I honestly don’t know what to say - or how I'm going to get through this match report without either breaking an object in my house or typing an expletive, or both.
It’s weird because I was expecting exactly what we got tonight. I say it’s weird because it was fifth in the league, and one of the best away from home, travelling to the fourth-worst team in the league and the worst at home. However, as soon as Aitor Karanka was sacked and talk of Lee Bowyer coming in starting circulating social media, I had this horrible, gut-wrenching feeling we were going to lose.
New manager bounce is a real thing, particularly in this division, and particularly when it’s a manager like Bowyer going to a team like Birmingham City. Bowyer knows that club inside out, and even though the fans weren't there, I'm sure the players could feel an instant change from their time under Karanka.
My gut-wrenching feeling gave the players a chance to step up, a chance to prove me wrong. But they didn’t. It was just awful, from start to finish.
It started in the worst possible way, with Lukas Jutkiewicz doing what Jutkiewicz does up against Liam Moore (who, by the way, had arguably his worst game in a Reading shirt tonight, but I'm sure that’ll be talked more of in the ratings) as the big striker headed home from six yards. Serious questions will be asked of Rafael, too - and rightly so, as I'm sure if he had his time again, he’d have come and claimed that cross. Well, he bloody should do.
It was an uphill task from there, and an uphill task we failed miserably. However, before it got worse it did get better. Yakou Meite climbed highest from a wicked Michael Olise delivery to head home to give his a lifeline. And surely, SURELY, this was a goal that would give his a platform to kick on in the second half, put a woeful first half behind us and go on and get all three points, right? Wrong.
Yep, we started the second half better. But it couldn’t be any worse so I’m not giving any credit for that. We pushed, and probed, but couldn't find a way past a rigid, organised defensive structure - sound familiar?
Olise wasn't in the game (when he was he was picking it up off the centre backs on the half way line), Joao was well off it from the first minute to the last, the diamond system was not working and for the love of God can somebody please, PLEASE, tell me what Alfa Semedo offers in midfield that nobody else does?
We continued to push the hosts back and Blues started to sit deep, but as they got deeper and even more defensively minded, we just looked even more clueless. We’re a wonderfully good, free-flowing attacking team when we’re at our best - but when we’re at our worst, and trust me, this was very close to that, it’s a painful, painful watch.
We’ve had a lot of games like tonight this season - exhibit A being the away game at Wycombe a few weeks back - and it’s just not good enough. I completely understand that we have off days, we’ve had plenty of them already. I can understand a lack of quality, it happens every now and again. But what I can’t understand and what I completely will not accept as a fan, is the fact that is was obvious to anybody who watched tonight that Birmingham wanted it more.
That’s not me saying we didn’t want it, and the players didn’t try - but the hosts just wanted it more. And when you look across and see your opposite number wanting it, fighting for it, getting their hands dirty, you have to match it. You just have to, or else you lose that football match. And that is exactly what happened tonight.
And I hope to God that Pauno is giving them the full hair-dryer treatment right now. Because Pauno’s no mug, he’ll know - if he’s worth his salt - that that’s exactly what us fans are thinking now. We watched 90 minutes there when we weren’t at the races at all, which is one thing, and where the other team wanted it more. And that’s a horrible feeling as a fan, and a feeling I haven’t felt since the end of last season.
The Wycombe game was atrocious, but I think we’ve all filed that game under the ‘Pauno Disasterclass’ folder. This game is going to be filed under a new folder, one that hasn’t been used in a long, long time. The ‘Outfought’ folder, which is a gutting, gutting thing to say.
We recovered from the last hammer blow. And we didn’t just recover but we improved. This next recovery will arguably be even tougher, and one that needs to be done even quicker - because time is ticking quickly.
We cannot keep relying on results going our way, this is the first round of games I can remember that have all gone against us. We’ve got to do better, we’ve got take control of our own destiny.
It’s not a question of whether the players want it, of course they want to finish in the top six. It’s a question of how much do they want it, and tonight looked like a team wanted to beat relegation more than a team wanting to finish int he top 6. And I just can’t accept that.
Many more performances like tonight and we’re not going to finish in the top six, it’s as simple as. We need a reaction on Saturday. Scrap that, we bloody deserve one.