FA CUP PREVIEW: Luton Town v Reading

Town take on their fellow Championship rivals this weekend
Luton are back at Kenilworth Road this weekendLuton are back at Kenilworth Road this weekend
Luton are back at Kenilworth Road this weekend

Reading's up and down season appears to be back in the ascendancy once more following an impressive Christmas period.

The Royals began the campaign in magnificent form, winning seven from their opening eight matches in the Championship to sit top of the league at the end of October.

However four league defeats in a row followed, as manager Veljko Paunović saw his side suffer their first dip, before picking up a 1-1 draw at Millwall and then go on to win three out of five to stop the slide.

Back-to-back defeats followed in mid-December, as the Royals dropped out of the play-off picture, only for a Boxing Day 2-1 win over Luton to arrest the mini slump once more.

They followed that by an encouraging 0-0 draw at Swans and picked up a fine 2-1 win at Huddersfield last weekend to move firmly back into the promotion reckoning, now fifth, just three points off an automatic berth.

Reading's victory at Huddersfield saw Lucas Joao continue his magnificent season with a brace to make it 16 goals from just 18 games, but there is every chance he will be rested along with a hosts of other first teamers for this third meeting already between the two sides on Saturday.

Speaking to the Reading Chronicle, Paunović said: "I think it's a great opportunity for us. We're certainly looking at this game as an opportunity for the players who haven't participated as much, young or more experiences.

"It's very important to put out a balanced and competitive team in a good shape and have a good performance.

"We will look to put a team out where he can give a prize to our guys that have earned the opportunity to play and for those in the last month or so that have been recovering for these kind of challenges, where they can excel.

“We're thinking of giving opportunities for our academy players and also those we haven't seen so far."

With the transfer window open for business, then Paunović's main ambition is keeping hold of his squad amid interest from elsewhere.

Youngsters Omar Richards, Tom McIntyre and Michael Olise are all out of contract in the summer, which means the Royals need to get their futures sorted out soon or risk potentially losing them on a free in a few months time.

German giants Bayern Munich have apparently expressed a desire to sign Richards, along with Premier League trio Crystal Palace, Brighton and West Ham United, while Olise is meant to be on the wish-list of Leeds United too.

Team news: Luton will be without Martin Cranie for the tie, with boss Nathan Jones anticipating the rest of the squad available.

For Reading, club captain Liam Moore, Yakou Meite are both out until next month, with Lewis Gibson hoping to be available next week.

Top scorers: Hatters: James Collins (9). Royals: Lucas Joao (16).

Referee: Darren Bond - has officiated 15 games this season, virtually all his matches in the Championship, showing 53 yellow cards and two reds.

Was in charge of Town three times last term, the 2-1 defeat at Cardiff in August, the 1-1 draw with Millwall and then Luton's final day 3-2 triumph against Blackburn Rovers.

Bond also had the Hatters in April 2016, the 2-0 defeat at Northampton, plus Town's 1-0 win at Plymouth just a month earlier.

Refereed Luton twice in the Conference as well, a 1-0 win over Kidderminster in April 2102 and then the 2-0 play-off semi-final first leg win over Wrexham at Kenilworth Road.

Assistant referees are Lee Venamore and Bhupinder Gill, with the fourth official Declan Bourne.

In charge: Veljko Paunović – 43-year-old Serbian started his playing career with FK Partizan, making his debut as a 17-year-old, as he also played for Atlético Madrid, CD Tenerife, Getafe, FC Rubin Kazan and Philadelphia Union, before retiring in January 2012, winning two caps for his country.

Earned a UEFA PRO coaching licence and a sporting director degree from the Royal Spanish Football Federation, as for nine months he was a UEFA Champions League analyst for RTVE in Spain.

Began working as a manager with the Serbian national team, in charge of the U18s, U19s, U20s, winning 2015 FIFA World Cup with the latter.

Appointed head coach of Major League Soccer side Chicago Fire in November 2015, leading them to the play-offs in 2017, but left in November 2019 and replaced Mark Bowen as manager of Reading on August 29, 2020.

View from the opposition: Paunović taking to the Reading official website: “It’s a very important competition, worldwide!

“It’s well-known, and every manager will have winning the FA Cup on their bucket list!

“I’m not different from them. I always want to compete and to win, and when I have the opportunity like this, I want us to do our best.

“We are very eager and happy to start the competition.

"The guys are getting ready in training – we have had a very good week of training, our game at Luton is our next test."

Friendly faces: Gabriel Osho – defender came through the ranks at the Madejski Stadium, playing 14 games for the Royals, while also having loan spells at Maidenhead, Aldershot, Bristol Rovers and Yeovil Town.

He rejected a new contract in the summer though, moving to Kenilworth Road in November, and had a second loan stint with Yeovil recently.

Played for both: Sean Long - Defender started out at Reading, making one League Cup appearance, that in a 1-0 win at Scunthorpe in August 2014.

Signed for the Hatters by former boss John Still in October 2015 and played nine times for the club, before heading back to the Madejski Stadium, and finishing the campaign at Braintree.

Had loan deals at Cambridge and Lincoln City, moving to the Imps on permanent basis in June 2017.

Headed to Cheltenham the following year and has played 49 times, scoring twice for the Robins, although hasn't featured since the League Two play-offs last season due to a hip injury.

We've got FA Cup form: Luton have taken on Reading twice in the FA Cup during their history, the first tie back in October 6, 1888, only the fourth ever game the club played, in front of a crowd of 1,000.

They won 4-0 that day with John Lomax (2), Lionel Thring and Locke Narburgh on target in the first round qualifying fixture.

Town then drew 3-3 at Chesham, winning the replay an impressive 10-2, going out in the third qualifying round to Old Brightonians 3-1.

The other game was a second round tie in December 1963, with Tommy McKechnie and a Gordon Turner penalty ensuring a 2-1 win at Kenilworth Road in front of 9,090 supporters.

That saw Luton go to Fulham in the third round, comprehensively knocked out 4-1 by the Cottagers.