Birmingham City began their campaign in unconvincing fashion, battling to a narrow 2-1 victory over visitors Reading.
Reading dominated for large parts of the match, and went close early on as midfielder Oliver Norwood fired a free kick onto the crossbar, but not before Demarai Gray had an effort deflected out for a corner after good play down the left hand side.
All in all it was a very nitty gritty first half, with no side having real control of the ball in the final third and both seeming to be short of ideas, but the game livened up just after the half hour mark, as Reading’s Aaron Tshibola had an attempt from three yards out cleared off the line and away by Stephen Gleeson.
Shortly after, Birmingham City took the lead when David Cotterill’s free kick took a wicked deflection, leaving the goalkeeper wrong footed before nestling in the back of the net.
The second half began much better, Birmingham doubling their lead within two minutes of the restart after some great play from Clayton Donaldson left Jon Toral with an easy header from 6 yards out.
Just shy of the hour mark Reading pulled one back through Nick Blackman after Danny Williams’ shot was pushed out by Kuszczak but only to Chris Gunter, who returned the ball back across for Blackman to convert.
That goal seemed to give a new lease of energy into Reading, who hit the bar shortly after from Paul McShane’s looping header. Birmingham found themselves being trapped in there own half, and Reading again struck the woodwork as Tshibola found his range and shot from distance, only for it to bounce down onto the line and out of play.
With time running out and Reading pushing men forward in search of an equalizer, Birmingham hit with a quick counter attack but when the ball fell to Demarai Gray he drove his shot just wide from 18 yards out.
Deep into added time Birmingham fans were on the edge of their seats as Reading were awarded a penalty after David Davis was judged to have fouled Simon Cox.
Orlando Sa stepped up to take the kick, and although it was well struck, it wasn’t enough to beat Kuszczak, with Cox then screwing the rebound wide with the goal at his mercy.
Man of the match;
Jon Toral, Birmingham City- The new signing was a thorn in Reading’s defence all afternoon, and topped his debut off with a well taken header. From the first whistle he battled for every ball and measured every pass to almost perfection, really standing out in a Birmingham midfield that didn’t look as dominant as they were towards the end of last season.
What have we learnt from today’s opener?
Birmingham City need to be more controlling in the middle of the park, in the peak of the revolution last year Tesche and Gleeson controlled the midfield in a lot of games and dictated play, and they will need to find that asset of their play if they want to challenge for the play offs this season.
Reading on the other hand didn’t do too much wrong, but they were very wasteful infront of goal, with Simon Cox missing when it was easier to score following the penalty miss. Overall I think manager Steve Clarke got his tactics spot on today and it will be interesting to see how Reading go about the last few weeks of the transfer window.
So what’s up next for these two sides?
Birmingham City are away from home twice in the next week, firstly to Bristol Rovers in the Capital One Cup on Tuesday evening, before they face Burnley next Saturday lunchtime, a game which will really test their play off credentials.
Reading travel to Colchester United on Tuesday night for the first round of the Capital One Cup before hosting Leeds United on Sunday 16th August, where both teams looking for their first three points of the campaign.
Birmingham & Reading fans, please feel free to leave your comments below.