McCarthy, Gunter, Obita, Guthrie, Pearce, Gorkss, Robson-Kanu (McCleary 55) Akpan, Le Fondre (Pogrebnyak 55) Drenthe (Blackman 87) McAnuff
With one change from the 0-0 draw with Derby, Alf returned to the starting line up with McCleary dropping to the bench. I wouldn’t like to say exactly what the formation was but it was some variation on a 4-2-3-1. Reading started off well, as has been the way for the last few months but as usual didn’t make the early pressure tell and didn’t create any clear-cut opportunities. Birmingham started to get into the game and they created the first clear-cut opportunity with Macheda shooting from the edge of the box and McCarthy saving smartly. Up to this point the match had been a largely scrappy affair with lots of stop start and no real flow to match. Reading finally created an opportunity, which fell to Gunter but his shot went wide of the post. For the first time in the match Drenthe was in a position to run with the ball. He skinned the Birmingham left back and crossed the ball for Alf to flick on to Jobi who took a touch past the Birmingham defender and calmly put the ball away. This was slightly against the run of play, not massively, but Birmingham had started to build some pressure. I might be slightly generous saying it was a flick on by Alf.
Many of the clichés in football are there for a reason and that’s because they come true over and over again. So the old adage of you’re likely to concede after scoring a goal came true. I’m not sure on the penalty as didn’t get a clear view from where I was sitting but Gorkss let Callum Reilly get slightly the wrong side of him and it did look like a clumsy tackle. It was the first and only time in the first half that Burke managed to get space on the right to get a cross in. Caddis took the penalty and put it away with McCarthy nearly saving the well-taken penalty.
The second half of the match continued as the first finished with Birmingham in the ascendancy. Alex McCarthy kept Reading in the game with a fine fingertip save from a Macheda glancing header across the goal. One of my frustrations with past Reading managers has been when substitutions are made. But today Adkins was on the front foot and seeing that things needed to change he bought on the Pog for Alf and McCleary for Robson-Kanu. Both changes probably could’ve been made at half time with both Alf and Robson-Kanu not involved in the game much. As soon as the two new players came on they brought a new energy to a largely stale match. The Pog gave our attack a focal point and more work rate than Alf. McCleary’s pace stretched the game and opened it up.
With the match opening up chances for both sides came thick and fast. It was now down to which team would take their chances. A bit of fortune for the Royals as Ibe broke into the box from the left hand side picking out a pass to Macheda who was running into the box from deep. His touch took him to the by line but his cut back was too strong for Burke to control the contact he made into the net. This was one of the few occasions Obita had been caught out by Burke. After a series of corners Birmingham created a big chance, with a classic Reading corner routine. Crossing the ball to the back stick and heading the ball across goal was nearly the undoing of the Royals. But Macheda couldn’t quite get over the ball enough with his header hitting the cross bar. The next piece of action wasn’t important to this match but to Readings next one, Guthrie slid in on a Birmingham player picking up a yellow which means he has a one match ban for Barnsley at home. With Danny Williams and Leigertwood out injured this leaves Adkins with an interesting decision to make.
Reading started to come into the game with the substitutes making an impact. Reading fans were stunned as Chris Gunter made a run with the ball down the right wing crossing the ball trying to pick out the Pog when shooting seemed the more obvious decision. But from the resulting corner Gorkss had a free header but a Birmingham player managed to deflect it wide. From the following corner Pearce’s header went close but not close enough. The game was opening up more and more and the largely turgid first half was forgotten as both teams sensed that the next goal was key and probably the winner. Obita then went close with a right foot (yes he has two feet that he can use) volley from a Gunter cross. This attack highlighted the attacking threat that our full backs had started to pose with the team committing more men forwards to get a result.
Birmingham boss Lee Clarke then rolled the dice for the last time and brought on target man Nikola Zigic. With other central defensive partnerships I would’ve been worried but Pearce and Gorkss can handle long balls to a target man of his quality all day. If Clarke had a pacey striker to bring on that’s what he should’ve done as getting our center backs running back to their own goal is the way to create chances - not the long ball.
A series of Reading attacks started to build pressure and frustrate the Reading fans. Readings counter attack seemed the way that we were going to create a clear chance with both teams going for the win. With a counter attack in full flow, McAnuff's shot was saved; Gunter’s follow up was well saved by the keepers quick reflex save. The ball then fell to the Reading player you’d want it to, the Pog, but he blazed over with an empty net gaping. A subtle chip would’ve led to a goal but the presence of two Birmingham defenders led to him not taking his chance. That's now two matches in a row that our two strikers have failed to take easy chances. The next counter attack sent Royals fans into rapture, as the frustration levels of not taking our chances had led to some fans thinking this wasn’t going to be our day. Akpan's perfectly timed and weighted ball released Gunter who picked out McAnuff at the back post who slid in to bury the chance. The last 10 minutes of the match were slightly nervy. Blackman replaced Drenthe in an attempt to shut the game out but Birmingham had a final chance with Zigic meeting a Burke cross and McCarthy made another important save. I’m not sure the header was going in but better safe than sorry in the last few minutes.
Overall a scrappy match which only came to life in the second half with both teams realising that coming to the so called "business end" of the season draws won’t do and wins are all important. For me Adkins decision to make substitutions early was key to this result as making those substitutions 10 minutes later may have lead to us not winning the game. It wasn’t our best performance but at this point of the season wins are all that really matter. Obita was the stand out performer keeping Chris Burke quiet for most of the game and also being an attacking threat through most of the match. Jobi was also a stand out performer with a brace (yes that’s right, two years since his last goal and he gets a brace) but his inconsistency was frustrating as ever. Also Alex McCarthy was Mr Reliable with his shot stopping keeping us in the game, but his distribution was as inconsistent as ever. He could be England's No.1 one day but his distribution needs to improve for him to make that jump up in quality.
At the end of the match the squad and management came across to applaud the fans but McAnuff and Pearce came to celebrate. With both of them you can see that the club is in their hearts and I hope the club is in the position to make sure our club captain is with us next season. Reading fans went home happy singing in the spring sunshine "we were there for Jobi’s brace" but under no illusions that they’d seen the team play at their best. But a win's a win, and one that puts Reading back into the play-off places.