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Reading 2-0 Birmingham

The Carabao Cup became a squad competition a fair while ago, so it was refreshing to see Reading field such a strong team. All the starting changes - Bacuna, Swift, Moore, and McNulty - could hardly be said to weaken the team. Conversely Gary Monk could clearly more, deciding to mix his team up and leave key players on the bench.

Birmingham were never going to have as much of the ball as the two sides we've already played this season - which meant that Reading didn't have to press as high, and we ended up controlling the ball for the opening 25 minutes. Bacuna continuously overhit his attempts to play the ball in behind, but McNulty managed to play a sumptuous ball for Meite to drive home from 18 yards past last season's Sunderland 'favourite' Lee Camp. I think the goalie should have done something to put pressure on 21, rather than staying on his six-yard line and letting him pick his spot.

When Barrow went off midway through the first half it seemed to disrupt the home side's rhythm, and let Birmingham back into the game. Mahoney, on loan from Bournemouth, looked dangerous but too often the ball would be wasted by Lubala's speculative efforts. There were a couple of half chances - Mahoney popping up in the box to take advantage of a loose ball, but his shot at the near post was rather tame. Then Ilori was outmuscled on the corner of the box, and gave away a free-kick which, again, Mahoney hit wide.

The game seemed to open up a bit more in the second half. Reading had a couple of good chances to double the lead before Swift did just that, but Birmingham may class themselves as unlucky not to have had the ball in the net either.

The first real chance of came on the counter - Swift carrying the ball through the middle before shifting it wide to Meite. His deflected shot looped just over the bar - one of those 'half the ground thought it was in' moments. Then The Blues had their best chance of the match - a dangerous cross somehow nodded over at the far post by Viv Solomon-Otaber, who definitely would have buried it if he'd still been playing for my Luton side on FM.

Yakou may have got the Man of the Match award, but personally I think Swift was robbed. Again he drove through the middle and found McNulty in the area, who squared the ball for Baldock. Somehow - somehow - he missed the ball completely. Watching the game I thought that Sparky never really fired - mostly because I was overly proud with the turn of phrase - but also because he didn't actually do much. Then it was pointed out to me the absolute beauty of his pass for the first goal, and he really should have had a second assist to his name. If he does nothing and contributes two goals a game I think I'll be quite happy.

Swift got his goal with a free kick from a similar, but slightly more central position than Mahoney's in the first half. This time, rather than heading just wide of the far post it nestled in the corner. With curve, and pace it was a sublime piece of skill but you have to, again, question the goalkeeper - who takes two steps away from his post and then can't get back in time.

Walker's one save of note came when Lubala finally managed to get a shot through onto goal. A nice through ball sent him racing in behind John O'Shea, and he fired through the legs of Liam Moore, who was coming over to cover. It was potentially a difficult one, heading toward the far post, but our backup goalie managed to keep his clean sheet intact.

Talking of our Champions League winner, he got an absolute hero's welcome. Although the cheering was tongue in cheek it must be said he didn't put a foot wrong during his ten minutes on the field. 100% pass completion, and 100% headers won. He'll probably be caught out at some point this season but he looked assured. The chants may have been in jest, but I did notice he didn't go out of his way to thank the crowd after the match like our other returning centre-half did.

The positives were obvious to see - goals, Moore looking as if he never left, and a clean sheet. Fingers crossed that Meite and Barrow's knocks aren't too bad, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a(nother) shift in system to accommodate our lack of fit wingers. Alternatively Popa and Clement will finally have proper chances to impress.

Let's be clear, we should beat Bolton. We have to beat Bolton - a team that, at least if we go by odds, we'll be scrapping with at the end of the season. A failure to do so would negate the bright start that we've made. They may have picked up a good win away at West Brom, and a point against Bristol City, but they also threw away a two goal lead in the latter and have slightly ridden their luck in both games.

So, no pressure then.


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