West Brom-Reading Preview
LONDON (SE) - West Bromwich Albion manager Steve Clarke will have to find a replacement for Zoltan Gera for Saturday's visit to the Madejski Stadium to face Reading.
Clarke received bad news over the weekend in a 1-1 draw at Queens Park Rangers in the first leg of an FA Cup tie when Gera was lost for the season with a knee injury that will require surgery. Gera played 18 times for the Baggies, with 16 appearances in the Premier League.
"I'm devastated for Zoltan," Clarke told West Brom's official website. "He's a terrific guy and professional and I want to thank him for his contribution this season. It has been invaluable."
The loss of Gera could restore Shane Long to Clarke's starting XI after the forward has played as a substitute in three of the last four Premier League contests.
Long netted the lone Baggies goal at Loftus Road over the weekend in advance of his first visit to the Madejski against the club he spent six seasons with before moving to The Hawthorns. The striker is second on the team with five goals in the league, and says he will not celebrate if he scores against Reading.
Clarke's preferred option up front has been Romelu Lukaku, who will remain with the club the rest of the season after the deadline for the on-loan signee to return to Chelsea passed. The 19-year-old Lukaku leads the Baggies with seven goals.
"The gaffer's been chopping and changing him and Shane and Rom has stepped up and grabbed a few goals for us," midfielder Chris Brunt said. "He's been consistently hitting the back of the net in the last few weeks even when we've not played that well, and the more he plays, the better he'll get."
Lukaku had the lone goal in a 1-0 victory over Reading at The Hawthorns on Sept. 22 in a match that totaled five shots on goal.
Clarke's men sit in seventh place on 33 points while Brian McDermott's Reading are joint-bottom of the table on 13. The Royals have one win in their last 10 league fixtures and have conceded 40 goals for the top-flight's second-worst defence.
"They're down there, they're scrapping, they're fighting for their lives," said Clarke about Reading. "Their recent form is better, they managed to beat West Ham at home a few games ago."
Reading advanced with a 3-1 FA Cup victory over League One side Crawley Town on Saturday as Adam Le Fondre scored twice. McDermott made seven changes from his side that fell 3-1 at White Hart Lane to Tottenham Hotspur on Jan. 1.
The FA Cup match was the last with Crawley for midfielder Hope Akpan, who joined Reading on Tuesday and could debut with his new club this weekend.
"He has a great pedigree coming through the ranks at a top Premier League side in Everton, there were a lot of clubs in for him during this window but once he heard of our interest this was the only place he wanted to play," McDermott told Reading's official web site. "He's 21 and is a player we feel can play at this level."
West Brom have made 19 previous trips to the Madejski, but never for a top-flight match.