With QPR spending big this week, the onus is now on the sides just above them in the Premier League table to pick up points fast to avoid the drop – and that makes 19th-placed Reading’s visit to fellow strugglers Newcastle United all the more important.
The Royals showed their stomach for the fight last weekend with their astonishing late three-goal salvo to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat to West Brom at the Madejski.
While the Toon’s 0-0 draw at Norwich City was less spectacular, it represented an equally important turning point in a season that had threatened to go off the rails following a run of six points in ten games.
But with Alan Pardew’s team back in the not-losing habit, they start as odds-on favourites at 7/10, with an away win at 18/5 and the draw priced at 11/4.
What will have pleased Newcastle most about their Carrow Road draw was that it earned them a first away clean sheet of the season and even without seemingly transfer-bound Fabricio Coloccini, Pardew will be desperate for another shut-out against the side he once represented as a player at 8/5.
However, that might be easier said than done against a Reading team who’ve averaged 2.4 goals per game in January and Brian McDermott will look for in-form Pavel Pogrebnyak to score for the fourth Premier League match in a row at 11/4 or Jimmy Kebe to repeat his opening goal from the reverse fixture at 17/1.
That game finished 2-2 at the Madejski back in September and while much has changed since, a repeat score isn’t out of the question at 13/1.
All the goals in that game came in the second 45 minutes and it looks like that general trend could continue. With 63% of Newcastle’s goals this season coming after the half-time whistle and the same being true for 54% of Reading’s, more second-half than first-half strikes looks a great shot at 6/5 (with more second-half goals from Newcastle 7/5 and Reading 39/20).
Despite the absence of Demba Ba, who got both Magpies goals in the previous meeting, Newcastle remain potent at home, scoring in all bar one of their St James’ Park fixtures this campaign and so Pardew will look to Papiss Cisse and Shola Ameobi to get his team goals at 11/10 and 8/5 respectively.
And with Reading’s renewed confidence, I fancy them to get the last of those goals at 7/4 and come away with a point that both managers will hope ends up proving the difference between staying up and going down come May.
Top bet: More goals in the second half than the first @ 6/5