Like many, I watched the Leicester Cup tie in the week on Facebook and I’m bound to say I thought Blues gave an excellent account of themselves against our high flying Premiership opponents only to get done by a late goal from a difficult header which gave Lee Camp no chance. It was the sort of game that could easily have been snatched in our favour and I have no doubt that was the game plan but the fine margin fell the way of the hosts and in one way I was glad that the tie did drag on into extra time like the Reading v Sheffield United game only to lose in the end. Even if we had prevailed a quarter final albeit at home against Chelsea would undoubtedly have been the end of the road for us so it’s probably just as well. The other piece of news this week on a more positive note is the EFL ruling that the club is not receiving any further sanction for financial irregularities so no docked points
The journey up went reasonably well and even the M25 moved. We picked up little Jack at Baginton, grabbed a quick pint and shot straight off down the Coventry Road to St Andrews. There wasn’t time for a pre-match pint so we settled for some food in the Cookhouse (steak and ale pie with square chips) before taking our seats. The line up saw the return of Jude Bellingham, rested for the Cup game but otherwise it was very much as you were in a 4-4-2 formation. Reading on the other hand adopted a 4-2-3-1 system with George Puscas up front and ex-Blue Michael Morrison in defence.
Blues got off to the best start imaginable taking the lead after only five minutes when a lofted ball forward by Marc Roberts was fielded by Matt Miazga for the visitors. He attempted a headed back pass to keeper Raphael Cabral but Scott Hogan anticipated and deftly lifted the ball over the custodian and into the net to send St Andrews ecstatic. As has so often happened this season, Blues failed to capitalise and hammer home their advantage. We were all over Reading and really should have been two to the good when following an excellent flowing move resulting in Lukas Jutkiewicz with a free sight of goal in the inside right position. He scuffed his shot and it turned into a superb ball to the far post when inexplicably Scott Hogan of all people scooped the ball over the bar from barely a yard out. I thought at the time that this missed chance would come back to haunt us. 2-0 with just over 15 minutes on the clock and frankly I couldn’t see this game ending up any other way but a win for Blues. As it was the lead was slender but there were chances aplenty notably a shot by Sunjic into the side netting when he should have done better, a glancing header from Gary Gardner and a low shot just before the break from Jude Bellingham that was well saved by Cabral. Reading did have one or two moments; Puscas fired over the bar when well placed but in fairness was off balance but still got jeers of derision for his efforts and Yakou Meite brought a fine save out of Camp midway through the half when the Reading man looked set to score but despite these chances it was Birmingham’s half and although in the lead it could and should have been by a wider margin.
Blues started the second half on the front foot and missed another chance to go 2-0 up when from a free kick taken from the left Lukas Jutkiewicz’s attempted glance to the far post was over cooked by a mile and the ball sailed over the bar. This was another excellent chance gone begging and Blues were about to pay in spades. A fast flowing move by Reading found Andy Rinomhota on the right wing whose cross into the middle of the box was met on the volley by Matt Miazga who made amends for his earlier error as his shot rifled past Lee Camp giving the keeper no chance. It was a cracking goal and confidence was now flowing through the visitors who now came forward in waves. Reading won a free kick forty yards out just right of centre field which John Swift took. It was a curling ball and well delivered which was met by Yakou Meite and powered past Camp for 2-1. In the space of four minutes from the 51st minute, Blues had contrived to turn another potential win into a likely defeat. Reading’s first goal was superb but this one was a shambles; free header, eight yards out from a fairly central free kick? Poor defending once again from a routine set piece and Blues have had a habit of conceding this type of goal in clusters this season and this is why we are mediocre mid-table at best. People go on about us needing more strike power and that is true but defensively Blues have major flaws which need addressing in the summer before we can ever hope to challenge at the upper end of the Championship.
Blues did respond well and nearly equalised when a fierce low shot from Gary Gardner was turned behind by Rafael Cabral for a corner. Then came the major incident of the half when Hogan crossed a lovely ball from the left flank which Jude Bellingham was obviously going to connect with about ten yards out. The youngster was clearly dragged down from behind as he went to meet the ball. You will never see a clearer penalty appeal than this but Andy Davies, the referee waved away Blues protests enraging the home support in the process. It was a disgraceful decision and there can be no mitigation for it. The referee’s performance deteriorated as the game went on and Reading took full advantage as they were clearly getting away with all the dark arts and frankly I don’t blame them. I lost count of the number of times visiting players flick the ball away at free kicks, throw ins, goal kicks etc meaning the ball had to be retrieved for the game to continue wasting valuable seconds each time. Yiadom and Swift were the worst offenders but they were all at it. If a player deliberately hoofs the ball away they get booked and rightly so but players are cuter than that and a gentle flick away from the area of the restart is just as effective and far more subtle and officials really need to clamp down on it because I’ve noticed it is creeping more and more into the game and should be sanctioned by a card in my view especially for repeated transgression. Needless to say, Mr Davies did nothing.
Reading need not have been concerned with eking time out for the win because with Blues throwing caution to the wind in the final minutes Reading broke away following a desperate goalmouth scramble which Birmingham failed to score from. Blues only had a single defender back and a three on one break resulted in a composed finish by Judilson Gomez into the bottom corner past a helpless Lee Camp. Blues were a well beaten side but the defeat had been brought on by themselves. This was avoidable in every way. When one looks at the statistics from the at home in most areas they are identical although Blues had more attempts 18 v 9 with each team having four each on target. There wasn’t much between these sides on paper. For those Reading fans who will accuse me of bias I will say this; your team deserved their win because they took their chances whereas Birmingham did not (the game should have been done and dusted at half time). Reading defended far better than we did and they exploited a very poor referee which as I’ve said I would expect Birmingham to do if the circumstances were reversed. On that basis, Reading were the better side and deserving of the points. As for Blues, it’s back to the drawing board, learn from this chastening experience and simply do better next time; all unbeaten runs have to end some time but it needn’t have been today.
The Good: The steak and ale pie with square chips at the Cookhouse. The company of Will, Alex, little Jack, little Will and Joel.
The Bad: The defending generally but especially for Reading’s second goal; a free header from a free kick in not an advantageous position for an attacking side. This was the turning point in the match.
The Ugly: The tactics by Reading when they went ahead. Don’t get me wrong here; I don’t blame them for slowing the game down, repeatedly kicking the ball away, grappling opponents and getting away with it. I would expect nothing less from our lot if the boot was on the other foot but the officials total failure to allow it to continue was maddening.
Birmingham City: Lee Camp 6, Maxime Colin 6, Mark Roberts 6, Harlee Dean 6, Krystian Pedersen 6, Gary Gardner 7, Ivan Sunjic 6 (Mikael Kieftenbeld 84, N/A) Jude Bellingham 7 (Kerim Mrabti 72, 6) Lukas Jutkiewicz 7, Scott Hogan 7.
Subs not used: Connal Trueman, Wes Harding, Caolan Boyd-Munce, Jake Clake-Salter.
Goals: Hogan 5.
Bookings: Bellingham 55, Colin 72.
Reading: Rafael Barbosa Cabral 7, Andy Yiadom 7, Michael Morrison 7, Matt Miazga 7, Andy Rinomhota 6, Omar Richards 6, John Swift 7 (Liam Moore 81, N/A) Yakou Meite 7, Ovlemuno Ejaria 7 (Judison Gomez 72, 6) Michael Olise 6 (Garath McCleary 73, 6) George Puscas 6.
Subs not used: Sam Walker, Charlie Adam, Tyler Blackett, Ayub Masika.
Goals: Miazga 51, Meite 56, Gomez 87.
Bookings: Swift 69.
Referee: Andy Davies: 4; one bloke near me called out in the first half; “You’re an absolute disgrace referee!” This was after Jutkiewicz was manhandled for the umpteenth time with no sanction. At first, I gave the man in the middle the benefit of the doubt since I felt some of the decisions causing the Partizan exasperation were probably correct but as the game wore on the performance by Mr Davies got worse and worse and by the second half I had lost any faith in him ever gripping the blatant time wasting and cynical fouling. As alluded to earlier I don’t blame teams from employing the dark arts if they can get away with it. The referee also failed to give a clear penalty at 1-2 when Bellingham was clearly held back from attacking the ball from a cross when he would have been odds on to score. There were too many decisions that seem to go their way but similar offences for us went unpunished and I’m desperately trying not to be blue tinted here. In the end I found myself agreeing with the bloke near me.
Attendance: 19,525 (1,277 away)