Reading face Brighton this Boxing Day with everything starting to click into place for the hosts.
As they close the first half of a season marred by inconsistency, Reading are finally pushing towards the top of the form table with four wins in five.
They will be determined to make that six wins out of seven with two home matches to come before the New Year – and six points before the drunken rounds of Auld Lang Syne are heard will likely put Reading in the play-off places.
Odds of 13/20 on a home win are short but worth going for given Reading’s current high spirits.
Several factors have inspired the Royals’ recent run. Simon Church has been gearing up for Christmas in impressive fashion, netting four goals in his past four matches. The Welsh front man is therefore belatedly making the attacking void left by Shane Long’s summer departure his own.
Just as importantly, Alex Pearce and Kaspars Gorkšs are increasingly gelling into a highly resolute partnership in central defence.
Reading have seven 1-0 results out of 22 league matches (three in their favour and four against) and Brighton have nine (six against the Sussex club and three going their way).
Reading have conceded just once in their past three games and are a fair 21/20 to keep a clean sheet at home against a Brighton side who have scored just eight in 11 away matches this season – the fifth fewest from the 24 Championship clubs.
One eventuality that recent form appears to rule out is the draw, which is priced at 5/2. Neither side has drawn any of their past eight league matches – although it could be argued, of course, that they are both overdue a share of the spoils.
Perhaps the best thing that Gus Poyet’s charges have going for them is their style of play. Their patient passing game is the exact kind that Reading have struggled against in recent seasons, most notably against Swansea in last year’s play-off final.
Going into the fixture after two defeats in a row makes Brighton a brave bet though, even if they are priced as long as 17/4.
Looking at possible scorelines, both sides have an uncanny tendency to produce 1-0 results this season. Reading have seven 1-0 results out of 22 league matches (three in their favour and four against) and Brighton have nine (six against the Sussex club and three going their way).
Strangely, all of Brighton’s last four matches have finished in a 1-0 outcome. That makes backing Reading to win 1-0 at 5/1 the obvious stand-out bet.
Given that Reading have eight goals in their last two home games against Brighton, 2-0 at 6/1 or 3-0 at 11/1 could also be tempters.
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