Five Things: Birmingham City.

Chris Brunskill

Thirteen points from fifteen, just one goal conceded in five matches... and we seemingly haven't hit top gear yet. Here are our talking points from a solid, unspectacular, almost routine victory over Birmingham City.

1. We're still in second gear - and that's worrying for the opposition

That second half yesterday felt like a match in the Brian McDermott era, packing men behind the ball and trying to break quickly. Except we had a goal lead (and later it was 2-0), so to see us defending so deep and so stoutly was strange - especially when so much has been made of the attacking potential at our disposal. It almost felt like a friendly, or even a training match (no disrespect to Birmingham City intended), and the crowd's rather quiet effort throughout the afternoon reflected that.

As Westy said in our podcast this week, we seem to be playing in second gear and still grinding out the results. Thirteen points out of fifteen now, and you can't say that any performance has been spellbinding. That can only be a good sign for the Royals, and equally it would seem to suggest that lurking under the surface is a real spanking for an average side to visit the Mad Stad. 19th October, Doncaster Rovers... Mark your diaries.

2. A couple of open-play goals would be nice...

We talk about those impressive 13 points from 15, but let's go through the goals individually and see how they were scored...

Reading 1-0 Birmingham Guthrie, from direct free-kick
Reading 2-0 Birmingham Guthrie, from direct free-kick
Derby County 0-1 Reading Pogrebnyak, from Pearce, after Obita free kick routine
Derby County 0-2 Reading Pogrebnyak, from McCleary cross, after Guthrie corner
Derby County 1-3 Reading Blackman, from counter-attack
Reading 1-0 Leeds United Adam Le Fondre, from Drenthe free-kick
Yeovil Town 0-1 Reading Adam Le Fondre, from penalty

Of those goals, you can only truly say that Nick Blackman's injury-time goal at Derby was an open-play goal (Pog's second at Pride Park was in part set up from a corner, so that one's debatable). The good thing is that in recent matches, we have looked more threatening from open-play - Pog could have grabbed a couple against the Blues yesterday but for a superb display from Birmingham keeper Randolph. As I suggested in the first point, that big performance is coming, and I fear for the side which finally feels the full wrath of this team.

3. Fitness and injury concerns are mounting

In yesterday's match, both Hal Robson-Kanu and Garath McCleary had to be substituted because of injury/fitness concerns. Although both walked from the pitch, it was slightly worrying to see these two depart early, adding to an already long line waiting outside Luke Anthony's surgery. HRK lay down with cramp just before his departure, whilst McCleary seemed to pick up a knock in a challenge. If these aren't more than precautionary, they'll join Danny Williams, Royston Drenthe, Jem Karacan, Nick Blackman, Jobi McAnuff, Mikele Leigertwood and Jason Roberts on the treatment table.

I don't know whether it is the fitness regime under Adkins, or whether the former Southampton manager has just taught them "gamesmanship", but we seem to have a lot more players going down for cramps and knocks in the latter stages of matches than ever. Compare to those sides of promotions past, who would fight for 90 minutes week-in week-out in most cases.

Still, as many have said, I'd agree that this is the best squad we've had in a long time. Billy Sharp was denied his debut by these two knocks, but instead we saw a young winger who came through the Royals Academy in Jordan Obita, and a Republic of Ireland international in Stephen Kelly. If you believe that Royston Drenthe and Danny Williams would have started but for injury, then their replacements were a Welsh international and a Northern Ireland international. The depth at the squad is astounding at the moment, except for one position - centre-back.

4. Hoof and hope is gone, calmness is here to stay

Remember when Pavel Pogrebnyak said he didn't want to play in the Championship because it's just hoof and hope? Clearly Adkins just showed him one of our game tapes and the big Russian was forced to eat his words. Granted, it's not the tiki-taka of Barcelona just yet, but patient, probing, possession football was on full exhibition yesterday. And Pog could have got a couple, with a one-on-one saved and a header just offside.

In part it's down to the two central midfielders, Chris Baird and Danny Guthrie. Guth has always had the confidence to put his foot on the ball and find space, rather than aimlessly hoof the ball under pressure. Now joined by Chris Baird, another midfielder with patience and a natural defensive instinct, it should free up Guthrie to become the lynchpin/quarterback even more. And I can't emphasize the importance of Wayne Bridge enough; another player who is happy to retain possession until the right pass becomes available.

As alluded to in point 2, it's still not all quite there, as we're yet to see a flurry of open-play chances or goals, but when it all comes together it'll erupt like Etna.

5. Reading's best XI? Erm...

Wimb wrote an article this week about Reading's best XI, and whether we need one. Nigel Adkins made two changes from the side which beat Derby, as Adam Le Fondre came in for Jordan Obita, and Wayne Bridge for Stephen Kelly.

We've now added Billy Sharp to the squad. Royston Drenthe and Danny Williams started frequently early on, but are now injured. Jem Karacan was a revelation in the midfield before his unfortunate injury. Nick Blackman, Jobi McAnuff and Mikele Leigertwood all missed out with slight knocks. Jason Roberts is yet to return. Stephen Kelly was benched, as was Adam Federici - two internationals. Jordan Obita, Shaun Cummings and Hope Akpan are young, promising talent.

4-4-2 against Birmingham, versus 4-5-1 up at Derby. And we've seen other formations such as the 4-4-2 diamond in previous matches this season. Clearly, Nigel Adkins doesn't subscribe to the "best XI" theory, as it's the best eleven on the pitch who can win you the match in front of you. And that's no bad thing, in my opinion. We have different types of strikers, wingers, midfielders, and wing-backs to suit an opposition - the only problem Adkins has is keeping them all happy.

What was your biggest talking point coming out of the match? Let us know below...


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