Seventh heaven

Birmingham City 3 – Reading 2

Friday 16 December 2022

Despite being far from their best, Blues found themselves three up at half-time last night at a distinctly chilly St. Andrew’s.

16,000 plus hardy souls braved the sub-zero temperatures and the lure of a warm front room or pub showing the game on Sky to witness the home team cling on for victory after conceding two late goals. The win moved us, albeit temporarily as the rest play today, to the heady heights of seventh, not achieved since Gary Rowett’s sacking. 

Blues’ handsome half-time lead owed as much to Reading’s ineptitude as Blues’ creativity. It could be argued that the Royals handed us all three goals with two dodgy back passes and a poor bit of defending by Sarr in bringing down Deeney in the box for the penalty. 

However, it was refreshing that Blues took the chances that were presented to them by the opposition, It has been a failure for a long time that they haven’t been clinical enough and regularly spurn good chances – witness Roberts’ somehow managing to get it over the bar from about two yards last week in the post-World Cup break comeback game at Blackpool. 

Two for Deeney, having his best game for Blues, and a first of the season for Chong, filling in up top again for the hamstrung Hogan. 

But as well as the quality of the finishing, the goalkeeping of Ruddy was, once again, a major contributing factor in Blues picking up three points. At least three very good saves, along with the usual command of his box and defensive organisation of those in front of him, left Blues seemingly comfortable and cruising at half-time. 

Deeney’s first came after just a minute. The skipper looked a mile offside as he rifled home from a few yards out, until you realised the ball had come to him off the Reading defender, Loum. 

After the early goal, Blues played some neat stuff, with Hanibal prominent. But Reading had as much of the game, and it needed a couple of smart stops from Ruddy to keep things level.  

Instead, Blues went further ahead with a penalty on 23 minutes. Deeney and Chong got involved in some of that neat one touch build up and played one-twos with each other to get into the box, where Sarr’s going to ground lunge invited Deeney to go over. No problem for Deeney from the spot and Blues two nil up without being two goals better. 

Two turned to three as Reading shot themselves in the foot once again. 

This time Mbengue made a mess of things. After another good save, Ruddy took a free kick in our half and, with the ball in the mixer, Mbengue managed to pass it back to Chong who kept his poise to round the goalkeeper and put the ball in the empty net. 

Three – nil at half-time and it was just a matter of game management to see out time. 

And for half an hour it panned out that way. Yes, Reading came at us after having a rocket at half-time from the Guv’nor. But that was all kept at arm’s length and Ruddy had less to do than he’d had in the first half. Indeed, on the break we had opportunities to increase our lead, Deeney twice coming close to his hat-trick – one hacked off the line, one snapshot going narrowly wide. 

But things changed with the substitutions, Hanibal going off took something away from us and the introduction of Joao, surprisingly not starting, and shock-jock Andy Carroll added something to Reading. 

It’s not like you don’t know what to expect when Carroll enters the fray. But Blues didn’t cope with it very well. A scrambled goal after some pinball in the area, and a long shot from Ince junior after some ill-advised backing off had the deficit down to one with a couple of minutes to go. 

You couldn’t have envisaged this at half-time when we were sitting cold but comfortable. But then again, it’s Blues, so, actually, you can envisage it, almost expect it, especially if you’re old enough to remember being 4 – 1 up with twenty to go at home against Glenn Hoddle’s Swindon. 

Luckily Ince pere had probably delayed his subs too long, another five-ten minutes of them would have been enough for Blues to let their lead slip. 

But hold on they did to bring their points total to 32 at the halfway stage of the season. Plenty of work to be done, as Eustace continually points out, and a lot of things they are better at than they showed last night.  

“… a very impressive, overachieving first half to the season for a team written off by many before a ball was kicked. “

But overall, a very impressive, overachieving first half to the season for a team written off by many before a ball was kicked. 

One notable is the consistent performance levels of a number of players – Ruddy, Colin, Sanderson, Trusty, Bielik, and Hanibal. If you have that number of players giving you 7 or 8 out of ten every game, you’ve got a chance. And two points and one place off the play-offs does present a chance, especially if we can add some more options up front during the impending window. 

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