Blues 2 Reading 3 .. Report

Last updated : 28 January 2007 By Richard Barker

A Leroy Lita double followed a Dave Kitson strike for the visitors, meaning that goals from Martin Taylor and Seb Larsson were nothing more than consolations for Blues.

Given that Blues have barely played in January, players were fresh and available and Steve Bruce opted to select the same side that had won 5-1 at Newcastle in the last round. There was one change on the bench, where Julian Gray (who didn't even get on at St James' Park) was replaced by Nicklas Bendtner who had made a speedier than expected recovery from his ankle injury. Reading made several changes, as anticipated, but don't kid yourself into thinking that this was a complete 'Reserve team' - it wasn't. It still included Lita, Kitson (who is probably the Berkshire club's best striker - it's just he injured himself in the first game of the season after scoring against Middlesbrough, and then did so again in the warm-up last week), James Harper (another very important first team player), Graeme Murty (club captain), Bobby Convey, John Oster, etc who are all very much first team squad players. Of the players Reading had available to them, there was only really Steve Sidwell and Glen Little not involved - Marcus Hahneman and Ivar Ingimarsson were both on the bench, as was Stephen Hunt, who, given Robbie Savage's broken leg, will no doubt be looking to make the Premiership's 'Devil's Haircut' tag his own now, having surpassed even Savage's achievements by breaking Petr Cech's skull and sparking a 20 man brawl including both dugouts in his first five months at Premiership level.

Reading started brightly and were in front after only three minutes through Kitson. Blues do have a tendency to be a bit lumbering defensively at times, and this was highlighted in by this goal (and Reading's second, actually) as Seol Ky-Hyeon beat Matthew Upson down the Reading right and pulled the ball back for Kitson who made Martin Taylor look like he had the turning circle of a cargo ship off the cost of Branscombe as the flame-haired striker turned and finished well left-footed. Not bad for someone who's been out since August.

Blues actually went on to dominate the rest of the first half and played some good football on a pitch that didn't really assist them. Apparently new pitches are always a bit raw early on and take a few weeks to settle, so hopefully this will be the case with the new turf at St Andrews. DJ Campbell missed with a flick past Adam Federici following a Cameron Jerome flick on, before Jerome missed the most gilt-edged chance since the winner of 'Gilt-Edged Chance of 2006' when he directed a free header from a yard out straight at Federici following a fine free-kick from Larsson.

Blues continued to outplay their Premiership opponents in what was becoming a fairly good game - two decent attacking teams often makes a match that way - and Fabrice Muamba, Campbell (again) and Jerome (again) all went close before Reading actually made it 2-0 against the run of play just before the interval. American winger Convey got the better of Damien Johnson (whose effort in the challenge, for once, wasn't good enough) and crossed for Lita who decided to emphasise Martin Taylor's MSC Napoli turning circle again, by swivelling and knocking the ball past Maik Taylor from close range.

It all meant that Reading went into the break 2-0 up, depite only really having two chances. On the other hand, Blues had created plenty but failed to take advantage. For all their attacking endeavour these days (you'd have to be stupid and/or blind to say that Blues don't create plenty of chances and don't look good going forward) they are still, on occasions, vulnerable of being shown up by teams who do take their chances. Southampton did it and here Reading had done it too. Still, Blues had generally played alright.

So, to the second half and Blues really needed an early goal - and got one. If Martin Taylor's defending had resembled that of MSC Napoli, his finishing resembled that of SSC Napoli's most famous son - Diego Maradona (well, something like that). Having stayed forward following a set piece, Taylor collected the ball some 20 yards from goal, shifted it to his left foot and unleashed a fine drive that Federici could only get fingertips to before it nestled nicely into the corner. Game on.

Blues continued to press their opponents, but unfortunately the quality of the football didn't quite match that of the first-half. It was almost as if they thought "blimey, we're close now, let's throw everything at them" and despite having plenty of time, it became panic stations a bit too much and their football suffered. Campbell and Gary McSheffrey both went close for Blues as the game became a bit more scrappy with Reading wasting time and too much attention being paid to the Upson/Kitson battle at the other end of the pitch.

As Reading began to exploit the gaps at the back late on, Lita went close with a header before he did eventually make it 3-1. Simon Cox (on as a substitute) played a neat through ball and Lita made no mistake from close range.

Bizarrely, the fact that that game looked over again meant that Blues reverted to some better football again, with Bendtner (who had by now come on) dropping deep and spraying some good passes about and everyone suddenly playing again. Sure enough, in stoppage time, Blues made it 3-2. Regular readers of my reports will know that I berate Seb Larsson's free-kicks on a near-weekly basis. Well, he's obviously had enough of me, so finished superbly from 22 yards. So, Seb, my next challenge to you is to do it when it matters, as this was literally the last kick of the game.

So, out of the Cup, but not disgraced. Blues were the better team, made the better chances, but were beaten by the team who finished better - such is football. Importantly, given the way the Leeds and Leicester games were called off, this was actually fairly important, because had it not been for Larsson's late equaliser at home to Newcastle, Blues would not have had a game between 6th January to 30th January, when they face Southend on Tuesday night. The Cup run may not have been leading anywhere, but at least it's given the squad some useful run outs in a period when league games kept falling by the wayside - including getting Bendtner a useful 25 minutes or so. Hopefully all this will help and Blues can go into a vital run of league games on something of a high now - they shouldn't let this defeat get to them too much, they should remember the Newcastle win and the good football they played today, and they should look to take the form into the league and effectively start all over again from a good position after a January break.