Reading - Birmingham (Championship) - Match Preview

Shaun Botterill

Last time these two sides met, there was a party atmosphere, as Inflatables Day greeted St Andrews on the last day of the 2011/12 season. Just over a year later and we meet again - and two names are on everyone's lips. Jesse Lingard and Billy Sharp.

Form Guide

Reading Birmingham City
W 3-1 Derby County (A)
W 3-1 Swansea City (H) - League Cup 3rd Round
W 1-0 Leeds United (H)
W 4-1 Sheffield Wednesday (H)
D 0-0 Brighton (H) L 3-0 Burnley (A)
W 1-0 Yeovil (A) L 1-0 QPR (A)
L 0-6 Peterborough (A) - League Cup 2nd Round D 1-1 Ipswich Town (A)
L 0-1 Blackpool (A) D 3-3 Yeovil Town (A) (won on pens) - League Cup 3rd Round
D 3-3 Watford (H) L 3-2 Leicester City (A)
7th - 15 points, GD +4 18th - 7 points, GD-3

Two teams just coming into form meet at the Madejski on Saturday afternoon, though Reading's form has a stronger look to it. Derby, Leeds and Brighton are all top-13 sides, and the Royals have conceded just one goal in four matches after the match which must not be named. But it's important to note that whilst we netted three at Derby last time out, we had just two goals in the previous five matches - one, a penalty; the other, a last-minute Alfie Time special. Still, the Royals remain unbeaten at home, with two wins and two draws in the League.

Birmingham have won their last two, and in impressive style. Jesse Lingard, on loan from Manchester United, netted all four as they smashed Sheffield Wednesday at home in the League. Then the League Cup holders Swansea City came to town, and even without Lingard they recorded another good win. However, the Swans were fielding a pretty weak team. The Blues have lost their last three away games (albeit at Leicester, QPR and Burnley - the top three sides in the League), but won at Yeovil, and just like us that was a one-niller.

Head To Head

You'd be forgiven for not caring about the result the last time we met Birmingham - we had already secured the title in 2011/12, and the last day of the season was simply all about Inflatables Day. Still, we lost that match 2-0, after a 1-0 victory for the Royals earlier in the season.

Home victories in 2011/12, but it was away wins in 2008/09. We beat the Blues 3-1 at St Andrews in December, but the last match of the season was the return leg. If we won, we made an instant return to the Premier League. If Birmingham won, promotion was theirs. And the Blues won 2-1 to secure top flight status. Needless to say, it was playoff agony again for Royals fans.

In all matches between the two in Reading, the Royals have won 4, with the Blues getting 3 victories and six draws.

Team News

I think I say this on every preview actually, but this is yet another difficult selection for Nigel Adkins. A makeshift team put in perhaps the best performance of the season up at Derby last weekend - a side without the likes of Wayne Bridge, Danny Williams, Royston Drenthe and Jem Karacan. Add in the loan signing of Billy Sharp this week and you can see that someone is going to be harshly dropped from the XI, or even the 18 altogether.

Wayne Bridge should make an instant return as the only recognised left-back in the squad, meaning either Chris Gunter or Stephen Kelly will miss out. I get the feeling that Gunter will play tomorrow, as a home game against a relatively weak opponent will see us on the front foot. Pearce and Morrison are the obvious centre-backs.

Danny Guthrie will retain his place, and Chris Baird was also impressive on debut up at Derby - another week with the squad can only do his fitness and sharpness better, meaning Danny Williams will probably miss out on a place in the eleven.

Out wide, we'll probably see Garath McCleary remain in the side, and Royston Drenthe might come back into the side on the wing. In the middle, we might see Billy Sharp come straight in to play just off Pavel Pogrebnyak, or Hal Robson-Kanu could retain his place in the middle.

Birmingham made 5 changes in midweek for the visit of Swansea, including Jesse Lingard, who presumably cannot play in Cup ties as part of the terms of his loan deal from the Red Devils. Nikola Zigic is also back in training for the Blues, and he could return.

Likely Lineups

Reading: McCarthy; Gunter, Pearce, Morrison, Bridge; Guthrie, Baird; McCleary, Sharp, Drenthe; Pogrebnyak

Birmingham: Randolph; Robinson, Bartley, Burn, Murphy; Elliott, Spector, Adeyemi, Burke, Lingard; Zigic

The Ref

James Adcock is the man tasked with posing for pre-match photographs with captains, mascots, assistants and Kingsley. So far this season he's shown 21 yellow cards in six matches this season - and those six games have seen just the 25 goals. Had it not been for a typical 1-0 QPR victory, that figure might be higher...

Best Odds

Reading 19/20

Draw 14/5

Birmingham 10/3

The Tilehurst End Prediction

Whilst Birmingham have run into some form in the last week, it's far too easy to look at that favourably. Sheffield Wednesday are around the relegation zone, and Swansea rotated their squad heavily. Of course, you can say the same about the Royals, who scored with the last touch of the game against Leeds and grabbed another late one against Derby. Still, the squad seems happy, and with every game we're showing improvement. I'm plumping for another 3-1 victory here.

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