Sunday, January 29, 2006

DUNNROAMIN' Reading 1-1 Birmingham City

Like a wasp around a picnic, an extra FA Cup tie is an unwanted distraction, a nuisance. Despite his post-match assurances to the contrary, insistant that his squad would cope, the ever downbeat Steve Coppell wasn't fooling anybody when he shrugged off the the demands of a hectic fixture schedule. We now face 6 games in 18 days which is something that could easily have been avoided with a little more care yesterday afternoon as Reading seized the initiative only to take their foot off the pedal against Premiership opposition.

It was a typical no-quarter-asked-or-given cup tie which was decidedly lacking in quality. Reading made 8 changes from their last league outing - Floyd on Football begs the question what was Birmingham's excuse? Albeit a side struggling in the top flight this year, there was enough quality and experience in their starting line-up to fare a little better against, being blunt about it, a Championship second string to all intents and purposes. It was a fairly even start to the game; Izzet pulled a header well over Stack's crossbar and Sidwell almost capitalised on a dangerous Hunt freekick. Reading took the lead in a match lacking in clear-cut openings just after the half hour mark. Oster's run caused panic in the Birmingham rearguard and allowed Harper time and space to pick out the totally unmarked Shane LONG and the youngster finished decisively inside Maik Taylor's nearpost. It was another dramatic contribution from the raw Irishman; with his pace and his upper body strength he looks an excellent prospect, with his ocassionally leaden touch perhaps less so.

This was at times a tempestuous, grumpy sort of game and the turgid nature of the encounter brought out the worst in some of the participants. Hunt and Pennant had a running battle, the Blues uber-Chav jail-bird appearing to kick out at the Reading left winger early on showing exactly why this talented brat of a footballer is playing for Birmingham rather than a top club. Pennant, when he puts his tiny mind to it, is clearly a very capable player and he was involved early in the second half when he curled in a dangerous feekick which was bound for the head of Melchiot before being cleared whilst at the other end Lita made a hash of a first time effort under pressure. Again a Pennant set piece delivery led to Reading debutant Halls hacking clear before the cumbersome Heskey could pounce and Blues boss Steve Bruce had clearly seen enough of the former England flop as he was withdrawn in a pivotal treble substitution for the visitors which saw Forssell, Kilkenny and the dangerous David Dunn thrown into the fray.

Floyd on Football has a degree of sympathy with Coppell's post-match assertion that Dunn would be on the fringe of the England squad were it not for his injury problems. The portly midfielder is clearly a player of the highest quality as proven by his appearance yesterday which swung the final quarter of the game back in Birmingham's favour after the Premiership opposition had looked so mediocre for so long. It was Dunn who became the first Birmingham threat to Stack's goal shortly after he appeared; a full-length diving header being snatched out of the air by the Royals former Arsenal 'keeper. The Blues were level midway through the half as Reading fell basically fell asleep; Melchiot's long throw, Sutton leaped higher than the strangely sluggish Sonko and that man DUNN was on the far post to volley past the helpless Stack. Dunn and co. celebrated in front of the huge travelling support - perhaps the most vocal and definitely the most brain-dead, ill-mannered gaggle of muppets to visit the MadStad this season.

Reading had looked fairly comfortably hitherto this burst of Birmingham pressure and thereafter we were perhaps a tad fortunate to cling on for a replay. That man Pennant swung in another dangerous ball which caused a melee in the Reading area with the ball being diverted away from danger by Stack's face before Forssell was taken down unceremoniously by Sonko, who proved that even Superman can be mortal sometimes - Pennant's free-kick was expertly stopped by Stack who seemed to twist in mid-air to parry the ball to safety. A draw it was in the end and, assuming Coppell picks a similar experimental XI in the replay, the Blues will fancy themselves to get through to the last 16. On the day though, Reading claimed a moral victory yesterday - our much changed team held strong Premiership opposition to a draw.

Reading: Stack, Halls, Makin, Sonko, Gunnarsson, Oster, Sidwell, Harper, Hunt, Lita, Long (Doyle, 89). Subs not used: Hahnemann, Osano, Ingimarsson, Little.

Floyd's Favourite: Gunnarsson. Proved once again his crucial versatility by filling in at centre-half with aplomb.


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