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Birmingham City 1-3 Reading

It seems that Bowen has discovered his new formula. An unchanged line-up for the third game running - the first time since Joao was injured in January.

The game started badly. Miazga's header back to Rafael didn't quite make it to the goalkeeper. Scott Hogan stole in between the two, and his touch past the keeper dropped straight in. It was a fairly high-risk header, but Rafael was caught a little on his heels. It's just one of those mistakes that there isn't much point over analysing - especially given the two have barely played together.

In the opening half-hour, the main issue was Birmingham's press. Whenever a Reading player received the ball they were routinely accosted by three blue shirts. Sunjic, in particular, seemed to be all over the place. That was exacerbated by sloppy Reading play. Passes routinely failed to find their target, and decision making was anything but on point. When we did manage to bypass the press there would be a foul pretty quickly afterwards.

The lead should have been quickly doubled, as Brum sliced Reading open. Unusually for the Bowen era, too many Reading players committed themselves to the attack and were almost punished. It's a goal that you'd expect Reading to concede under previous managers, but maybe there's some symbolism in Hogan managing to put the ball over the bar on the slide.

After twenty-five minutes the away side started to come into the game more. Birmingham are second for tackles made per game, but in the last 15 minutes of the first half, they're a measly 19th. Clearly, the high-intensity gameplan eventually takes its toll.

It's actually amazing how fluid the midfield five are. Olise and Ejaria are almost completely interchangeable. Ejaria and Rinomhota drop into Swift's space when he vacates or has pushed forward. And Rinomhota will often pop up on the right flank when Meite has pushed up top. And, crucially, Bowen seems to have realised that when you have technically gifted football players, you should allow them to show that - rather than playing long every time.

As if by magic, you can see all of this in Reading's first goal. Ejaria, who struggled for the majority, burst through a challenge but was taken down wide on the left. Swift's freekick was headed behind, for Reading's second, and final, corner of the match. While that was easily dealt with possession was recycled, ending up with Rinomhota against the right touchline. A burst of pace saw him past Sunjic before he pulled it back to the penalty spot for Miazga to hammer it past Camp. Nice of the big man to make up for his mistake.

Birmingham's main threat, other than Reading themselves, appeared to be the long throw, but Reading were entirely untroubled. With Miazga, Morrison, and Meite they had more than enough aerial ability. The latter won a crucial header before Olise carried the ball forward on the counter. Jude Bellingham, kindly, brought his fellow teenager down.

Swift didn't have a good game by his high standards, but he still managed to pick up an assist on the resulting free-kick. Meite, this time in the opposition box, met the cross. He diverted it down, into the floor, and it bounced into the top of the net. It was eighty seconds that summed up what the Ivorian brings to the team - a force at both ends of the field.

It must be said, for all Birmingham's huffing and puffing Reading were comfortable. Maybe Bellingham should have had a penalty, but it would have been soft, and Reading had a much better shout turned down in the first half. The home side really failed to create a clear-cut chance after the twenty-minute mark. Bowen's decision to go to a 5-4-1 was the final blow for any hopes they had to get back into the game. It meant that we always had one centre back over, giving the ability to man-mark Jutkiewicz and Hogan if needed.

The only real problem was that we lost our head a little when it came to decision making on the ball. Continuously clearing upfield without trying to find someone to initiate the counter. When Puscas did get on the ball we always looked dangerous. Late on Pelé found the Romanian, continued his run, got the ball back, and bent it into the far corner. Easy as that.

Nine points from the relegation zone, with no idea if the season will ever recover, is not a bad place to be. I look forward to whenever football is played again. I miss you.


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