Birmingham City 2 – Reading 1
Wednesday, March 17 2021
Proper Blues are back. Fight and commitment won the three points here against a technically better Reading side who, though dominating possession, particularly in the second half, didn’t really trouble Etheridge unduly.
Bowyer’s first game in charge saw a positive injection both into the side chosen and from their start to the game. 4-4-2, with recalls for stalwarts Jukey and Gardner, Blues started on the front foot and in Reading’s faces.
The positive start was rewarded after just five minutes – a classic old-style Blues goal. Bela found some space and got a quality cross to the back stick, Jukey bullied the centre-half and got over the top of him to head home.
For the next quarter of an hour, it was all Blues, harrying Reading, putting them off their game, winning the second ball and winning the ball high up the pitch by pressuring the Reading back four when they had the ball.
And then we started to fall back a bit, old habits die hard, and gave Reading the space play, which they’re more than capable of doing.
The equaliser, when it came, was something we’ve seen before this season and yet another individual mistake. Etheridge completely misjudged a corner and Meite too easily lost Colin to nod home.
Up to and after the break, Reading was clearly in the ascendency, but they couldn’t make it pay. Blues kept them at arm’s length and the Royals were limited to nice stuff in the middle of the field. And, for once, it was Blues that landed the sucker punch.
Quarter of an hour to go and Blues made their way up the pitch for what felt like the first time in the second half. The hard-working Halilovic won a corner, which he took himself. A bit of head tennis before Dean exercised his neck muscles to head a ball from 12 yards into the only unprotected area of the goal.
The rest was backs against the wall stuff, bodies on the line, flair players tracking back, one good double save from Etheridge and ten minutes that felt like a day.
But they saw it out in a manner we expect from a Blues’ team but which seemed to have been forgotten in the mists of time.
Six points clear of the drop zone looks a damn sight better than before the game, but we all know that it’s far from a done deal, a lot of work still to be done.
Bowyer had said beforehand that the main thing he had to do was restore belief in the squad that they were good players. A win of this magnitude, against a top Championship team, will do wonders for that aim . Yes, more quality still needed when we’ve got the ball, but the basics of what we expect from a Blues’ side are back – we have our team back.
MoM – Harlee Dean, who I’ve been very critical of lately, led by example, scored the winning goal and took the piss out of Bowyer’s predecessor. Honourable mention for Gardner for his performance up to being substituted – phenomenal.