“We wanted the win. Home or away, we always want to go for the win and today was no different. But it wasn’t easy, because you’re playing against a tough side. They dropped in deep and had a lot of bodies in midfield- and they made it difficult for us to pass the ball through the spaces.”– Reading Manager Jaap Stam
“We weren’t anywhere near the energy levels of the previous games, we didn’t show the same quality, particularly when we won the ball back. But they’ve had one shot that Adam Legzdins has had to save. So to come away from home and concede eight opportunities, on and off goal, and we’ve had fifteen ourselves, possession hasn’t really made an awful lot of difference.”– Birmingham City Manager Gary Rowett
Reading extended their unbeaten run to five games in all competitions with a goalless draw against a resolute Birmingham City side on Tuesday evening. Despite managing to maintain 71% possession, the Royals were unable to create all too many distinct chances and were often limited by the Blues’ compact defence.
Jaap Stam made three changes for Tuesday’s game. Jordan Obita came in for Tyler Blackett at left-back while Stephen Quinn earned his place in the starting eleven ahead of John Swift. The manager was also forced into making a last minute swap as Joey van den Berg suffered a hamstring injury in the warm-up. George Evans was subsequently drafted in in his place.
Gary Rowett made a few surprising changes of his own following Birmingham’s victory against Fulham last time out. Clayton Donaldson and Jacques Maghoma were replaced by Lukas Jutkiewicz and David Cotterill. Rowett was also forced into making a last minute change when Tomasz Kuszczak was unable to take part in the warm-up. As a result, Adam Legzdins was brought into the starting eleven.
As the game got underway, the first scoring opportunity fell to Birmingham. A foul from Paul McShane on Che Adams gave the Blues a free kick to the left of the area. Cotterill’s low, drilled cross caused some problems to the Reading defence and Lukas Jutkiewicz’s shot required a great save from Ali Al-Habsi to prevent the goal.
While the first chance fell Birmingham’s way, Reading began to dominate the ball. A distinct pattern began to form as the half went on, with Reading keeping possession and trying to find a breakthrough while Birmingham countered at speed whenever they won the ball back. At times it seemed that for every opportunity on goal either side had, Reading required ten times the number of passes to get a less effective end result.
The best shooting opportunity of the half for Reading fell to Danny Williams, who tested the goalkeeper with a nicely struck shot from twenty-five yards out. Legzdins was equal to it, however, and saved low to his right.
Birmingham, meanwhile, ended the half with some decent chances of their own. Adams’ break looked to threaten the Reading defence but his low shot was stopped by Al-Habsi. Spector found himself on the end of a corner but could only glance wide, while Al-Habsi was on hand to prevent a Jutkiewicz effort from creeping in.
The second half largely continued where the first had finished. Reading were once again left to control possession and Birmingham took any opportunities that came their way. McCleary in particular was having some luck down the right wing, but often struggled with the final ball. The first chance of the half fell to the winger as he fired over.
Al-Habsi was on hand again as he kept out a deflected Maikel Kieftenbeld effort while Jutkiewicz was halted once more, this time by the offside flag. As the half went on, Reading’s main source of hope was corners which just kept coming. Unfortunately, the delivery was often predictable and poor. Liam Moore came closest to converting one of McCleary’s crosses but largely Reading struggled to use them effectively.
Prior to the game, it was clear that both sides had strong benches and subsequently substitutes were going to be important. Birmingham brought on Donaldson, Maghoma and Diego Fabbrini while Reading opted with Swift, Callum Harriott and Joseph Mendes.
It could be said, however, that the Reading changes were made too late in the game and they were not given enough time to make an impact. Birmingham were difficult to break down and it was going to take more than ten minutes to do so. Despite some threatening runs from Harriott in particular, neither side was able to make the breakthrough and the game ended 0-0.
It was definitely not one of the most exciting games at the Madejski, but there were plenty of positives to be taken from the game. Stam has said that his tactics are here to stay and with every game that goes by it seems that the players are increasingly adapting to the new style. By no means is it the most thrilling at times, but Reading were able to limit a strong Birmingham team who have started this season brightly.
A brief side note has to be made about the full backs. Obita was probably my man of the match due to both his offensive and defensive play. My concern, however, is how he is clearly being limited in the new system. Despite being asked to play as a second winger for the majority of the game, the left-back often chose to cut inside rather than run the ball down the line.
Anyone who has seen Reading play in the past, know that Obita is more than capable of running at defences and crossing in. For whatever reason, the plan was clearly to pass back inside to the centre of a cramped midfield. The idea will have been to maintain possession, but it was increasingly becoming predictable.
One player who also needs to be mentioned is Danny Williams. Following the departure of Oliver Norwood, it looked early on this season as if Williams was stepping up to be Reading’s main man in the centre of midfield. The American international has often been hit and miss in the past, but this season he got off to a good start.
That was until Tuesday evening, however, when he was by far the weakest player for the Royals. Apart from his long range effort in the first half, Williams struggled to really get into the game and was often at fault for conceding possession. While Reading were passing the ball back and forth amongst the defence, out wide and back again, Williams was often found running around in circles in the middle while not offering an outlet. It was a frustrating performance from a player who we know can do better.
Next up for Reading on Saturday is a Barnsley side who are currently the league’s top scorers. The newly promoted side will have on paper been an easily winnable game for the Royals, but their current form suggests otherwise. Reading will no doubt look to dominate possession once again and will be looking to do what Derby, QPR and Rotherham couldn’t and defeat Barnsley at home.