IT IS Division Two's heavyweight contest but Reading desperately require more forward firepower for this Saturday's clash with Huddersfield Town at the Madejski Stadium (3pm).
The first home game of the new season is attractive enough as it is and with two teams both highly fancied to win the championship, the stage is set for perhaps one of the most important games on only the second Saturday of the season.
Yet despite last week's morale-boosting 2-0 win at Blackpool, the Royals have found themselves amid a striker crisis.
Jamie Cureton, last season's top goalscorer, has almost no chance of recovering from a groin injury and the odds are also stacked against Martin Butler and occasional frontman Tony Rougier being fit enough to play.
At least Nicky Forster appears to be in the kind of form to do the job alone and his goal at Bloomfield Road is sure to build his confidence even further after a season missed through injury.
So manager Alan Pardew may be forced to start with the inexperienced Darius Henderson in a contest that would induce the odd butterfly in even the most seasoned campaigner.
Henderson is yet to score in the few substitute's appearance he has made in the league, but was briefly used at Blackpool and Pardew is not likely to shield his younger players from responsibility if they are needed to help the team cause.
Pardew explained: "Forster will definitely play. It's just a question of who will partner him.
"I don't want the same scenario we've had with Butler to happen again next week, where he plays on Saturday but then misses five days of training, so we may decide not to use him at all.
"It's very unlikely Jamie (Cureton) will be ready but Tony Rougier is getting better and I have no qualms about using Darius Henderson.
"Darius has had a great pre-season and he deserves to play. It's difficult because he's got top players in front of him but I have every confidence in his ability and if we need him he'll be in."
While promotion must be the ambition of every club in Division Two, these two above all will want to find a quick passage to the more desirable level of the first division.
Only that will satisfy the Royals following last May's play-off final defeat while Huddersfield are desperate to return after being relegated after the final game of the season.
The Terriers made a sound start to this campaign by managing to break down a stubborn Bournemouth side at home last week, but they too will be without versatile forward Martin Smith (knee) and right wing Simon Baldry (ankle) as well as long term patients Clyde Wijnhard and Jonathan Dyson.
However, former Swindon Town striker Chris Hay, ex-Sheffield Wednesday player Andy Booth and attacking midfielder Chris Beech are certain to be major concerns of Reading.
Now that Booth and club captain Chris Lucketti will not be moving to Cardiff City for millions, that should also settle the Yorkshire side in this clash of the titans.
"This is a hard game for us," added Pardew. "It's a totally different proposition to last week as Huddersfield are a much stronger unit than Blackpool.
"They're a physical and hard working side with a bit of talent up front and if their confidence is high they'll be as good as anyone in this division."
And assistant Martin Allen said: "They have a manager with a good reputation and record in Lou Macari.
"He used to be my manager at West Ham and his teams are certain to be tough, strong and extremely competitive."
Reading may have some secret weapons of their own, though.
Forster scored against them for Brentford in the 1995 Division Two play-off semi-final, the last time Huddersfield had dropped to this level.
Sammy Igoe, although likely be a Reading substitute, used to come alive for Portsmouth whenever he was unleashed on the Terriers and new Reading signing Alex Smith played at the McAlpine in a short loan spell.
Macari expects a harder test than last week. "We did exceptionally well to get a victory against Bournemouth," he said. "But we now face a team who are most people's fancy to be champions.
"While last Saturday was a test of character for us, this game at Reading will be our first real test of the season to see exactly where we stand."
Betting (odds supplied by Dick Brunton): Reading 4/5, Huddersfield 11/4, draw 12/5.
First to score: Butler 4/1, Forster 5/1, Booth 7/1, Hay 7/1, Hughes 12/1, Smith 12/1, Harper 14/1.
* Reading launch their Worthington Cup campaign next Tuesday night with a home tie against Luton Town at the Madejski Stadium (7.45pm).
The Royals will be hoping to improve on last season's poor cup run when they were knocked out in the first round by Division Three side Leyton Orient.
Reading drew 1-1 at the Made-jski Stadium before going down 2-0 at Brisbane Road but the early stages are only one leg this season which should be an advantage to Reading against the newly relegated Hatters.
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