Yakou Meite and John Swift scored in either half to give Reading passage to the next round of the Carabao Cup on Tuesday night, the Royals winning 2-0 over Birmingham City.
Any sense of expectations going into a first round League Cup tie against a divisional rival will always be set around the team selection, and with five changes to their opponent’s eleven, victory was to be demanded of Reading from the outset.
For the first half, the game was played out exactly how those rotations would suggest. The hosts’ 4-4-2 creating enough pressure to keep Birmingham penned in with little by the way of a reply. Much of this was also down to Liam Moore’s return to the team, the only change in a back-four that basically only served to strengthen it.
With a calm base to build from, Reading were held back by their final ball over anything else in the first 45 and Meite’s 11th minute strike came via the only real moment everything fell into place. Some neat one-touch passing between Sam Baldock and full debutant Marc McNulty sent the Frenchman through, and he drilled home at Lee Camp’s near-post.
The Blues’ intent to sit back and edge through to penalties didn’t alter until after the break and, bar a poorly cleared set-piece, Sam Walker enjoyed a quiet start to life at the Madejski Stadium.
Gary Monk sent his side out with much more edge in the second period, pushing Reading back with a Viv Solomon-Otabor header clearing the bar when it really should have levelled the match.
From then on, the Royals got their act together and nearly made the most of the burgeoning creative partnership of McNulty and Baldock, when the former’s sharp cross somehow evaded his teammate with the goal at his mercy. With the former Coventry man’s ability to drop off and find space, albeit with a slight lack of end product at this moment in time, combined with Baldock’s pace and finishing ability, there is something to build up for Paul Clement going forward.
Alas it was John Swift who secured the win, stepping up for a close-range free-kick to end an otherwise sloppy performance by curling the ball delicately over goalkeeper Camp.
Birmingham enjoyed a couple of chances that Walker was more than a match for in the open final moments of the tie, John O’Shea being introduced to shore up the defence amid initially ironic cheers that turned into full blooded cries of affection after the Irishman made a number of intelligent interceptions. However it was Meite who he came on for, due to an injury for the goalscorer that added to Mo Barrow’s earlier substitution to add two more fitness doubts into Clement’s mind for the weekend clash with Bolton.
Ultimately, though, it will be Reading’s name in the hat for the second round draw and a first win since April in any kind of first-team match was a warmly welcomed sight by the Madejski crowd.