This was the proverbial game of two halves and perfectly encapsulated Reading’s season this time around. Reading lined up with a similar team to last time out in the FA Cup game against Sheffield United, with the only starting change being Omar Richards for Jordan Obita. George Puscas continued up front ahead of a midfield that in theory had so much creativity with Ovie Ejaria, John Swift and Michael Olise all in the starting 11.
The tone was set for the first half after three minutes when the surprisingly lax Ejaria was caught napping and robbed of the ball, although his blushes were saved by Rafael.
It has to be said that, since he came into the team, Miazga has been a bit of a rock and actually has over-shadowed his more experienced team mates. However, a routine pump up field was met with a slightly weak header back, which the lively Scott Hogan chipped over the advancing Rafael.
Birmingham started to look a little livelier than Reading who seemed off the pace a little, and to be fair it was quite an open game. Up to this point, Swift and Ejaria looked like they hadn’t played in the same team before, as pass after pass was either misplaced, intercepted or tackled prior to passing.
A brief respite from us giving Birmingham a helping hand was on 11 minutes when a free kick from Swift actually made it into the box, Puscas ran onto it and tried an ambitious shot, when a pull-back to two colleagues in space might have been the better option.
In reality Birmingham could have been two or three up at half time, as after 17 minutes a poor ball from Swift again allowed Birmingham to break and spoon a shot over the bar. Ejaria then joined in with his midfield partner by presenting another good opportunity to Birmingham which they didn’t take.
I have to be fair and say that although the first half wasn’t great, we did try and create opportunities, with the impressive Olise always looking for a forward pass, Richards had a good shot saved and Olise blasted over the bar when he was well placed. On 33, Puscas had the ball in the box and maybe a little theatrically went over, trying to convince the ref there was a little bit more to it than there actually was! The final act of the half was an ambitious overhead kick from Meite who had largely been anonymous in the first half.
Largely the entertainment in the first half had been around the Reading ultras (!) who seemed on a mission to wind up the home stewards which involved four or five of them being politely asked to get out.
In Bowen’s interview after the game, he mentioned that they spoke about the first half and how to improve in the second. I’m going with ‘he exploded all over the place’ as this was a mightily different side which came out in the second.
The Royals started to pile on the pressure which eventually led in the 51st minute to a bullet volley from Miazga to make up for his error in the first half! 1-1 and the American proceeded to celebrate by running the length of the pitch!
The Royals piled on the pressure and got the second goal which had been coming when Olise broke from the Reading midfield and was crudely hacked by the Birmingham defence. It seemed that we had lost the opportunity when Richards ran down the wing without a Birmingham player near him, but Swift chose to play a different option and waited to take the free kick. When he did, it resulted in a perfect pass straight onto Meite’s head which he didn’t pass up. 1-2.
The turnaround seemed to stun the hosts’ fans and players, and there was a reaction as you would expect but some decent last-ditch defending kept the hosts at bay. Obviously given the summer transfer, the Reading fans as you would expect baited the home fans by chants about Michael Morrison’s move to the Mad Stad. To be fair, he repaid the Reading fans with a better display than of late.
There were some decent performances from the Royals, with Rinomhota being quietly efficient and seemingly the only player willing to drive at the Birmingham defence with the ball, when on the 71st minute he got the ball in the Reading half of the pitch and surged forward with it. Seemingly stuck in the corner he tricked his way out and still managed to get a shot off. OK it was a routine save, but he showed what he could do.
Bowen after 70 minutes seemed to have had enough of the game and started to sacrifice our three flair players in Olise, Swift and Ejaria to give a more defensive look, with Moore, Pele and McCleary being introduced at different points.
There was a case for the busy Miazga to have given away a penalty. On 71 minutes, a Birmingham break saw a flashed cross across the edge of the Royals’ six-yard box and a City attacker hit the deck after contact with Miazga. For me it was a pen and definitely a tick in the ‘phew’ box.
The Royals wrapped it up in style in the 87th minute. The busy and effective Puscas got the ball in the Reading half, span away from a couple of Birmingham players and played a delightful ball to McCleary, who set Pele away before he picked out a shot which nested in the corner of the Birmingham goal.
In reality, Birmingham should have been out of sight at half time, but weren’t and they allowed the Royals to get back into the game. This was very much a lesson in taking your chances, and actually after the first 45 I felt - as did a number of fans around me - that our season would end with a whimper.
However, the second half proved that there is still some fight left in this side, and the reaction of the players and fans at full time spoke volumes. We are now close to the top half of the league and really the requirement for the rest of the season is to stay there!
Rafael, Yiadom, Morrison, Miazga, Richards, Swift (Moore 81), Meite, Rinomhota, Ejaria (Pele 72), Olise (Mcleary 73), Puscas