“Derby had a fantastic result away at Millwall at the weekend,” said Reading manager Mark Bowen, ahead of our trip to Pride Park.
“It showed the quality that they’ve got, with Wayne Rooney back in the side now and pulling the strings for them. They will be a formidable force.
“But we go in positive. There were a lot of positives from the home game at the weekend against Stoke. We’ll have a gameplan, so we need to go there and exercise it. Keep our concentration levels high and hopefully come away with a win.
“A lot of their play goes through Wayne Rooney; naturally so, because of the talent he’s got. And the young lad Louie Sibley came in and got a hat-trick at the weekend. So we’ve got to keep an eye on him.
“They’ve got ammunition through their side… like we have. I see it as being a fairly balanced game. I was in charge when we met Derby at home a few months ago – we got away with it a bit there, as they got a man sent off and it made it easier for us.
“We’re under no illusions that we go there with a hard task at hand. But we’ve got the quality to make a difference and take the game to them, which we’re hoping to do.”
It’s not the first meeting between Bowen and counterpart Philip Cocu.
The pair have met a few times before… in international meetings, European club competition… and most recently as a manager, when we won 3-0 against the Rams earlier this season!
“I came up against him for Wales against Holland – we got beaten 7-1, and Neville Southall was man of the match!” said Bowen, with a smile. “That shows how bad Wales were on the day!
“I’ve played against him a few times. I played against him for Norwich in the UEFA Cup, when he was at Vitesse Arnhem. We’ve had a few tussles through the years!
“In a managerial capacity, I’m one up against him at the moment! We’ll be looking to carry that on.
“He is a good coach, a good guy, and they’ll be buoyant on the back of last week’s result against Millwall. We’ll have to make sure we’re on our best.”
The final eight games are squeezed into less than four weeks – beginning at Pride Park. The boss is expecting to need to change things up a bit game by game to keep the squad fresh.
And he discussed the latest fitness news for Andy Yiadom and Matt Miazga, who missed out Stoke game, as well as Lucas João, who had to come off early.
“A lot of managers in the Premier League have made a lot of changes, game on game,” he explained. “I think we’re a little bit lucky this week because we’ve got a full week between playing Stoke and going to Derby.
“But after this weekend, it’s Saturday-Tuesday, Saturday-Tuesday, every week. And it’s possible to lose players to coronavirus testing too. So we’ve got a big squad, but you need it at times; I can see nearly every player playing a part at some time or another.
“We’ve had one or two injuries – Andy Yiadom has had a tight hamstring. I dare say, if it was a cup final on Saturday, he’d be pushing for a start. But I’ve got to be mindful as we have a game this weekend and then on Tuesday – we’ll maybe give him an extra few days to recover. Matt Miazga has also had a tight hamstring as well but he’s back in the fold for selection.
“The biggest news has been for Lucas João. He pulled up at the weekend, and it did affect us and the way we were flowing at the time. It isn’t connected to the other injury that he had – perhaps it as a slight result of it, in terms of his biomechanics and how it affected him in the game. But I’m told that maybe in three weeks he’ll be back. We certainly haven’t written him off for the rest of the season but we’ll monitor him and see how we go.”