Royals ready to rumble
The psychology of playing teams who are newly-promoted to the Premier League isn't an exact science, but nobody really wants to face over-enthusiastic new arrivals in the opening few weeks. Best they use their best ammunition against someone else, then hotfoot your way through the debris once the initial rounds have been discharged. October's usually not a bad time. Late October, better still.
However, when the opposition in question have yet to register their first win, they become a ticking time bomb. The ultimate booby trap. You know it's coming, you just don't know when. And so it is that Fulham must run the gauntlet against a capable Reading side at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday.
The Royals were the team that most punters wanted to defer judgement on. West Ham had recruited well and looked a certainty to survive, Southampton had recruited barely anyone of repute and seemed destined to struggle, Reading were a mixture of the two - an unfinished article, perhaps, but with money burning a hole in Brian McDermott's pocket should he need to spend it.
After seven matches, the Berkshire club are second from bottom with three points but they've done little to draw lasting conclusions either way. Only against Tottenham at home have they let themselves down, otherwise the signs have been reasonably encouraging, if not the results.
Their big moment appeared to have arrived at the Liberty Stadium three weeks ago when they snatched a two-goal interval lead against Swansea, only to crumble in the final 20 minutes and draw 2-2 for the second weekend running. But that experience merely guarantees a concerted effort to improve concentration levels next time they find themselves ahead.
Either way, it would harsh to rank Reading as the worst promoted side of the Premier League era and very rarely does a new arrival reach November without a win on the board. Only three times has it happened in the past 20 years, the last being Aidy Boothroyd's Watford in 2006/07.
So it's with faith in those figures that we believe it's time for Reading to rid themselves of the monkey with a performance of insatiable desire and determination. Our confidence in the bet is only enhanced by the fact that, traditionally, Fulham have been willing to sacrifice themselves to such causes down the years.
Since the Cottagers were promoted themselves in 2001, their away record against newly-promoted clubs reads: W3 D14 L17. It's a dire effort but it might not be purely down to their own ineptitude in such scenarios. As a relative minnow, theirs is a name that screams 'must win' when it appears with an 'H' on the fixture list. Opponents invariably take them on with increased purpose.
Under Martin Jol, the Cottagers lost half of their away games against bottom-half opposition last season, including defeats against relegated sides Blackburn and Wolves. All of which considered, you'll understand why we are eager to snap up 15/8 quotes about the Royals.
Meanwhile, Stoke are putting up serious claims for a top-half finish this term, performing with much more consistency than previous years, and even giving the top teams a run for their money on the road. So we like the look of the 21/20 about them beating lacklustre Sunderland at the Britannia.
The Potters have played Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United in their last five matches, causing those teams heavyweight some serious headaches along the way, but it's the 2-0 win over Swansea - sandwiched in the middle of that run - that catches the eye in respect of this bet.
Tony Pulis knows the games that Stoke need to win if they are to stand any chance of rekindling their love affair with the Europa League via their Premier League finishing position and a visit from the misfiring Mackems will be etched in permanent marker on the Category A list.
The Black Cats were devoid of ideas in last weekend's Tyne-Wear derby against Newcastle, needing a late own goal from Demba Ba to salvage a point despite playing the majority of the contest against ten men, and you only have to look at the shot stats to understand how they could be sucked into a relegation battle.
With a fifth of the season gone, Martin O'Neill's men have the worst shot supremacy record in the division, conceding an average of 16 shots per match, while registering less than half that number at the other end. It's only the predatory instincts of five-goal Steven Fletcher that is papering over the cracks.
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