the flames, but in this instance it's the Eagles and they are doing a tremendous job.
That's particularly true of manager Dougie Freedman, who has been a revelation. They're three points off the play-offs and have beaten Manchester United in the Carling Cup, which is evidence that he has got everybody pulling in the right direction.
The Palace supporters were singing non stop on Tuesday night and they have plenty to sing about right now, which is great for them. But Malky Mackay won't be too upset at going into the second leg just one goal down because they possess a real goal threat.
I'm looking forward to the second game with eager anticipation.