Reading left St Andrews with all three points on Saturday afternoon, in a game of two halves which saw Reading run out 3-1 winners.
They made one change from the cup tie against Sheffield United, with Omar Richards replacing Jordan Obita, and the team lined up like this: Rafael; Richards, Miazga, Morrison, Yiadom; Swift, Rinomhota, Ejaria; Olise, Meite; Puscas.
The first half was, thankfully, the period of time in the proverbial game of two halves where Reading were the second best side on the pitch. The Berkshire side lined up in a 4-3-3 formation (that sometimes resembled a 4-4-2 when not on the ball), and they lacked any clear threat that would trouble the home side.
Balls over the top seemed to be the main method that the Royals used, with both George Puscas and Yakou Meite getting into good positions to fire off shots, but not quite being able to get an equaliser after Birmingham’s early goal. John Swift was in the holding role once more and his first half performance summed up the Royals’ as a whole - with passes not quite coming off and the away side being second to almost every ball.
Although Swift is not the most robust midfielder player, the very wide positions adopted by Ovie Ejaria and Andy Rinomhota isolated him in the middle of the park at times. This meant that when Birmingham regained play and set off on a counter, only he (and at times nobody) would remain in midfield.
Birmingham should have put the game to bed in the first half and it came as a surprise to most that Scott Hogan’s strike was the only time the home side managed to score in the game.
In the second period, it was unclear as to whether Rinomhota and Ejaria would adopt these wide positions again. Within six minutes, Reading had hit level through Miazga, as the American defender atoned for his earlier error with a fantastically hit volley from Rinomhota’s cross.
Only five minutes later, another set play gave Reading the lead, with Meite heading home from a Swift free kick. Following the second goal, Reading recognised how much a threat the home side were in the first half and proceeded to sit back on their lead, in a scenario not too dissimilar from the Barnsley game.
Birmingham did get the ball into dangerous areas from crosses but rarely did trouble Rafael, unlike Barnsley who applied a lot of pressure in the last home league game at the Madejski Stadium. With City pushing their tall full backs forward for long throws and corners, massive gaps appeared at the back for the Royals to exploit.
Despite another hugely impressive display from Michael Olise, he could not quite play that final ball early enough.
After the introduction of Garath McCleary and Pele, the away side were in a more ‘natural’ 4-3-3 and surprisingly, out of the central midfield men, it was Pele and Rinomhota who pushed forward in support of the attacking players. This meant that Swift continued to sit deep in front of the back four.
Pele himself managed to get on the scoresheet with a fantastic finish from the edge of the box, following great hold up play from Puscas. However, what was perhaps slightly disappointing was the fact that McCleary did not take it himself after receiving the ball from the Romanian.
With Birmingham’s defence nowhere to be seen for large periods after Pele put the game to bed, both the AS Monaco loanee and Meite could and should have extended the Royals’ lead further. However, City didn’t threaten the away side’s goal again and it was a comfortable win that Reading saw out professionally.
A quick word on George Puscas: his fantastic hold up play and runs off the ball have demonstrated how the striker is improving every game. The Romanian continues to look more and more of a threat, even when playing by himself or indeed with Meite, when the Frenchman moves over into the middle.
Both Puscas and Reading produced a performance without showing any signs of pressure, and the club will be hoping to take this momentum in to the next season, with the 2020/21 season not as far away as you think.