Taking the biscuit

Adrian Robson at Wembley in 1991

Reading 0 – Birmingham City 1

Wednesday 9 December 2020

Blues continued their miraculous revival as they took three points home from Berkshire. They were indebted to a fine Neil Etheridge penalty save as the ref tried his best to rob us of the victory that a very slick first half warranted.

Sticking to the if it ain’t broken don’t mend it rule, the only changes Karanka made to Saturday’s winning side were forced on him by injury. Pedersen replaced Friend and Leko came into the side after Bela was injured in the warm-up.

There’s a pattern emerging. The Lazarus-like raising from the dead of Blues careers. First it was Dean and Roberts, then Dutch Mike. Now it was the turn of Jon Toral, accompanied by the twitching of the corpse of Pedersen, the latest to be written off by the some of the Blues social media contingent.

Toral was great in the first half. Not only bagging two fine strikes from outside the box, but showing poise, strength and skill as everything went through him. The way that Blues moved the ball around in the first half it was hard to believe that it was only a week since that abject home defeat to Barnsley.

Last week they couldn’t string a couple of passes together such was their fear, and now confidence oozed through their veins making it just like watching Brazil. Again it was Dutch Mike who dictated the tempo of the game – who’d have thunk it?

Toral had able outlets in Sanchez and Leko to play with and a dummy from the latter created the first richly-deserved goal. The former Baggies’ man’s dummy allowed Pedersen to go marauding forward. Pedersen then released the ball to Toral on the edge of the box, he controlled it and then let fly. It took a slight deflection on the way in but the Reading goalie was nowhere near it.

Toral repeated the trick on 36 minutes. Receiving the ball on the right-hand side of the box after a well-worked corner, the Spaniard again shot from distance with the same result. Two-nil Blues.

It could have been more. Hogan had a header saved by the keeper, Leko had one hacked off the line. Blues went in at half time after playing their best forty-five minutes of the season.

Blues would have been expecting Reading to come at them after the break. It happened, we held firm and Reading’s momentum petered out – until a goal out of nowhere and the intervention of the referee looked like it had conclusively turned the tide in the favour of the former Biscuitmen.

Having weathered the not too considerable storm, on 61 Roberts allowed Meite to get across him to tuck a right-wing cross into the net. Poor defending from the blond centre-half.

In the 63rd minute, Hogan missed a glorious chance to re-establish our two goal advantage. Having run on to a Kieft though ball, he rounded the keeper only to screw his shot wide. You feared the worst and it so nearly came to pass.

Pernickity referee Robinson decided he was going to pick on Harlee Dean. First booking him for a dubious foul on the edge of our box, then doubling up on the yellows for another given as a penalty. Double punishment. Spot kick for Reading to draw level and having to defend the point for the rest of the game with ten men.

“Etheridge ruined the ref’s day by saving Joao’s penalty.”

But, I imagine, to Mr Robinson’s annoyance it didn’t turn out that way as Etheridge ruined the ref’s day by saving Joao’s penalty.

Blues regrouped. San Jose joined the back four, Karanka sacrificing Toral, and Gardner and Jukey came on to add fresh legs.

You expected a performance of Blues shithousery of old for the remaining twenty minutes or so. But it didn’t really pan out that way. Blues kept the home side at bay mainly by calmly keeping their shape and playing out of defence. A bit of slowing down the game and time-wasting for old time’s sake sure, but they also looked to get the ball forward and threaten the Reading goal.

Apart from one heart-in-mouth moment deep into nine minutes of added on time, after Joao had clattered into Etheridge, when the Reading forward missed after being slipped through, it was all strangely comfortable for the ten men as they saw it out.

I’m tempted to say that this was an even better performance than Saturday in Bristol, given the quality of the play in the first half and the intelligence shown as the circumstances kept changing in the second half.

What I do know is that two away wins on the spin don’t half make you feel that the world is a better place.

Joys

  • Dutch Mike’s continuing to put energy and drive into the team
  • Pedersen’s best game in ages
  • A settled team and formation paying dividends
  • Great game management as the circumstances of the game changed
  • Etheridge racking up the point saving saves
  • First half best period of controlled, possession based attacking for a long time.

Sorrows

  • Dean’s unwarranted sending off
  • Hogan’s miss in the second half that could have made the whole thing a bit more comfortable.

Player ratings

Etheridge – 9

Saved the game with his penalty block. Hard to think of a better goalkeeper in the division at present.

Colin – 8

This is the Colin who’s the best full back in the Championship, defensively solid and dangerous in attack – the perfect modern day full-back.

Pedersen – 8

Ah, that’s better. Just as many where giving up on the Dane, he comes roaring back with a committed and effective display.

Roberts – 7

Should have done better with the goal when he allowed the Reading forward to get across him. Otherwise, a strong performance.

Dean – 7

Performance marred by dreadful refereeing. Never a penalty, never a sending off. Shame that he will be missing for the next game, just as he’s in his best form for the club.

Kieftenbeld – 9

Another great performance. One run in injury time from the edge of our box to closing down their keeper epitomised the energy that he’s bought to the team that has rubbed off on the others. All hail Dutch Mike.

Sunjic – 7

Like that as well as doing all the things that he usually does, he also starting to get forward. Definitive case of Kieftenbeld’s influence rubbing off on him.

Sanchez – 6

Quieter than Saturday, but always a good outlet.

Toral – 9

And he’s back. Two match winning goals were just the start of it for Toral. Controlled the play in the first half. One of the things that he’s got over the other No 10s is his size and strength, which means that he can receive the ball with his back to goal and hold off opponents who are challenging him.

Leko – 7

Lively as a last minute replacement for Bela. I think this is his position rather than centre-forward.

Hogan – 6

More of a slow burner rather than the spectacular return to form we’ve seen from others. His movement is starting to improve, but he’s got to put away chances like the one-on-one with the keeper in the second half which could have put the game to bed. “That’s what we pay you for”, as Cloughie used to say.

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