This is the closest venue I get to visit all season. It is usually a twenty minutes journey from Blackwater to Reading, a nice pint in the Three Guineas right outside the train station and then onto a bus for the short journey to the Madjeski. There was a points failure at Wokingham which lost twenty-five minutes and by the time I got to Reading I had to forego the pre-match drink and go straight for the bus. A charge of £3.50 for the bus is a lot more than I remember previously especially for a single (Will was giving me a lift back) but I met up with Chris and Will outside the ground; who had both come by car from their respective homes as there were no trains running late enough to get them home the same night! For my part it was a good job I had a lift later since there was no train for me either, just a very slow bus service. I delivered each of my friends their tickets at £30 a pop (expensive for mid table Championship in my view; may part-way explain why their ground was half empty!)
We got into the ground and there was no more hot food left. I was offered a vegetarian pasty; the last one I was assured. What!!!! This is a football game; I want a hot pie with something a carnivore might like! I passed on the veggie whatever it was and necked a pint instead. The game didn’t exactly add to the experience. It was a pretty poor contest in truth which was generally even in the first half, but dominated by Reading in the second. They will undoubtedly feel aggrieved to have lost this game and for a nanosecond or so I had some sympathy but this sort of performance where the away team mugs the hosts has happened to us on more occasions than I care to remember and so any feelings of guilty remorse did not last long.
Gary Rowett tried to change things by way of experiment playing a 3-5-2 formation with Caddis and Grounds pushing forward as wing backs and Jonathan Spector coming in as the third centre back. Fabbrinni, Gleeson and Tesche formed the unit centrally in midfield and there was a start for Wes Thomas alongside Clayton Donaldson. It didn’t really work to my mind. Grounds, in attempting to be something he is not was exposed defensively and all the good things that Reading did produce all seemed to come down his flank. He was never tight enough to his wide man and it has to be thanked that Reading simply weren’t good enough to exploit this obvious weakness. Moreover, if you are going to play the extra man in midfield you need to use the facility not bang it long like we seemed to do all night. We did get plenty of bodies in the way and were fortunate to escape going behind midway through the half when Jamie Mackie found the ball at his feet from a corner. His fierce shot was brilliantly saved by Randolph and his defenders helped him out twice more before the ball was cleared to safety to loud cheers from our contingent. Blues had their moments and went close through Wes Thomas early on who could only weakly volley at Federici when the ball was played long up to him early on and Fabbrinni had two efforts stopped with last ditch tackles before the Italian was substituted through injury on the half hour. Chalobah also brought a good save out of Randolph who parried the ball out wide from a shot from 25 yards but it would have been disappointing had he let it in. That was it to be fair in the first half and there was still no hot food to be had at the break.
The second half was mainly played in our half with Reading on the front foot throughout but they resorted to long range efforts, the best coming from Chalobah again and Jack Stacey who tried a curling effort but Randolph was equal to it. After the flurry of pressure for the first twenty minutes or so the game settled down and became attritional. It looked to have 0-0 written all over it but then came the coup de grace; Reading switched off from a corner and a short ball played to Gleeson was delivered onto the head of Clayton Donaldson whose glancing header across Federici found the far corner of the net to rejoicing from the away support. Only seven minutes to go, there was no coming back for Reading. Blues managed the clock well messing about in the corners of the pitch at their end and could have doubled the margin when Donaldson was put clean through with seconds left. Federici saved with his foot and that was it for the night. We mugged them but who cares? Gary Rowett was right; it was the perfect away performance; a smash and grab job.
The Good: The result I suppose. It wasn’t a great game but it’s a little easier to tolerate if you win.
The Bad: The catering or lack of it; shocking!
The Ugly: The view from the train window as I waited for the train to move outside Sandhurst.
Reading: Adam Federici 7; Chris Gunter 6, Jake Cooper 7, Michael Hector 7, Jordan Obita 6; Jem Karacan 5, Nathaniel Chalobah 6; Garath McCleary 6 (Jack Stacey 62), Jamie Mackie 6 (Kwesi Appiah 62, 6), Nathan Ake 7; Nick Blackman 6 (Andrija Novakovich 81, N/A).
Subs not used: Stephen Kelly, Oliver Norwood, Hope Akpan, Mikkel Andersen
Birmingham City: Darren Randolph 7; Jonathan Spector 6, Michael Morrison 7, Rob Kiernan 7; Paul Caddis 6 (Dyer 62, 6), Robert Tesche 7, Stephen Gleeson 6, Jonathan Grounds 5; Diego Fabbrini 7 (Shinnie 34, 6); Clayton Donaldson 7, Wes Thomas 5 (Demarai Gray 77, 6).
Subs not used: Colin Doyle, David Cotterill, Lee Novak, David Davis
Goals: Donaldson 83 minutes
Referee: Lee Mason; 7: Mr Mason didn’t really have much in the way of contentious decisions to make since so little happened in the game. What he did do, he did competently enough.
Bazza KRO SOTV