Royals still in trouble ahead of Canaries clash despite some progress under Gomes
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Reading boss Jose Gomes has told his players they need to be courageous if they are to upset Norwich City and boost their survival hopes - despite his best efforts.
The Royals have improved since the Portuguese coach’s arrival – winning five and drawing six of his 17 matches – but still find themselves in the same position as when Paul Clement was sacked in December, in 21st place.
“With courage, we’re looking to the challenge that we have in front of us on Wednesday,” Gomes said ahead of Wednesday night’s Carrow Road clash.
“We have to recover well and take the challenge with both hands – everybody will be ready to fight.”
The Berkshire club are in their sixth successive season in the Championship, having won the title in 2012 but come straight back down from the Premier League.
They finished third in 2017 but suffered play-off final heartbreak – losing on penalties to Huddersfield at Wembley – but otherwise have mostly been battling to avoid slipping back to the third tier for the first time since 2002, finishing 20th last season.
Former Derby and Swansea boss Clement arrived in March of last year and did enough to steer the Royals clear of relegation but was sacked after a 2-2 home draw with Stoke in early December.
Taking 18 points from the opening 20 games was enough for the Reading hierarchy to take action, with just 11 points from a possible 30 at home a big issue as a survival battle loomed.
Former Porto and Malaga assistant Gomes was the left-field appointment which followed, leaving Rio Ave sat eighth in the Portuguese top flight for an English adventure.
Things have improved slightly, with 21 points claimed from 17 games and 14 of those coming from eight home matches, but the Royals are still in trouble.
Throwing away a lead to lose 3-1 at Hull on Saturday leaves Gomes’s team just a point above the drop zone ahead of their encounter with the league leaders – with their only away success under the new boss being at rock-bottom Ipswich early last month.
On the scoresheet that day was Norwich loanee Nelson Oliveira – who cannot face his parent club – whose injury disrupted spell since January has yielded three goals in seven games.
However, the Royals have won three of their last six, also beating Wigan and Preston at home.
“Again, it will be tough,” Gomes continued. “Last week we were happy because we won and the results around us were positive. Then on Saturday it was the opposite.
“Against Preston (winning 2-1), we weren’t the best team in the world. Against Hull, we weren’t the worst. We have to keep our emotional balance, help the players to recover, and be ready for the next game.”
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The Royals have lost four of their last five visits to Norfolk, including an embarrassing 7-1 thrashing under Jaap Stam in April 2017, but did win 2-1 in November 2014 thanks to a brace from towering defender Jake Cooper, who is now at Millwall.
They face a Canaries team in fantastic form though, having won eight games on the spin to push seven points clear at the summit, thrashing QPR 4-0 at Carrow Road on Saturday.
City also won the reverse fixture 2-1 back in September, when Teemu Pukki’s opener was cancelled out by Jon Dadi Bodvarsson in the 72nd minute, only for substitute Mario Vrancic to score the winner for Norwich almost immediately.
“We’ll be playing against a team that are full of confidence, top of the league,” the Reading boss concluded, speaking to his club’s website. “At the beginning of the season, I don’t think anyone predicted that they would be in this position – but they are there because they deserve to be.
“They are scoring a lot of goals, with a good spirit and good intensity. We must protect ourselves against their strongest points with no excuses. We have to fight for the three points.”
If the Royals are unable to disrupt the Canaries’ charge for the Premier League they face a crunch home game with mid-table Brentford on Saturday, as that’s followed by tough trips to play-off chasing Bristol City and Middlesbrough, either side of a home clash with promotion hopefuls West Brom.
Birmingham, still just about in the relegation mix after their nine-point deduction, then visit the Madejski Stadium on the final day.
Clement: P20 W4 D6 L10 F26 A32 Pts 18
Gomes: P17 W5 D6 L6 F16 A24 Pts 21