The thrill of a FA Cup quarter-final would normally have us frothing at the mouth with eager anticipation. The fact that Palace have also been drawn against the only non-Premier league side left in the competition should get the juices flowing but the recent slump in league form has cast a pall over the club.
Whilst the prospect of a trip to Wembley is tantalisingly close, unfortunately the tentacles of an unlikely relegation battle are also beginning to drag us kicking and screaming towards the danger zone. Having been 5th at Christmas we now teeter on the brink, 9 points above the trapdoor.
Of course, whilst we have not won in a dozen league matches our FA Cup run has involved three victories, ironically all against Premier league rivals. If only we could transfer those wins into the league we would be safely ensconced in 9th and looking upwards rather than down. But it is what it is and for now all our focus must be on the trip to Madejski Stadium. As the team have played with a distinct schizophrenia recently it must be hoped that the team recreate the form of the first half of the season.
Alan Pardew will be keen to show another one of his former clubs what they are missing and he will be accorded the ritual booing of an ex-manager, particularly as he did not leave on the best of terms. It will be interesting to see if he picks a full strength team as this is a golden opportunity to get to the semi-finals, something the club have not achieved for over 20 years. But the majority of fans know deep down that Premier League survival is more important for the long-term development of the club.
The return of Jason Puncheon might be the key to the game as he has been out for a while and had not been on very good form before his injury. It may turn out that his enforced rest is just what he needed, as he did look both mentally and physically tired recently. If he can recapture the form of last season when he contributed so massively, it could help nudge us towards Wembley and also give us the necessary fillip to our wretched league form. A Friday night in Reading could determine the direction for the remainder of the campaign.
Richard Foster is a freelance football writer and author, who is a regular features contributor for The Guardian – http://bit.ly/1QCOH9x
He also writes for a variety of Palace blogs and hosts The Palace Podcast.
The revised paperback edition of his latest book The Agony & The Ecstasy – A Comprehensive History of the Football League Play-Offs – is out now and available through usual bookshops, online – http://amzn.to/1RDJdy5.
Talking Balls! His sports quotes book, was published in September 2015 – http://amzn.to/1RjV7Lw
Follow him on twitter @rcfoster