In August, few could have thought this match would be played against the backdrop of relegation, so impressive were Newcastle last season. But injuries have taken their toll, robbing Alan Pardew of the creativity and pizazz of Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa.
Demba Ba’s goals kept the ship above water through to the New Year, but then Chelsea came calling. Loic Remy was lined up as Ba’s replacement, only for QPR to intervene. Newcastle’s defensive flaws have also been compounded by captain Fabricio Coloccini asking to leave – although the club hopes to persuade him to stay until at least the summer.
As a result of these problems, Newcastle have recorded one win in seven league games and are sliding down the table at an alarming rate. They halted their losing run with a goalless draw at Norwich last weekend, but now they face a resurgent Reading side that has taken seven points of the last 12 on offer.
Reading’s remarkable 3-2 win against West Brom last time out, having been 2-0 down with 10 minutes remaining, will have come as a huge psychological boost – and they are now a mere three points behind Wigan and Aston Villa.
Brian McDermott is without Alex McCarthy and Jason Roberts, but Mikele Leigertwood may return. New signing Stephen Kelly could make his debut. For Newcastle, centre back Stephen Taylor could return after missing 11 games with a hamstring injury, and Shola Ameobi returns from suspension.
KICK-OFF: Saturday, 3pm
PAST THREE MEETINGS...
Reading 2 (Kebe, Hunt) Newcastle 2 (Ba 2), Premier League, September 2012
Reading 1 (Simpson OG) Newcastle 2 (Nolan 2), Championship, April 2010
Newcastle 3 (Ameobi 3) Reading 0, Championship, August 2009
Out of seven league meetings between the teams, Newcastle have won four and Reading two.
These teams’ last two meetings at St James’ Park finished 3-0 to Newcastle.
Newcastle have drawn only one home league game this season – 1-1 against Aston Villa in September – and have won five and lost five of the remainder.
Reading have dropped the most league points from winning positions this season – 20.
Reading have scored eight away goals in the league this season – only West Ham (five) and Stoke (seven) have scored fewer.
Newcastle to win: 1.8
Reading to win: 5.1
TV: Highlights on BBC1 at 10.30pm.