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Birmingham 1-2 Hooligans

With Birmingham's home form I marked this one as a 'must-win' in yesterday's post, and thankfully Reading just about managed it. A 2-1 win that could quite easily have seen either side score three or four.

Although Birmingham dominated the first half it was the Royals who opened the scoring. Coming from a break by Drenthe down the right it ended with McAnuff calmly skipping past a diving defender before lashing home. The lead didn't last long though, moments later Gorkss conceded, what looked like, a soft penalty. The Latvian definitely made contact but it took the referee an age to give the decision. Alex McCarthy almost got the spot kick but it was just beyond his reach, so the teams went in at half-time at 1-1. 

The second half saw Birmingham again pressing with Reading mainly playing on the counter-attack. A header rattled the Reading crossbar, Birmingham's only real chance to that point other than their goal, but it was the away team that had the best chances. Gunter managed to find himself in behind twice, the first time he chose to pull the ball across the six yard box for Pogrebnyak, but the ball was cleared behind for a corner. The set-piece was dangerous, but a shot would have probably been the right decision in the first place. Then Gunter managed to recreate almost the exact same situation, and this time when the ball was squared McAnuff managed to get on the end of it to restore Reading's lead. Reading had to weather a bit of a storm, a Zigic header was turned wide by McCarthy, and then a lay-off from the giant somehow saw the resulting shot loop over the bar. 

Reading had their own chances to make the scoreline more emphatic. Gunter's fierce shot was just wide, and a cross that somehow found Jordan Obita was also volleyed just past the post. A fairly innocuous McAnuff shot was spilt by Randulph, Gunter who followed up could only have his attempt parried by the keeper but Pog, with the keeper on the floor, somehow managed to chip over from six yards. 

ALF started up front but was almost totally anonymous, a side-effect of the long-ball game Reading played whilst being pressured by the home side, before being replaced for Pog in a double change that also saw HRK swap with McCleary. With a legitimate aerial threat Pogrebnyak made an instant difference, a lovely flick to put Drenthe through unfortunately didn't come to anything. McCleary too gave us a different option, able to beat players and pick out a pass which was occasionally lacking from HRK's game today. Someone we definitely look better with on the pitch.

McAnuff's brace, although somewhat surprising, shows what a potential asset he is when he plays well. His composure to take the first goal, and willingness to win the ball for his second are both something Reading often lack. He wasn't at his best today, often failing to get round players - apart from a lovely piece of skill when pinned against the touchline by four Birmingham players - but he gives in other areas rather than just his play. His and Pearce's celebrations at the final whistle show how dedicated they are to this club, and that's lovely to have. 

A match report wouldn't be complete without a proper mention of Drenthe; unfortunately a lot of what he tried didn't come off today but his cross for the first goal was immaculate, and his skill won Reading a couple of free-kicks. Also another shoutout to the defence who were invulnerable other than Kaspars first-half challenge. Obita and Gunter were two of the best players on the pitch, and the two in the middle won almost everything. Included is the man between the posts who also kept us in it with a couple of good saves. 

A good win today puts us back into the play-offs with other results going our way, and even if the Que Sera chants were a little premature the next four are all incredibly winnable. This is the time to get momentum going, and hopefully this is just the start. 

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