Reading 2 – Birmingham City 1
Tuesday, 22 February 2022
Even given our lack of specialist centre-halves, this was a game Blues should never have lost.
A sea change has come over Blues in the last few weeks, as a result of the attack-minded recruits in the January window. Rather than long ball and grind it out, especially with our current defensive frailties, we are now looking to outscore the opponents. The fact that we didn’t do that last night was because of an old problem – not putting the chances away when you are well on top.
Bacuna, Hernandez and Taylor have not only added their own impetus to the side, but they also seem to have breathed new life into some old players, Gardner and Woods in particular, although Woods dipped from his season high performance against Stoke at the weekend at the country’s worst named ground, the Select Car Leasing Stadium.
Under Bowyer, Blues have played most of their best football in the four-diamond-two formation, which is what he went with again last night. He named the same side as in the Potteries in the continued absence of Mengi or any other recognised senior centre half.
Blues had marginally the best of a flat first half, forcing the Reading keeper into more action than that seen by Etheridge at the other end. But most of that action was routine collects of long and tame shots. Nevertheless, Blues were showing signs of clicking into gear going forward as the break approached, again driven on by Gardner.
But there were also uncomfortable moments at the back, mainly in the form of Reading’s centre forward, Joao. Although he spent a lot of the first half falling over or misplacing passes, the sight of him in and around our makeshift centre-halves with only the diminutive Woods between him and they set a few alarm bells ringing.
The stats also reflect the change in Blues’ recent approach to games, with possession and goal attempts both climbing rapidly. The period of the game when that was most evident was just after the break. For twenty minutes Blues bossed the game and were finding creative ways to get their main men into the game in the last third.
But Taylor wasn’t having his best night in a Blues shirt, both in front of goal and holding the ball up, and although there was a period where it looked like a Blues goal was inevitable as the Reading box was peppered with crosses and shots, he and his colleagues were unable to translate the pressure into a lead.
And we all know what happens when you don’t take your chances when you’re on top. This footballing cliché duly delivered when Swift, a good player at this level, moved the ball forward and left Joao one-on-one with Colin, checked inside him and unleashed a shot that had the beating of Etheridge.
Two games, two goals where the centre-halves show the forwards inside rather than out resulting in a goal. I’m not sure that being temporary centre-halves is an excuse, as a similar technique is needed when playing full back.
Back to an old habit of conceding the old one-two, as five minutes later Hernadez, dutifully tracking back, found himself on the wrong side as Yiadom burst into the box to latch on to an Ince pass. In trying to rectify the error, Hernadez allowed the Reading full-back the opportunity to tumble. Looked a bit soft to me, but Swift wasn’t bothered as he dispatched the spot-kick.
After dominating, Blues found themselves quickly looking down the barrel at 2- 0 with twenty minutes to go.
Blues had bought Jukey on to try and get on to some of the crosses that were flying into the box, but needless to say when he stepped on the field all those crosses started hitting the first defender. He was around though as one lopping cross from Gardner caused such consternation in the Reading six-yard box that McIntyre turned into his own net to give Blues a lifeline.
Although a few chances appeared and pressure was bought to bear, Blues were unable to grab the equaliser that would have been the minimum that their overall performance deserved.
“As in the last few matches, Blues were a good watch here going forward”
As in the last few matches, Blues were a good watch here going forward, only this time they didn’t have the finishing touch. This left us vulnerable to our ongoing selection problems at the back. While Pedersen and Colin, and the temporary full-backs, are making a decent fist of it, it is no substitute for players playing in their natural positions knowing what they’re meant to be doing.
It’s also a problem that in the diamond formation the makeshift centre-halves are only protected by Woods at the base of the diamond. But, for me, that’s a better bet than having Sunjic there with his limited range of passing and control issues, which often presents the ball to the opponents in dangerous areas of the pitch resulting in unnecessary pressure on the defenders.
We have no alternative but to muddle through until Roberts, Mengi and Friend are back. Hopefully, Roberts will be in better form than before his layoff. He can leave the long-throws on the treatment table, though, we seem to be moving away from all that.