Charlery's benchmark

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Reading 0

Birmingham City 1

Charlery 74

Attendance: 10,203

BARRY FRY, Birmingham's never-predictable manager, had told Ken Charlery that however well he was playing he would remain a substitute because he had scored all but one of his goals this season after coming off the bench. He was proved right at Elm Park when Charlery scored his fifth substitute's goal of the season and his fourth in three matches to enhance Birmingham's promotion challenge.

Fry had watched Birmingham struggle in the first half, had a subliminal tape played at half-time and then sent on all three substitutes. Despite the Reading fan Uri Geller watching, and presumably concentrating, in the stands, Fry's logic and magic combined and Charlery continued where he had left off in midweek when he scored two goals in extra time against Tranmere in the Coca-Cola Cup.

Although Birmingham threw themselves into yesterday's game with their usual rugged power, they soon became frustrated by Reading's competent defence and patient creative midfield work. But the outcome on an increasingly slippery pitch was an endless first half of dull play lacking direction and directors.

The referee might have added some purpose had he awarded a penalty when Reading's Lee Nogan was tackled roughly by Andy Edwards, but he only entered into the dispirited nature of the weather and match, and turned down the appeals.

All the time the effective Edwards and Liam Daish got their considerable bulk in the way of Nogan, and none of Reading's possession or efforts to push men forward from midfield amounted to more than an occasional threat to the Birmingham goal.

Fry's decision to send on all his substitutes after half-time had immediate effect when Charlery's close-in header, after a move involving all three, was cleverly turned over the bar by Chris Woods. A minute later Charlery again drove a dangerous shot a foot wide. Reading reacted quickly, Mick Gooding and Stuart Lovell having successive shots instinctively parried by Ian Bennett.

Charlery's inability to keep a regular place in the Birmingham side has become irrelevant since he seems inspired by being kept on the bench until needed.

Here he capitalised on a penalty-area mistake by Michael Gilkes after 74 minutes and struck an accurate drive past Woods, the former England goalkeeper who until then had been formidable.

Reading ended as Birmingham had begun with a prolonged onslaught, but it was Fry's intervention that won the day.