Reading play host to Stoke City on Tuesday evening looking to preserve or extend their five-point advantage over the Championship relegation zone.
While the Royals are battling for their second-tier status, a mid-table finish looks likely for Stoke, even after posting back-to-back victories.
When Paul Ince was named as interim Reading manager, there were naturally a few raised eyebrows, but the recent arrival has – so far – delivered in the battle to avoid the drop.
Although collecting eight points from seven matches is hardly an eye-catching return, Ince has kept things ticking over at a time when the teams behind them have shown signs of life.
Most impressively, Reading have claimed two late draws on their travels, Josh Laurent’s 82nd-minute equaliser at Barnsley ensuring that the Royals maintained a five-point advantage over their opponents.
With seven matches remaining, there is still plenty of work ahead of Ince and his players, but a favourable run of games at the Select Car Leasing Stadium provides Reading with every chance of leaving the Tykes, Derby County and Peterborough United with too much to do.
Two of Reading’s six home wins this campaign have come in the last three games, the latest coming by a 1-0 scoreline against promotion-chasing Blackburn Rovers.
Michael O’Neill and his Stoke squad would have anticipated being in a position to push for the Premier League at this stage of the season, but their bid petered out alarmingly throughout February and March.
Potentially on the brink of the sack, O’Neill has responded by guiding the Potters to successive home victories over Millwall and Sheffield United, keeping Stoke within 10 points of the top six with a match in hand.
Nevertheless, only a further seven victories will keep Stoke in the hunt, something which is highly unlikely given that they have not posted three wins on the bounce since November.
Just five wins have been recorded in 18 away fixtures this season, their last triumph on their travels coming all the way back on January 16 when they defeated Hull City.
Reading Championship form:
Stoke City Championship form:
We say: Reading 1-1 Stoke City
With both clubs having shown some form either side of the international break, this has the potential to be a hard-fought contest. While Stoke have the freedom to push for all three points, we are backing Reading to earn a deserved share of the spoils.