PAUL Clement refuses to blame Reading FC’s poor season on a lack of squad fitness.

Royals, 19th in the table, need one point from their last two games to be virtually assured of their Championship status next season.

Clement’s men, currently five points above the relegation zone, host Ipswich Town in the final home game this Saturday (3pm ko) when the club’s Player of the Year will be announced.

Royals then bring a disappointing campaign to a close with a trip to Neil Warnock’s promotion-chasing Cardiff City next weekend.

Reading, beaten 3-0 at Sheffield Wednesday last time out, have struggled from day one and have been languishing in the lower reaches of the division for most of this season.

In stark contrast, Jaap Stam led Royals to third in the table last year only to lose to Huddersfield on penalties in the play-off final.

While critics search for reason’s behind the team’s drastic slump in form, Clement insists it is nothing to do with the condition of the players.

“I don’t want to go down the road of saying the players aren’t fit enough or that kind of thing,” said Clement, who succeeded Stam last month.

“They’re fit enough to perform at a better level than they did on Saturday and that will be our focus for Ipswich this weekend.

“We’ve got a bit more time to train so at this stage of the season you are unlikely to see big improvements in any particular aspect, not just physicality.

“You may see some small improvements in the shape and mentality of the group and the physical condition as players who haven’t been involved much are doing extra work to be ready for the next game.”

Reading have not picked up a single point away from home in three games under Clement.

But they are undefeated at Madejski Stadium following wins against QPR and Preston and a draw with relegated Sunderland.

And Royals’ boss is hoping fans come out in force for the Ipswich clash to help the team get over the line.

“Hopefully we’ll spend a lot of care on preparing well for it,” explained the ex-Swansea City and Derby boss. “I know the fans will turn up, they have been great.

“They even clapped the team off at the end of the Sheffield Wednesday game which is bizarre really because I wouldn’t have clapped them off.

“But they’ve been brilliant at home and I’m really looking forward to getting back to the Madejski Stadium.”

Reading Chronicle:

Tommy Elphick could return to the Reading squad for the clash against Ipswich Town.

However, Clement knows his side must perform better than they did in the 3-0 defeat at Hillsborough when Tyler Blackett became the fourth player in six games to be sent off under the new Royals boss.

“There were lots of things that weren’t right about the performance in the second half from our discipline, not just getting red cards but our tactics and shape,” he added.

“We have to realise nobody can do this individually, if we’re going to be successful we have to do it as a team.

“There are certain sacrifices you have to make and we didn’t do that in the second half.”

Blackett will miss tomorrow's clash as he begins a three-match ban that will carry over into next season.

Leandro Bacuna is also unavailble as he sits out the last of his three-match suspension for his sending off in the 1-0 defeat at Fulham.

But Royals will be boosted by the return of on-loan Aston Villa defender Tommy Elphick.

The 30-year-old centre-back suffered a nasty knee injury in the 2-0 home defeat to Millwall on February 3 in only his second Reading appearance following his January move from the Midlands.

But Elphick has now made a full recovery and is likely to be named in Clement's squad this weekend.

Reading Chronicle:

Reading defender Tyler Blackett is sent off in the 3-0 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Ipswich pair Luke Hyam and Cole Skuse both face fitness tests ahead of tomorrow's clash.

Hyam missed training this week while Skuse has been struck down with illness.

Recent history strongly favours a victory for the Royals who have won their last six home league matches against the Tractor Boys.

Ipswich, 14th in the table, are also hoping to end a run of four successive away defeats including a 1-0 loss to relegation-threatened Birmingham City.

Town are searching for a permanent manager following Mick McCarthy's departure and will be led by interim boss Bryan Klug.

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