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Birmingham 2-1 Reading

Football's back, and this summer has been an exciting one by anyone's standards, but particularly for a club with Reading's recent history in the transfer windows. Indeed Quinn, Sá, and McShane - who was given the armband - all started their first competitive matches in a Reading shirt, alongside Aaron Tshibola making his full debut.

However after a lively start where Norwood hit the bar within the first five minutes, after a foul on Sá, the same problems as last season seemed to take hold. Charles Watts put this down to a lack of firepower - which I think is incredibly harsh. The moment the back four or Norwood got the ball the two strikers - Blackman and Sá - started runs up field, where the ball would be pinged the length of the field in a half-baked attempt to try and find them. Nobody showed for the ball, and when they did they were ignored in favour of the Hollywood ball. Inevitably this led to a loss of possession, and the cycle restarted. With McShane and Hector absolutely dominating the Birmingham attack we never looked in danger, but a central free kick was deflected by Sá - who turned his body to let the ball past - changed that. They took an age setting up the wall, and it still managed to go straight through them.

Things got worse immediately after the restart as Toral nodded in Donaldson's cross two minutes after play had resumed, but from there Reading started to come back into the game. Williams twice drove to the edge of the box, only to see his shot just miss the keeper's left post both times. Then Gunter, who had an outstanding second half, put in a perfect cross for Blackman to leap, and guide his header into the far corner. Kuszczak has to take some blame, only being able to parry Williams' initial shot to the wing rather than holding it. From then it was all the men in African Violet; McShane hit the bar with a header, and Tshibola had a shot that appeared to all but the referee to have crossed the line. Everything wrong with the first half - namely the long, hit-and-hope balls - had disappeared, replaced with movement and skill.

With the substitutions of Blackman, and Quinn The Royals somewhat lost their way, and Birmingham came back into the game slightly before Simon Cox was brought down in the box to set up a draw with the last kick of the game. Orlando Sá, presumably wanting to make an impression, stole the ball after a lengthy debate, only to have an incredibly tame attempt saved and Cox's rebound, from a tight angle, seen wide. Sá looked absolutely gutted at the end of the game, and trudged off with head bowed.

The midfield, despite lacking width, showed what they could do in the second half. Williams' cutting in from the right was potent, and Quinn's hustle on the other side was invaluable. Tshibola looked conservative, often passing short when he possibly could have been slightly more aggressive, but in his first full game that's understandable. Obita was possibly the weak link in the team, particularly in the first forty-five, but after their goal he had less of a defensive role to do, and helped out the attack well.

The refereeing performance was atrocious. The decision to book Tshibola after nothing but what appeared to be a shoulder barge midway in the Birmingham half - his first foul - was criminal. Likewise the man in black missed the midfielder's shot cross the line (if it indeed did). After allowing Kuszczak to hold the ball for upwards of fifteen seconds he then booked Cox for standing in front of the keeper. As far as I'm aware he never booked anybody for time wasting, despite the home team slowing the game down at any opportunity, and one Birmingham player managed to get away with booting the ball into the stands after Sá missed his penalty.

At the end of the day Reading deserved to win the match, let alone draw, but this is only the first game of the season and there were very positive signs going forward. Hopefully with McShane and Hector at the back - who were outstanding on the whole - even when the team goes through a lull we won't be conceding soft goals which cost us so dearly last season. Sá looked strong, and like he'll enjoy the challenge - he clearly should have scored today but it will come. Likewise Blackman looked lively, and although not everything he does manages to come off he was solid and bagged the goal.


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