BILLY BUNTER

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Efficient Cardiff primed to narrow gap at the top

Cardiff are looking the most likely team to give Wolves a run for their money in the Sky Bet Championship title race and they can close to within two points of the leaders by beating Reading at the Madejski Stadium.

Reading's season has been a slow-burner. They seemed to suffer from a hangover from last season's playoff final defeat to Huddersfield and collected just 12 points from their first 13 games leading to questions over manager Jaap Stam's suitability for the job.

The tide has turned in recent weeks with four victories, two draws and one defeat in their last seven games. And a victory over Cardiff would be enough to lift the Royals into the top half for the first time since September.

Reading still hold out hope of pushing towards the playoff spots but they could do with getting some of their injured players back.

Seven first-team squad players were unavailable for their 3-1 success at Sunderland last time out, including winger Garath McCleary and influential midfielder John Swift, who were second and third in Reading scoring chart last season with nine and eight goals.

Yann Kermorgant top-scored with 18 but he has had an injury-hit start to this season and has failed to convert in seven appearances.

The reduced goal threat is the main reason Reading have failed to hit the same heights as last season and why they are worth opposing against Cardiff.

A clash of styles is set to take place with Reading looking to execute their patient, possession-based game and Cardiff sticking with their direct approach.

But the biggest difference between the teams is their effectiveness in both boxes.

Cardiff have overcome the persistent injury problems of their star forward Kenneth Zohore because numerous players have chipped in with vital goals.

Four Bluebirds players have scored four league goals or more - Junior Hoilett has six, Joe Ralls five, Danny Ward four and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing four.

And pacy striker Omar Bogle is starting to gain confidence in his ability to perform in the Championship after netting in each of his last three appearances.

Neil Warnock's side are not prolific but they score enough goals and have the best defensive record in the division, conceding just 14.

Cardiff regularly have less of the ball than their opponents but their no-nonsense style is getting results. They have 13 wins in 20 league games and look overpriced for another success.

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Match in Focus

19:45 TODAY

Burnley v Stoke

Home Win Draw Away Win
Key stats
  • Stoke have picked up just five points on the road
Expert verdict
Burnley have already chalked up 28 points this season and can add to their tally with a victory over Stoke at Turf Moor. Sean Dyche has worked wonders on a limited budget and his side remain hard to beat at home. Stoke’s poor away record points to the Clarets being overpriced.