With the international break behind us, it's back to business, back to the league, and off to Barnsley for our televised meeting with the Reds at Oakwell.
It will have been 13 days since the Royals were last in action, and returns to football don't come much bigger than a hotly anticipated clash between two play-off hopefuls.
As we embark on what really is the final run-in and our last eight games of a busy campaign, victory over Valerien Ismael's Tykes would see us leapfrog Barnsley into 5th, potentially stretching the gap between us and seventh to six points.
How to watch
Friday evening's meeting with our South Yorkshire hosts has been selected for live coverage by Sky Sports, which means on this occasion supporters will not be able to watch via iFollow.
If you’re not a Sky subscriber, you can get a Day Pass on NOW TV for 24 hours’ worth of access to all 11 Sky Sports channels.
Since Ismael took over, Barnsley have proved a force to be reckoned with, and have shot into play-off contention thanks to a 12-game unbeaten run that has seen them enjoy their best season since 2000. The Tykes have won nine of their last 11 games, and will be hoping to continue that form following the international break.
Despite being on a impressive stretch of games without defeat, that loss did come last time out, as the Reds fell to a 2-1 South Yorkshire derby defeat to struggling Sheffield Wednesday. Carlton Morris pulled one back late on for Barnsley.
Their last win came away at Wycombe Wanderers, as goals from strikers Daryl Dike (2) and Cauley Woodrow saw them to a 3-1 win over the division's bottom side. Barnsley have won 21 of Ismael's 34 games in the dugout, losing just 10 times in five months.
One to watch: Daryl Dike
Since arriving on loan from Orlando City in January, bullish American forward Dike has proved key to the Tykes' continued resurgence, netting five goals in his first 11 matches in England. The Oklahoma-born 20-year-old has already made a huge impact in a matter of months, and he'll be hoping to continue this form to propel Barnsley into the top six.
The US international has slotted seamlessly into life at Oakwell, adding extra firepower to Ismael's attack at an important stage of the campaign. His free-scoring run has also earnt him a third call-up to his national team.
Prior to opting for a switch across the pond, Dike had been enjoying a successful spell with the Lions of Orlando, scoring eight goals in 17 appearances in the MLS.
Dike, who began his playing career in college football with university side Virginia Cavaliers, has already helped his new side to wins over QPR, Birmingham City and Stoke City. Were it not for his parents' love of football, he has revealed he could well have played in the NFL.
The Royals haven't lost to Barnsley in any of the last seven meetings between the two teams, dating back to March 2014. Our most recent win over the Tykes came in this season's reverse fixture as goals from Yakou Meite and Michael Olise saw us to a 2-0 victory at the Madejski back in September 2020.
We haven't visited Oakwell since December 2019, and the last time we did we were made to settle for a point, as Lucas Joao's goal cancelled out a Woodrow opener.
We last won at Oakwell in September 2016, as two first-half goals from Garath McCleary and John Swift saw us to three points on the road.
Reading have won 31 and drawn 20 of a total 77 clashes between the teams, dating back to our first meeting, a 2-2 draw in September 1926.
Geoff Eltringham will be the man in the middle come Friday evening, for what will be his third Reading game of the season.
Eltringham has already taken charge of two Royals fixtures this season, our 2-1 December defeat at home to leaders Norwich City, and our 0-0 draw away at Preston North End back in January.
James Wilson and Robert Merchant will assist Eltringham at Oakwell, while Darren Bond will be the fourth official on this occasion.
During his 23 league games to date, Eltringham has brandished 68 yellow cards and five additional red cards.
A polite reminder to our supporters that no unauthorised access will be permitted to this game, so supporters must not travel to Oakwell Stadium.
We can’t wait to see you all again soon – but for now it’s important that when we play, please stay away.