Charlton face perhaps the most difficult fixture of the day when they travel to The Majedski Stadium on Saturday. Reading - who have just beaten Burnley away and Middlesborough at home - are very much the team of the moment and in recent games have been particularly lethal in the early minutes.
Last season was Reading's second in The Championship after their relegation from the Premiership in May 2013. They only just missed the play-offs in 2013/14 but they never got going last year and finished nineteenth, although they did reach the FA Cup semi-final. Nigel Adkins paid the price for this underperformance and Steve Clarke (no, not him...) was appointed manager last December. This season they started sluggishly. They lost their first game (1-2 at Birmingham) and then drew 0-0 at home to Leeds and MK Dons and picked up a point with 1-1 at Sheff Wed. It wasn't until the end of August in their fifth game that they recorded their first win 3-1 at Brentford. That win seems to have provided the spark as four wins out of five have now taken them to third place.
They started September by thrashing fancied Ipswich 5-1 thanks largely to a hat trick by Orlando Sa who they had signed from Legia Warsaw in the summer. In the following game, however, he got himself sent off for headbutting Jason Shackell and Derby went on to beat Reading's ten men 1-0. Sa's three game suspension does not seem to have been a problem however as, in his absence, they won 2-0 at Bristol City before going up to Turf Moor to see off Burnley 2-1. Their last game before the international break was an impressive 2-0 win over promotion favourites Boro.
Even more impressive is the speed with which they have come out of the blocks. They were 2-0 up against Ipswich after 14 minutes and against Bristol in 13 minutes. They bettered this at Burnley by scoring twice in the first 9 minutes. This was pedestrian in comparison with their start against Boro - it took them only 15 seconds to take the lead.
Man of the moment is Nick Blackman who has been at the club for three years as a capable midfielder or wide player but who has suddenly started grabbing the headlines as a striker, having had "a heart to heart" with Steve Clarke in pre season about his best position. He has notched nine goals already. Reading also have the frighteningly pacy Matej Vidra (on loan from Watford) in their squad, although he may not be fit to play on Saturday.
Charlton beat Reading home and away last season. Our November 1-0 win at The Majedski was when Igor Vetokele was in his pomp and Stephen Henderson was in goal for the last time before his injury. By the time Reading came to The Valley in March, Henderson was back in goal, Tony Watt was unplayable and Charlton ran out 3-2 winners. What would we give for those three to be fully fit, in form and in the team on Saturday ?
Of the three, only Watt is likely to feature as it was revealed Simon Makienok is not yet ready to return. We may well kick off again with Watt and Ahearne-Grant up front, but it is in defence that Charlton will need to be most alert, particularly in the early stages. Maybe if they can hold their own and gain a foothold they might be able to match their hosts but it seems a very tall order. Home games to follow against Preston and Brentford seem a more likely source of points to pull us up into mid table. Then again, we said that before the Rotherham and Huddersfield games.................