The Royals totally overslept the first half as the visitors got in front with two easy goals from Jon Toral. After the break, Reading played better but never reached the high level that made them beat at home the likes of Watford or Bristol City. Overall a deserved defeat that gave the impression that some players might need a break to refill their energy.
Reading started the match unchanged, in the same 4-2-3-1 line-up that defeated Nottingham Forest on Saturday. Birmingham City, who won 1-0 at Ashton Gate, sent the Royals under pressure right from the beginning and had most of the possession. On two occasions the Blues gave an early taste of their quick offensive play but were fortunately caught offside.
It took Pauno’s men some time to find their way into the game. The first attempt came after 16 minutes when Michael Morrison sent a soft shot with his left foot wide. Shortly afterwards, Omar Richards tried his best with a lob over keeper Neil Etheridge that went too high. Just when it seemed the Royals were in better control, Birmingham scored. Yakou Meite allowed Pedersen to cross from the left; his ball found Toral who finished coolly with a shot into the bottom corner. No chance for Rafael.
On the half-hour mark, Aitor Karanka’s men came close again with a double chance. First, Rafael saved a header from Hogan, then Moore cleared a long-range shot on the line. But it didn’t take much for the next effort… and it was 2-0. Ovie Ejaria and Andy Rinomhota didn’t attack Toral aggressively enough, so the Blues’ number 23 could take enough time to send a precise left-footed shot into the right corner of Rafael’s goal. Big disappointment at the Madejski.
The Royals themselves failed to create real danger during the whole 45 minutes and seemed to lack power and energy. The result: a deserved lead for the Blues at half-time and much to improve for the home side.
Luckily Reading showed a different face from the beginning of the second half and stepped up the tempo. Much needed it was. Still, they had difficulties to get into Birmingham’s box as the visitors defended deep. Just before the hour mark, Veljko Paunovic brought on Alfa Semedo for the unlucky Olise. Minutes later, Tomas Esteves was substituted on for Tom Holmes at right back.
Reading kept trying and were rewarded soon. Lucas Joao played a great ball out to Rinomhota on the right, and his perfectly timed cross found Meite in the middle, who tucked the ball home. 1-2! The Royals supporters pushed Pauno’s men immediately further on and showed how much noise 2,000 people can make.
Only two minutes later, Birmingham could have killed all the upcoming euphoria. Hogan was sent through alone on goal, but it was Brazilian keeper Rafael who prevented him from scoring with a brilliant save as he punched the ball on the striker’s leg.
The match came to life now as the Royals kept pressuring. On the 70th minute, Meite broke down the middle with a powerful run into the box. Blues’ defender Dean tackled him hard without touching the ball – penalty and a red card for the number 12. Reading’s leading goal scorer Lucas Joao stepped up… and missed! Saved by ‘keeper Etheridge.
10 minutes later, Sone Aluko came on for the quiet Ejaria as the Royals went all in. Pauno’s men tried their best, but like the whole evening had difficulties creating clear chances. With time ticking away it went even worse. After a long ball, Meite clashed with keeper Etheridge and went off injured. As no further substitutions were allowed, Reading were also down to 10 men.
A last big opportunity came in the final minute. Esteves played a free-kick short to Joao who chipped the ball wide from inside the box – and seemed to have injured himself as well. More worries for Pauno.
Seconds later the referee blew the final whistle, Reading losing 2-1 at home to a strong Birmingham team. But still, you got the feeling that a different attitude in the first half might have been enough to beat this opponent. A difficult period for manager Veljko Paunovic. Changes might be needed to refresh his side. Next stop: Loftus Road. Against QPR the Royals must show a strong(er) performance over the full 90 minutes if they want to return home with three points.