Sheffield Wednesday face one of their sternest tests of the campaign to date as they prepare to play hosts to high-flyers Reading at Hillsborough this evening (KO 19:45 GMT).
The Royals arrive in South Yorkshire a mere two points behind table-toppers Norwich, buoyed on by an impressive 3-1 victory over fellow promotion candidates Bristol City last time out.
Wednesday, who tasked the evergreen Tony Pulis with steading the sinking ship last month, are without a win in their last four – scoring just once.
Defensive duo Chey Dunkley and Dominic Iorfa are thought to be nearing fitness for The Owls, while Aden Flint remains sidelined with a hamstring problem. Frontman Jack Marriott continues to receive treatment for a calf injury back at parent club Derby County and ‘keeper Kieran Westwood is being “assessed” by club physios after being forced off against Swansea City.
The visitors won’t be able to call on playmaker John Swift just yet – boss Veljko Paunovic confirming a return around Christmas. George Puscas (hernia), Andy Yiadom (knee) and Felipe Araruna (knee) are all absent, the latter two not expected to feature this side of January.
Strikes from Yakou Meite, George Puscas and Sam Baldock recorded a comfortable victory for Reading on this ground when the two sides met last, in a game that saw Owls youngster Osaze Urhoghide shown red.
The result left Wednesday nine points off the play-off places having spent Christmas Day as high as third; then Head Coach Garry Monk indicating a “fragility” within his team.
Despite their positive start, Reading remain winless in three on the road (D1, L2) and history suggests that streak may continue with seven of their last nine midweek away fixtures ending level.
Former Wednesday man Lucas Joao has the chance to equal his best-ever Championship tally with a goal here – incidentally coming with Sheffield Wednesday in 2018/19 where he found the net on 10 occasions.
Owls gaffer Pulis is enduring his longest wait for a victory in a new post since taking the reigns at Plymouth Argyle (2005/06).
ONE TO WATCH
Barry Bannan – Sheffield Wednesday
An ever-present in the league this term, the 31-year-old represents a vital cog in The Owls machine, firing home in successes versus Bournemouth and Birmingham City.
It seems that for all of Wednesday’s short sightings in front of goal, it’s once again Bannan who holds the key to unlocking Championship defences.
You can catch tonight’s clash on Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Football from 7.00pm. Live match commentary is also available as part of BBC Radio Sheffield’s Football Heaven programme.