The second game after the World Cup break, the first one away. The Royals visited St Andrew’s for a Friday night televised match against Birmingham City. After beating Coventry City at the SCL six days before with a tight 1-0 win, Paul Ince made four changes.
As expected Tom McIntyre took the spot of the injured Tom Holmes. Further than that Naby Sarr got his first start since August, Mamadou Loum and Shane Long came in, and Junior Hoilett, Tyrese Fornah and Andy Carroll all took a spot on the bench. It meant retaining the 3-5-2 system with a back three composed of Amadou Mbengue, Naby Sarr and Tom McIntyre, captain Andy Yiadom and Baba Rahman on the wings and Mamadou Loum in his usual deeper midfield role. Jeff Hendrick supported Tom Ince in an advanced position while Yakou Meite partnered Shane Long up front.
It was a really cold evening in the West Midlands with some parts of the pitch even in icy conditions. Surely it would be important to be on fire right from the beginning…
It took only 63 seconds until Juninho Bacuna, the younger brother of former Royal Leandro, sent in a soft cross which Mamadou Loum flicked on clumsily into the path of Birmingham’s Troy Deeney who made no mistake from short range. 1-0 to the Blues and the worst possible start for Reading.
After eight minutes the Royals had their first half opportunity: a fine effort from Andy Yiadom was parried away by keeper John Ruddy. In the following period Paul Ince’s men tried to control the game without really getting dangerously into the home side’s box. After an uncontrolled header Yakou Meite maybe could have done better, but he fired the ball straight at Ruddy (13th minute).
And just when it seemed the visitors had found their way into the match a mistimed challenge from Naby Sarr hit a Birmingham player and referee Tim Robinson pointed to the penalty spot. The correct decision. Troy Deeney took the opportunity and doubled the lead with a confident strike. No chance for Joe Lumley. 2-0 after 23 minutes.
Only 13 minutes later and it went even worse! Another harmless ball was enough for the Royals’ defence. Amadou Mbengue, one of the better performers in recent weeks and scorer of last Saturday’s winner, totally misjudged the ball and gave Tahith Chong a free run on goal. 3-0! Even though the Blues might not have known how they managed to score three goals in less than 45 minutes, it was a fair outcome. Reading offered little up front and made far too many easy mistakes at the back. Thank God it was half time shortly afterwards.
Paul Ince opted to make no substitutions after the break. It could only get better anyway… (surely). 48 minutes were played and it was nearly 4-0. Tahith Chong was sent alone into the box and Joe Lumley managed to parry his shot. The rebound fell to Troy Deeney who just missed his third thanks to Tom McIntyre’s block on the line.
Reading tried, had some corners and two or three shots from long range, but it was not enough. It seemed to be the kind of game where there is no way to come back into it after failing to have the right attitude from the beginning. Before the hour mark Paul Ince brought on some fresh legs. Junior Hoilett and Lucas Joao came on for Amadou Mbengue and Shane Long. Seconds later the Blues had another good opportunity. Hannibal Mejbri broke down the left wing and found Tahith Chong in the middle. The number 18’s shot just went wide.
The rest of the game passed on without many warming highlights. Troy Deeney missed another chance to score his hat trick. Baba Rahman and Yakou Meite made way for Nesta Guinness-Walker and Andy Carroll.
And then out of nothing Reading got one back! Naby Sarr played a good long ball to Tom Ince on the right. His cross found big Andy Carroll in the middle who had his shot blocked high, but Lucas Joao was quickest to react and he nicked the ball in from short distance (83rd minute).
And while the Blues didn’t know how they had scored three in the first half, the Royals totally surprisingly scored their second deep into injury time. Tom Ince turned from the right wing into the middle and had his left-foot shot deflected in by a Blues defender.
Unfortunately it was too late. Seconds after, referee Robinson blew the final whistle. Birmingham 3, Reading 2. Even though the last quarter of an hour was better the visitors deservedly return home with empty hands.
The way the Royals played for most of the game adapted to the weather. It was a cold, dreary and mainly depressing performance from Paul Ince’s team. Any hopes for a fresh, positive start after the November break can be put aside. While we played badly already against Coventry and were lucky to win it, tonight’s appearance was even worse, and we rightfully left the pitch defeated.
At least a special mention has to go to the 650 Reading supporters who travelled up north. The penultimate away trip of 2022 must have been among the most unpleasant ones of the year. Let’s hope everyone returned home well and healthy. Come on Urzzzzzz!