From models of relative consistency at the start of the campaign, Bristol City have returned ever-so slightly to the up and down nature of the previous campaign.
No, performances are nowhere near as poor or over such a sustained period of time, but since the international break the Robins have lurched from game to game with very different levels of display and that has bore out in their run of results: LDLWLW.
Things look to be trending upwards but it would be nice to see Nigel Pearson’s side stick another W on the end of that line just to bring back some of that early-season reliability.
Reading, with three straight defeats and a feeling that all that fine form of the first two months had them in a bit of a false position relative to their quality, are ideal opponents to achieve such a thing. But nothing should be taken for granted and the Championship, as we well know, is always the Championship.
Ahead of the game in Berkshire, here is how we think the Robins will line up…
Goalkeeper and defence
After a clean sheet in midweek and a pretty solid display overall, especially in dealing with those dreaded set-pieces, then Max O’Leary will continue in goal at the Select Car Leasing Stadium.
Pearson admitted in midweek that Dan Bentley is “grumpy” but then that’s exactly how he should be as the City captain tries to fight his way back into the team. What is interesting, with reference to Bentley, is Stefan Bajic’s position.
The 20-year-old started for the Under-21s against QPR on Tuesday and although he was culpable for their opening goal, robbed off possession inside his own half, the Frenchman was otherwise sound. The Young Robins also played Ipswich Town on Friday and his place was taken by Josey Casa-Grande with no sign of Bajic in the matchday squad.
So, at the very least he will be part of the travelling party to Berkshire, warming up alongside O’Leary and Bentley but how long before we get to the situation where he pushes one of the more senior goalkeepers out of the matchday 18?
As for the defence, with no Kal Naismith to complicate Pearson’s thinking it’ll be the same back three of Zak Vyner (early shout for player of the month?), Rob Atkinson (ditto) and Timm Klose. As the manager said on Thursday, such was the length of Tomas Kalas’ injury absence, he needs to build up his match minutes gradually and see how the knee responds before he can be considered in a starting role.
Midfield and wing-back
After concerns down the flanks post-Millwall, Mark Sykes and Jay Dasilva both put in strong performances at the Hawthorns to surely keep their respective places in the XI, with George Tanner and Cam Pring waiting in reserve.
The middle of the park is probably the main area for debate because everything says that Pearson should retain the central three of Joe Williams, Alex Scott and Matty James. City looked more robust in the middle and their attacks were structured so that one of Williams or Scott joined the front two.
That trio came together because Andi Weimann moved to the bench for the first time this season and the first time in more than two-and-a-half years. The question is therefore, does Pearson bring the Austrian back?
If he does, it’ll be a return to a 3-4-1-2 but could lose some of that midfield stability, albeit with the manager stating on Thursday that when everyone is in form City’s best form of defence is attack.
The key part of that statement is the “in form” part and certainly Weimann hasn't been particularly effective, or at least not near the levels both he and we expect, since he returned from the international break and the likelihood is that he hasn’t done enough to push for re-inclusion just yet.
The small caveat with that is the fitness of Williams and if he can start not just two but three games in a week. We’ve only recently got used to the former concept so pushing it once more could be seen as a risk.
Han-Noah Massengo has been exiled to the Under-21s for now - but will be used if required - but having played on Friday he won’t be included so the only other central midfield option is Andy King or, as stated above, the return of Weimann.
If Williams is good to go, and he was given the last 13 minutes off at West Brom which could indicate that he was being preserved for today, then it’ll surely be an unchanged midfield department. If he’s not, it’ll be interesting to see exactly what Pearson does.
It sounds slightly strange to say given his profile, but Antoine Semenyo was probably the unsung hero from the win at West Brom. He’s still finding his radar in front of goal after those flurry of strikes off the bench in August, but his relentless running and clever use of his body and the ball was a real asset for the Robins.
He will surely keep his place in tandem with Nahki Wells, as the Bermudian has now leapt out in front as City’s leading goalscorer with seven in 15 games - one every 139 minutes. He’s also found the target with 23 per cent of his shots, which is pretty clinical and when you combine that with his pace down the channels and intelligence at dragging defenders out of position, he simply has to start today.
It’s a partnership that’s in progress but the signs are the chemistry between Wells and Semenyo is growing and while they keep producing, it’s hard to see how Tommy Conway, Chris Marton or even Weimann find a starting role in attack.
Bristol City (3-5-2): Max O’Leary; Zak Vyner, Timm Klose, Rob Atkinson; Mark Sykes, Alex Scott, Matty James, Joe Williams, Jay Dasilva; Antoine Semenyo, Nahki Wells