Reading are on their best league run of the season as they make their final-ever visit to Griffin Park on Saturday.
Sporting director Mark Bowen replaced Jose Gomes as manager in the middle of October and has led the side to three wins and a draw in his four games in charge.
Gomes, who steered the side to safety last season, lost his job after only picking up one point in a run of six games, which left the Royals languishing in the Championship relegation zone.
Now, however, they have risen to 17th – five points clear of the bottom three.
Reading have won four and lost four of their home league matches this season, but on the road have a solitary victory (2-0 at Huddersfield in August) and three draws from their seven games.
They did reach the third round of the Carabao Cup with victories at Wycombe (4-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw) and at Plymouth (4-2), before going out in yet another away tie 4-2 on penalties at Wolves following a 1-1 draw.
This is Reading’s seventh consecutive season in the Championship and 11th in the last 12 – with the odd one out a year in the Premier League (2012/13), when they finished 19th.
They enjoyed two seasons in the top flight from 2006 to 2008 with a side full of ex-Brentford players managed by former Bees boss Steve Coppell – coming eighth and then 18th.
WHO’S IN CHARGE
As mentioned earlier, Mark Bowen took over as manager in the middle of last month.
Mark had been the Royals’ sporting director and had been drawing up a list of replacements, when he was offered the job himself.
The former Wales international full-back, who won 41 caps for his country, is now in the first full managerial role of his career.
He has had plenty of coaching and assistant manager roles over the past 20 years, however, with Wales, Birmingham, Blackburn, Manchester City, Fulham, QPR, Stoke and Southampton.
As a player he made more than 500 senior appearances, with 399 of them for Norwich.
He also played for Spurs, West Ham, Charlton, Wigan and Japanese side Shimizu S-Pulse.
WE’VE MET BEFORE
We have played Reading in each of our Championship seasons so far and have won five and drawn two of our 10 encounters.
We did the double (3-1 at home and 2-0 away) in our debut 2014/15 season, but the following season’s two meetings both ended in away wins (3-1 to Reading at Griffin Park and 2-1 to us at the Madejski – with “that goal” by Sergi Canos) in the return.
The 2016/17 season saw two home wins on Tuesday nights (4-1 to the Bees and 3-2 to the Royals), while a 1-1 draw in west London was followed by a 1-0 Bees win in Berkshire – with Lasse Vibe’s last Bees goal – in the following campaign.
Yoann Barbet headed a dramatic injury-time equaliser as last season’s home match ended in a 2-2 draw in late September.
Neal Maupay gave us an early lead from close range with his ninth goal of the season but two mistakes from Dan Bentley in the middle of each half allowed the Royals to take a 2-1 lead.
First he spilled a shot from ex-Bee John Swift and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson was there to tuck the ball home and then he fumbled a Swift free-kick over the line.
Said Benrahma was sent off in the 86th minute after picking up his second yellow card, but the drama wasn’t over as Barbet rose highest to head home at the far post after Chris Mepham flicked on a Lewis Macleod corner.
Two goals by Yakou Meite in the first 15 minutes of the return match were enough to earn Reading a crucial victory as Brentford slipped to a 2-1 defeat. despite a reply from Neal Maupay just before half-time.
BBC Radio Berkshire sports editor Tim Dellor tells us how Mark Bowen has made a difference at the Madejski Stadium, how the season’s expectations are looking and how ex-Bees Liam Moore and John Swift are doing this season.
Q – What has Mark Bowen done to turn things around so quickly on the pitch?
A – He’s kept it simple. Knowing Championship football as well as he does, he’s changed the style, getting the ball forward quicker when required. The team are less distracted with over-passing in their own half and looking pretty, and more interested in being effective.
Q – How surprising was Jose Gomes’s departure and how would you assess his time at the club?
A – The stats made it no surprise at all. His record was woeful, and having spent as much on new players as he had this summer, eight points from the first 11 games this season was totally unacceptable to the owners. That said, he was such a charismatic, charming and likeable guy, and he received far more support than most managers with his record would in a similar situation, and most fans were sad to see him go.
Q – What were the expectations at the start of the season – promotion push, mid-table or relegation battle and has Mark Bowen’s good start revised those?
A – A top half finish, and after two seasons flirting with relegation a significant upturn in fortunes. Unfortunately under Jose it looked like more of the same, but yes, Mark’s 10 points from a possible 12 so far has got fans taking notice again. Realistically a top half finish would be what the fans expect. Anything more would be a bonus!
Q – What transfer business – in and out – did Reading do over the summer?
A – They spent big, after a self-imposed transfer embargo. George Puscas the striker, Lucas Joao and Lucas Boye to support him, getting Mart Miazga and Ovie Ejaria back on loan was crucial, and the goalkeeping spot being taken care of by Rafael has all been good business. In all 20 players left the club over the summer, so quite an exodus.
Q – How are ex-Bees John Swift and Liam Moore doing this season?
A – Liam Moore has had issues with his left shoulder. It keeps dislocating. He’s also looked like a player weighed down with the responsibilities of captaincy at times. He’s a class act though, and never lets the team down. John Swift needs good players around him. He’s had his best spell since joining Reading, creating lots of goals and bamboozling defenders with sublime tricks at times. He is great to watch.
Q – It’s Reading’s last-ever visit to Griffin Park, barring a cup tie or play-off, so what are your memories of previous games in TW8?
A – 2002 – Jamie Cureton’s equaliser. Promotion to the second tier. In hindsight that was one of the biggest results in Reading’s history. Steve Coppell busily setting up his Reading career at Griffin Park.
Q – What style of football should Brentford fans expect to see from the Royals?
A – A mix of getting the ball forward quickly and a direct fast game, and then when appropriate taking their time at the back. When Reading get the mix right they are decent.
Q – Which players should we watch out for?
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A – Ovie Ejaria and John Swift. Both classy on the ball and very entertaining. Michael Morrison and Andy Yiadom have been outstanding in defence.
Q – Finally can you give me a possible Royals starting line-up and formation?
A – No – I’m a Reading fan!! It’ll probably be the same as last time out, but I’m not helping the Brentford scouts.
BEESOTTED SCORE PREDICTIONS
Some of the Beesotted crew have given me their score predictions for Saturday’s game.
1-0 Bees Tough game as we struggle to find our rhythm but the new set-piece coach comes to the rescue as a late Ethan Pinnock header gives us a narrow victory. Greville Waterman
3-1 Bees A very chilly afternoon takes a while to get going on the pitch. Bees battle through dubious Reading tactics. Edward the Headward
3-0 Bees An accomplished performance by the Bees to overpower Reading. Watkins double and Benrahma. Cham de Silva
2-1 Bees The game after an international break often proves challenging for the Bees, but in what is a localish derby, it might well be a cagey match. Liberal Nick
1-0 Bees A tight game with the Royals determined to frustrate the home side but patience pays off for the Bees. Damo
PUBS IN BRENTFORD AND TRAVEL NEWS
For Reading fans coming to Griffin Park for the final time, you are probably aware there plenty of pub options pre-match and all are most welcoming and away-fan-friendly (as it should be). As you are probably well aware, Brentford is well known for its four pubs – one on each corner of the ground. The Griffin is closest to the away end (like 30 secs walk) and is very popular with away fans – but also very, very busy. The New Inn is on the other side and is also popular with away fans. The Princess Royal and the newly-opened and renamed The Brook pub – which has jumped on the craft beer bandwagon – are the other options.
Other pubs slightly further afield for the more creative amongst you include (and this is by no means a definitive list) …. The Globe (Windmill Rd) & The Lord Nelson (Enfield Rd) are both incredibly friendly and cosy away-friendly pubs and about 1 min walk from each other …. frequented by ‘away fans in the know’. The Plough (Northfields Ave) in Northfields is a decent stop-off if you are coming by tube to Northfields.
The ‘Northfields run’ makes a much better pub crawl route than South Ealing – getting off at Northfields station, turning left and stopping off at The Plough (2 min walk), The Lord Nelson (10 min walk from The Plough) & The Globe (1 min walk from The Nelson) en-route before ending up at The Griffin (8 min walk from The Globe) by the away turnstiles. There’s also a relatively new tiny microbrewery pub in Northfields called The Owl and The Pussycat (Northfields Ave) – right turn out of the station away from the ground as opposed to left.
If you decide to get off at South Ealing station, we’ve heard a few people pop into Roddy’s Bar. Whereas The Ealing Park Tavern (back in the day, the infamous Penny Flyer) is fairly busy now that they seem to have lifted their “no football fan” policy.
If you like your craft beer, another fairly new pub worth checking out is The Black Dog Beer House, formerly The Albany, on Albany Road, which is fairly busy before and after the match. There is a pub right by Brentford mainline station referred to as … the Pub by Brentford station.
For real ale head to the Magpie and Crown pub on Brentford High Street. The Royal Horseguardsman (Ealing Road) can probably hold 15 of you at a push. The Brewery Tap (Catherine Wheel Road) is a cosy boozer by the river. And if you are super-adventurous, get off at Kew Bridge and visit One Over the Ait (Kew Bridge Road) – a spacious boozer right next to Kew Bridge, and across from the site of the Bees’ new stadium at Lionel Road. This pub is situated on the location of the now-demolished Oxford & Cambridge pub where Brentford Football Club was founded in 1889.
There is also The Express Tavern (Kew Bridge Road) – an ale pub with a retro feel. If you sit in the garden, you can see Brentford’s new stadium towering over you. There are a load more pubs in the river in Kew if that takes your fancy – just take a walk down Strand On The Green. A quick Google search and you’ll find them all.
There are many, many more too if you have a look around. Parking near the stadium is a no-no but is pretty easy in the streets north of Griffin Park on the other side of the A4 Great West Rd via Ealing Road or Windmill Road. Make sure you look our for the parking signs which change from area to area.
Getting to Brentford from town – many fans get the tube to Waterloo (Northern, Jubilee lines) or Vauxhall (Victoria Line) then take the Overground train to Brentford.
The reality is the tube is easier and quicker (and cheaper). It’s 35 minutes to South Ealing or Northfields stations from King’s Cross or Euston (even less from Paddington) on the Piccadilly Line and then 15 minutes walk to Griffin Park from there (4 mins on the bus) – more if you take the Northfields to Brentford
If you’re feeling lazy you could take the E2 bus from outside Northfields station (turn LEFT outside the station) to either outside The Globe pub (3 stops – serves The Lord Nelson too) or Brentford FC (4 stops – 5 minutes).
If you get off at South Ealing, you can get the 65 from the bus stop across the road – right outside the station.
You can check out Transport for London’s guide to travel on the Tube and Overground.