Reading team: Collins, Sackey, Holzman, Stickland ©, Ashcroft, Purcell, Bristow, Osorio, Talent-Aryeetey (Vickers 90’), Camara, Ehibhatiomhan
A late goal from Birmingham City under-23s cancelled out Mamadi Camara’s third goal in as many games, extending Reading under-23s’ winless run to five games.
The Royals made three changes from their previous fixture, with Harvey Collins, Ethan Bristow and Michael Stickland all starting in place of Coniah Boyce-Clarke, Kelvin Abrefa and Jahmari Clarke.
After a tight opening 10 minutes, Reading settled in to their rhythm, comfortably holding on to the ball for long spells. Throughout the first half the back line looked composed in possession, moving the ball across the pitch to try and force an opening.
After 20 minutes the Royals had a succession of chances – a Claudio Osorio cross couldn’t quite reach the boot of Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan, before Osorio and Tyrell Ashcroft had shots blocked by the Birmingham defence. The ball eventually landed at Ethan Bristow’s feet; the wide man swung a ball in to Malachi Talent-Aryeetey, but his header didn’t trouble the visiting keeper.
In the 28th minute we got the opener. Reading drove into the box and Ehibhatiomhan fired towards goal; his shot rather fortunately ricocheted off a defender and back into the path of Camara, leaving him open to slot home. Not the most aesthetically pleasing goal he’ll score, but there will certainly be no complaints from Camara as he joins Ehibhatiomhan on three goals for the season.
The Royals continued to apply pressure, with Bristow once again providing a consistently dangerous outlet on the left. After setting up an Osorio chance in the 37th minute, Bristow then whipped a delicious ball in towards the head of Ehibhatiomhan, whose effort went just wide of the target.
As the referee blew the whistle for half time, there was probably a small sigh of relief from the Birmingham entourage – for all of Reading’s dominance in possession, the visitors had stood firm, and found themselves down by just one goal going in to the break.
Half time – Reading U23 1-0 Birmingham U23
As the second half kicked off, Birmingham immediately looked brighter. They hardly touched the ball in the first half, and knew they had to press Reading more adventurously. This did however present Reading with an early opportunity – Bristow found space behind the back line as it stepped up, and his whipped in cross for Ehibhatiomhan should have ended up in the back of the net. The striker again headed narrowly wide of the target from a position in which he should probably have scored.
Minutes after, Birmingham had a quick flurry of chances – Harvey Collins was brought in to action in the 52nd minute, tipping a shot round his right post, before Oriel Soldevilla got on the end of Gary Gardner’s cross, blazing over from close range for the visitors. A let-off for the Royals who should’ve been pegged back to 1-1.
In the 66th minute, Birmingham came close to scoring again, with Collins once again denying them. The Reading goalkeeper clawed a Gardner header away from the goal, with Stickland cleaning up and getting the ball clear.
Four minutes later Stickland showed his leadership, keeping Osorio calm after he was pulled back by Marcel Oakley, with Oakley receiving a yellow card for his actions.
Soon after, Camara came close to scoring his second – More good work from Bristow down the left allowed him to find Camara in the box, whose powerful shot flew over the bar. The visitors continued to push for an equaliser, and in the 81st minute Collins was needed again, as he parried a vicious shot from Kyle Hurst away from his near post.
As had happened all half Birmingham continued to press the back line, and this pressure took its toll. A mix-up in the 85th minute gave Gardner the opportunity to get in behind unmarked, and he calmly slotted in against the onrushing Collins to level the score.
Full time – Reading U23 1-1 Birmingham U23
A frustrating end to a game in which the Royals had lots of possession, particularly in the first half, but failed to create many clear-cut chances. Still a point to savour, but Mehmet Ali will be wishing the boys had taken all three.
The result leaves Reading ninth in the table, on nine points. The boys are in action again next Monday, when they welcome Norwich City to the Select Car Leasing Stadium in the Premier League Cup. They’ll be looking to go one better than they did in their 3-3 draw with the Canaries on the 20th September, in a game that kicks off a bit earlier at 1pm. Norwich’s visit will be played behind closed doors, so no spectators will be permitted.
For pretty much the entirety of the first half, Reading looked the better side (and the side more likely to score), but on too many occasions the boys just couldn’t seem to get the final ball quite right. Birmingham seemed content to sit back for the first 45, and Reading seemed to struggle to break their midfield down at times. I wouldn’t be surprised if Stickland and Holzman had more touches than the entire Birmingham team in the first half, but the Royals couldn’t capitalise on this time they had on the ball.
When Reading did create opportunities, there was usually one man at the heart of it – and that was Ethan Bristow. Bristow has had some good exposure to the senior team this season, and he does look like he’s progressing slightly faster than some of his peers. He should’ve had at least one assist on Monday, and his crosses provided a constant threat down the left throughout.
Mamadi Camara also deserves a shout-out for scoring his third goal in three games; a bright and forward-thinking attacker, I’m looking forward to seeing him develop and push on this season.
Some final praise from me has to go to Harvey Collins. Stickland and Holzman had a good first half, but they needed some help from their goalkeeper when Birmingham upped the ante in the second half. Luckily Collins is a reliable figure between the sticks, making a number of key saves after long periods of inactivity. He couldn’t have done too much about the goal, as the odds are always in the attacker’s favour in a one-on-one situation.
Hopefully the boys can get some wins on the board again soon – their next league game is away to Fulham on the 15th October. And we all know what can happen away at Fulham… come on Urzzzz!