This is it, this is the big one. Lose it and we may well be buggered. Draw it, and we are in a three horse race for two places for sure. Win it and Reading's steam train may just run out of puff - because you can only chase and stay behind for so long.
The Reading stats are terrifying. Six wins out of six, eighteen points out of eighteen, and even more frightening, thirteen wins out of the last sixteen. Meanwhile, Southampton have rediscovered their form and have opened up a 4 point gap, having been three points behind us. It's true that we have two games in hand over Southampton, but lose today and that will be down to one, which even if we win, will leave us a point in arrears. Their victory at Warnock managed Leeds yesterday was a huge result.
And, of all teams, we play Cardiff today, the side that burst our bubble first game of the season and fresh, or otherwise, from that epic Cup Final against Liverpool. How will Cardiff respond to that heartbreak? Their fans will welcome them home as heroes today and a televised game against West Ham is just what they need to get the adrenaline pumping again. I expect them to come out from the traps fast, determined to take out on us the frustrations of last week. What price Gerrard to smash home an opening goal in the first ten minutes? And if that happens, God help us!
Nolan will be back after last week's shambolic performance against Palace but who else will feature? I fancy Allardyce will go safety first and set up like this:
O'Brien, Faye, Reid, McCartney,
Cole, Vaz Te
There's very little width in that team, of course, but Collison would be asked to pull to the right and Vaz Te to the left when we have the ball and the caravan will be parked when we don't. Right tactics? Probably not. After a boxer has gone fifteen rounds in his last bout and been beaten on points, the best thing to do is hit him early and hard in the next bout, putting him on the ropes and keeping him there. If we sit back, one haymaker punch will see Cardiff on top and their confidence will surge.