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Three To Watch: Birmingham City (H)

Can Reading celebrate the New Year with a win? Here are the three key Blues players to keep an eye on.

Birmingham City v Swansea City - Pre Season Friendly Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Jonathan Grounds

Jonathan Grounds is one of the current longest serving players at the club, having amassed 161 appearances since joining on a free transfer from Oldham in July 2014. The left back doesn’t tend to get forward too much, which is shown by his low number of dribbles per game (0.3). In contrast, Tyler Blackett makes 1.1.

With regards to his defensive game, Grounds loves to get a tackle in. In fact, he has averaged 2.2 tackles per match - only Maikel Kieftenbeld (2.4) and Craig Gardner (2.6) have averaged more.

With Birmingham needing the points in their bid to stay in the Championship, Grounds will be fired up more than ever when the two sides meet. As a result, Garath McCleary who returned at the weekend could find it difficult to win the battle between himself and the former Norwich man.

Port Vale v Birmingham City - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Craig Gardner

Craig Gardner, a fan favourite at St Andrew’s, returned to the club in the summer from West Brom. In a previous spell, he was part of the team that lifted the League Cup in 2011 - the Blues beating Arsenal 2-1 at Wembley.

Playing in centre-midfield, Gardner is known for his defensive side of the game. As previously mentioned the former West Brom man has averaged 2.6 tackles per game - the best of anyone in the Birmingham side. By comparison, Joey van den Berg has averaged 2.5 tackles per match.

Secondly, Gardner is likely be to tasked at providing creativity for Steve Cotterill’s side. The 31 year-old has averaged 2.1 key passes per game, which again is the most of anyone in the Birmingham squad.

Furthermore, the former Sunderland man has averaged 5.5 long balls per game - once again this is the most of anyone in the Blues side. This suggests that, should Birmingham play a direct style of football and hoof as many balls as possible up to Sam Gallagher, Gardner will be key.

This means that the Reading defence will need to be on guard to deal with any troublesome deliveries that come their way.

Sam Gallagher

The final player that Reading fans will need to keep an eye on is Sam Gallagher who completed a loan move to Birmingham from Southampton in the summer. Last season Gallagher spent time on loan at Blackburn where he scored 11 goals in 43 appearances. However, this wasn't enough as the Rovers were relegated to League One.

This season, he has been in more disappointing form with just three goals in 11 appearances, but this is still enough to leave him as Birmingham’s joint top-goal-scorer with Jacques Maghoma.

Despite this, the former Blackburn man could still cause problems when the two sides meet at the Madejski Stadium. The 22 year-old has averaged 1.8 shots per game - the most of anyone in the Birmingham team. This suggests that, if given time and space, the former MK Dons man will be likely to pull the trigger on Vito Mannone’s goal.

With Reading’s defence leaky and in poor form of late, the striker will fancy his chances in what will be a tense night at RG2.

All stats taken from WhoScored.