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The Oppo: Birmingham City

The first midweek league match of the season at the Madejski, and the Royals host Birmingham City looking to halt a run of four successive defeats against Blues.

Clive Mason/Getty Images

Head to Head

The history of matches between the two sides is comparatively short, the first ever match being played on Boxing Day 1986 as the teams drew 2-2 in Division 2. It took until the fifth match between the sides for either side to beat the other as Birmingham ran out 2-0 winners at Elm Park in November 1989, although Reading returned the favour with their own 1-0 win at St Andrews on the final day of the 1989/90 season.

Michael Gilkes scored a last minute winner denying Blues a shot at the relatively new concept of the playoffs in the process, and I’ve heard more than one person suggest that Gilkes’s goal was one that had away supporters there that day, hoping that when he was played through on goal he missed due to the inevitable hostility that would be given by the Tilton Road faithful afterwards.

Since then the clubs have met on a further 22 occasions and it is Birmingham who lead the way on the head to head with 11 wins in total to Reading’s eight, however thanks to three heavy victories over the years at St Andrews (4-1 in 96/97, 3-0 in 97/98 and 6-1 in 14/15) Blues have scored 40% more goals than the Royals. The Birmingham win total is, of course, aided by their four wins on the spin against the Royals, a run we would all welcome coming to an end on Tuesday evening.

Memorable Match

22 March 2008, and Reading seemed to be getting themselves back on track after a horrible first two months of the year, losing eight league matches on the spin and exiting the FA Cup in the 3rd round. Hard fought but deserved wins at Middlesbrough and at home to Manchester City in March instilled some much needed confidence, as did a highly creditable but fruitless performance at Anfield just the week before, the Royals in part losing out thanks to the only Javier Mascherano strike at Liverpool and a refereeing performance so inept and one-sided by Birmingham-born Andre Marriner that words failed to describe it.

Birmingham can consider themselves somewhat unlucky to have not walked away with at least a point from this game having played a full part in a highly charged but enjoyable match. Neither side played poorly at all and created good opportunities to score but it is an age old cliché that the margins are small at the very top level, and were it not for two momentary lapses in concentration from Radhi Jaidi Birmingham could well have gained something from the day.

As it was, after a fast, frenetic start which resulted in little control of proceedings by either side, it was Blues that created the first chance as Gary McSheffrey pulled wide when well placed, but from then on the majority of the first half was Reading’s as firstly Kevin Doyle missed from point blank range, Stephen Hunt hit the bar with a 25 yard drive before John Oster’s inswinging free kick found Andre Bikey attacking the ball completely unmarked on the six yard line. Bikey’s glancing header fell inside the far post and it was 1-0 Reading. Before half time though, Blues gained a foothold in seeking the equaliser and after a McSheffrey mishit cross nearly deceived Marcus Hahnemann Mikael Forsell found himself unmarked from the resulting corner and should have punished the slack defending. Half time came, and it signalled a shift in momentum for the second half.

In such a tight game it was to be expected that Birmingham would look to press Reading after half time, and it was up to Reading to hold the back line steady and not give anything silly away. Birmingham did indeed look to pressurise, and while they didnt create too many chances they did equalise with a finely worked goal from Mauro Zarate. The Argentine had a good first half causing Reading plenty of problems with his probing runs from midfield but ironically, with Reading having handled his threat far better in the second half, it was Zarate who popped up to divert a Forsell cross into the net on 65 minutes. Forsell himself had shown great strength and ball control to set the chance up under heavy pressure from Ivar Ingimarsson.

From then on it was anyone’s game as Birmingham looked to capitalise on their extra momentum while Reading tried to find their foothold in the game once more. To Reading’s credit they didn’t panic, and despite Stephen Hunt wasting a succession of corners it was Shane Long who won the decisive decision from referee Mike Riley on the inside right channel. Nicky Shorey it was who stepped up to whip in a typically well flighted free kick onto the head of Bikey again who had stolen a march on Jaidi again and stooped to steer the ball home with just 10 minutes to play.

The Royals held on from that point, not without their fair share of nervy moments but the victory was a welcome relief, opening up a five-point gap to the drop zone. Of course, Fulham managed to embark on an inspired run and both Reading and Birmingham were relegated on the final day of the season despite victories for both.

They Played For Both Teams

Martin Hicks is a legend in Berkshire. Born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1957, Hicks commenced his career at Reading but was allowed to leave for Charlton in 1976 where he failed to make a single appearance. However, Maurice Evans it was that brought Hicks back to Reading in 1977, and the central defender went on to become a real crowd favourite in the days when players remained at clubs for significant chunks of their careers. Hicks played alongside the likes of Michael Gilkes, Trevor Senior, Steve Death, Steve Richardson amongst many other popular names that lasted at Reading.

Hicks captained the side for the majority of his 14 years at the club, and he was a regular feature in the side throughout the whole of the 80’s as the club achieved three promotions. Hicks also remains the only player to captain a Reading side to victory at Wembley, and he was also voted Player of the Year in 1989/90.

It was with much emotion that Hicks left Reading in 1991 having scored 26 goals in 603 appearances in all competitions, a record that in this day and age is unlikely to be broken. It was Terry Cooper who signed the big man for Birmingham where he would go on to make another 60 appearances, but despite being a regular for Birmingham they struggled at the wrong end of second tier table and the veteran was released at the end of the 92/93 season, perhaps a tad too soon as Birmingham found themselves relegated to the third tier in 1994.

Since retiring from football Hicks has returned to his home town of Stratford-upon-Avon where he can be seen doing his mail run for the Royal Mail on a daily basis.

Grudge Moment

Nobody likes losing a promotion race, particularly if the three-horse race sees all three of those horses doing their level best to not win the race at all. One of the most frustrating seasons in recent history saw Wolves, Birmingham and Reading slug it out for promotion. Wolves went on to win the division fairly comfortably in the end, while Birmingham and Reading fought for runners up honours on the final day of the season.

Given Reading’s home form in the second half of the season, odds were against the Royals and true to form Birmingham won the day and therefore promotion with a 2-1 win, helped in no small part by a Marcus Hahnemann error allowing a tame Keith Fahey shot to slip through his fingers. Kevin Phillips got the clinching second, a minute before Marek Matejovsky pulled one back to offer vain hope of a miracle. And to add insult to injury, you remember that three horse race? Reading finished fourth behind Sheffield United as well.

Fact, Interesting or Otherwise

The golden goal, for a while the preferred method of deciding games in extra time by FIFA, and many can recall such memorable goals as Oliver Bierhoff at Wembley in the Euro ’96 final against the Czech Republic, or of course Keith Scott’s effort in front of 1,109 at Underhill in the 2nd round of the LDV Vans Trophy in January 2000!! Scott’s effort, of course, will remain the only golden goal scored for Reading.

So where do Birmingham fit into this? Well, the golden goal is imprinted into history of Blues, as it is not often acknowledged that they hold the honour of scoring the first ever golden goal in professional football.

The luckless opponents were Carlisle United and the player to score was Paul Tait, who flicked home a Ricky Otto cross in extra time of the 1995 Auto Windscreens Shield Final before going down in further Birmingham City folklore for revealing a t-shirt in celebration with a message aimed at cross-city rivals Aston Villa.

The FA predictably took a dim view though, and fined him £500 on top of his two week wage club fine. As a Birmingham fan himself, I’m not sure he cares that much...!!