Adkins can haunt former club
It's do-or-die time for Reading on Saturday - and time to back them.
- Related Content
The Royals play host to Southampton in a massive game in terms of their Premier League future but Andy Schooler feels they are worth backing under the circumstances.
Meanwhile, goals look to be in short supply when Norwich host Swansea at Carrow Road.
Here's out game-by-game preview of Saturday's programme:
Reading v Southampton (1245 BST)
I know Southampton have beaten Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea in recent weeks but I just can't be backing them at 5/4 to win any game away from St Mary's. They've won just twice in 15 on their travels this season, conceding 34 goals in the process, while under new boss Mauricio Pochettino it's two points from a possible 12. When you throw in the fact that Reading haven't actually been that bad at home, the away win price really looks poor. The Royals have lost just five of 15 fixtures at the Madejski where Sunderland, West Ham and West Brom have all been beaten. They are now at the win-or-bust stage and they will simply have to go for it. You can bet your bottom dollar the positive-thinking Nigel Adkins has been stressing this week that all is not lost ahead of meeting his former club. They may be seven points from safety but Reading's other April fixtures bring home games with Liverpool and QPR and an away trip to Norwich. There's no question points can be picked up this month but it has to start now. With a crowd given fresh hope and ready to get behind the new boss and given Saints' defence has been prone to crumble, Reading look the play here at more than 5/2. I realise the Royals have lost seven on the spin but the importance of the match makes it a price worth a punt. Some will fancy the draw-no-bet safety net but for me the win market is the way to go. A draw isn't enough for the hosts who will have to gamble if it's all square late on.
Verdict: Reading 2 Southampton 1
Norwich v Swansea (1500)
Norwich fans must be beginning to worry. They've won just once in their last 14 games - an unfathomable 2-1 injury-time victory over Everton - and are now just four points above the drop zone. Their lack of goals of late is of particular concern. They've been kept out in seven of their last 10 with Grant Holt notably failing to back up his efforts from last season. January signing Luciano Becchio has not proved to be the answer and while Kei Kamara got the winner against Everton he's not netted since. To be fair, they've still been able to pick up the odd point with some solid defending so when you see Swansea have scored just one in their last six away games, under 2.5 goals begins to look a good way to bet. Michael Laudrup's men appear to be struggling for motivation. A trophy on the mantlepiece and mid-table security in the bag too, they've failed to shine since their Wembley Capital One Cup outing. They started sloppily against Spurs last week and unless they get their possession football going early here, expect Norwich to try to suffocate them by getting plenty behind the ball. Under 2.5 can be backed at 4/5 which seems a fair price.
Verdict: Norwich 0 Swansea 0
Stoke v Aston Villa (1500)
Without wanting to sound repetitive, backing a side struggling so badly to pick up points at little more than even money does not look good business. The Potters have collected just five points in 2013 whereas Villa have had six from their last three games. They are at the very least putting up a decent fight in their battle against the drop and, given recent form, look worthy of consideration at the prices (3/1 for the win). Stoke, sitting only four points outside the relegation zone, need to halt their slide soon. However, they will get a chance to do so here, for set-piece threat is not something Villa have dealt with well this season. I mentioned last week how the visitors have managed to shoot themselves in the foot on a far too regular basis with defensive errors and they produced a timely reminder with Nathan Baker's daft challenge on Luis Suarez, one which ended up costing them a point. They have now gone 15 games without a clean sheet, something which makes picking up away victories somewhat diffcult. While Christian Benteke may well relish an aerial duel against the likes of Ryan Shawcross, he'll need support - something that's been lacking too often in Villa's away games. You can probably tell I've decided against siding with Villa and with Stoke so short, this looks a game worth swerving.
Verdict: Stoke 1 Aston Villa 1
West Brom v Arsenal (1500)
West Brom fit the bill as a team you want to be playing at this time of the year. Despite a better-than-expected season, they are not going to be playing in Europe next term; neither are they going to be relegated. That was very much reflected at West Ham last weekend when the Baggies were well beaten and mentally didn't seem to be on the pace. Arsenal, on the other hand, are desperate for points at present as they chase down the top four. With confidence boosted by their ultimately fruitless win at Bayern Munich, they've since won back-to-back league games against Swansea and Reading to get right back into contention. The Gunners' better form and greater need is enough to convince me they'll win, although surprisingly the hosts have actually collected more home points than Spurs. Given that stat, Arsenal, no better than evens at time of writing and shortening, don't look great value, although the hosts will doubtless miss midfield blanket Youssouf Mulumbu after his ridiculous red card at Upton Park. If pushed to find something, the visitors to win by a single goal at 29/10 looks fair enough but it's not something I'm prepared to back with hard cash.
Verdict: West Brom 1 Arsenal 2
- The Reading match is being televised live in the UK on Sky Sports.