FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Ross Casey (@RossCasey24) runs the rule over the opening Football League fixture of the 2018/19 season as Reading host Derby on Friday night in the Championship.
Reading v Derby | Friday 3rd August 2018, 20:00 | Sky Sports
The start of a new season brings fresh hope to all 72 clubs in the Football League and both sets of fans will be hoping for improvement on the previous campaign.
Reading were a penalty kick away from the Premier League two seasons ago, and really failed to get over that with a terrible year last time out.
Manager Jaap Stam lost his job and Paul Clement did what he could with a failing side when losing four of his eight games in charge, finishing with the Royals in 20th, just four points ahead of the drop zone.
Derby, on the other hand, fought tooth and nail for weeks to hold onto their top-six finish as team after team from the hunting pack fell by the wayside. They eventually faced Fulham in a two-legged play-off, losing 2-1 on aggregate to the eventual winners.
Gary Rowett was then poached by Midlands rivals Stoke and much was talked about the fact Championship top scorer Matej Vydra was having to be sold due to FFP regulations.
The Rams now have Frank Lampard in charge for his first managerial role in professional football and have held onto the Czech Republic international… for now.
Reading's home form last season was nothing short of woeful, picking up just five wins in 23 Championship matches. On a positive note, Clement was in charge for two of those with his only home defeat in four coming in the the embarrassing 4-0 loss to Ipswich.
Making The Madejski a happy home will be one of the keys to a more successful season for Reading.
The Berkshire club's pre-season results have been poor too, with no win in six ending in another 4-0 home defeat to Crystal Palace last weekend. That will have been a real sucker punch for Clement who had guided his side to draws with Fulham, Besiktas and Rubin Kazan before that humbling loss.
Goals have been hard to come by too this pre-season. The Royals scored five in six, and will be hoping for more firepower from their new signing Sam Baldock from Brighton.
A promotion winner with the Seagulls two seasons ago, he scored 12 goals during that campaign and looks a good signing on paper at this level, though there is a caveat that the former Bristol City captain has only played five games this calendar year due to injury and losing his place in the side.
The hosts do hold a good recent record against Derby however, losing just two of their last eight games against them.
Frank Lampard has brought in six exciting, young and hungry players to Derby this season, with Jack Marriott, Harry Wilson and Mason Mount probably the pick of them to add to the experienced side he already had at his disposal.
This match also throws up an interesting story of George Evans possibly making his Derby debut against his former side. The midfielder possesses excellent passing ability and will know his opposition very well on Friday night, should he start.
The early signs are definitely positive for the Rams despite this being Lampard's first attempt in the manager's seat. They played five games in pre-season, winning four, losing once and scoring in each of those matches. Those results included 3-0 and 2-1 wins over Premier League sides Southampton and Wolves.
Goals are certainly not a problem for Derby – they have scored in all five of their pre-season fixtures and netted in nine of their last 11 last season. Against a Reading side that have Liam Moore looking to leave in a defence that's conceded eight in their last two at home, I think the visitors will fancy their chances of outscoring the Royals.
The betting angle
Despite the fact that Reading have an excellent record against Derby, based on the two pre-seasons these sides have had, and the fact that Reading seem to feel the pressure when playing in front of their own fans, you have to go with an away win here with best Championship odds of 13/10 (Bet365).
As mentioned above, Reading have a real problem in defence at the moment, and with Chris Gunter injured they will miss his experience at full-back too.
Reading v Derby – Derby to win (13/10 bet365)