There will be some sore heads among the Bluenoses this morning, as Birmingham City duly clinched the victory that took them back to the Premier League at the first time of asking and into the arms of a windfall estimated to be worth around £60m over the next three years.
Not that they needed to win as it turned out, thanks to Sheffield United's failure to beat Crystal Palace, but goals from Keith Fahey, and in the second half, the irrepressible Kevin Phillips, robbed Reading of almost all the hope they had of going up. Going two goals behind left the hosts needing to score three, something which looked beyond them even after Marek Matejovsky pulled one back.
The prospect of Birmingham reclaiming their place in the top flight looked certain here, even after their Devon Loch impersonation last weekend against Preston when they lost to two late goals, having been in front. A win then would have seen them promoted.
"This is one of my greatest achievements as a manager," said Alex McLeish, who admitted he had "beat himself up" over the Preston result. "I was aware of the consequences of not going up. There was massive pressure. I blew it last week."
There was no danger of that happening here. Despite all the permutations that existed yesterday in which Birmingham, Reading or United could claim the second automatic promotion place from the Championship, the clearest clue as to the likeliest outcome was there in plain view all along.
Reading have not won at home since January yet the Royals had to triumph to have any chance of promotion. Birmingham, who started the day needing a win to guarantee promotion, duly seized on their opponents' nervousness.
Their hosts will now have to pick themselves up and focus on the play-offs against Burnley. When asked if he would like to have the second leg away from home, the Reading manager Steve Coppell replied: "Can we have both legs away from home?"
The way to promotion opened up when Reading failed to clear a corner. The ball fell for Fahey, two yards outside the penalty area. His right-foot shot was well-struck and took a slight deflection but Marcus Hahnemann, although possibly unsighted by Radhi Jaidi, should have stopped the ball rolling under his body. "We gave away two terrible goals," said Coppell. "It was a damp squib after that."
Fahey was signed from St Patrick's Athletic in the Republic of Ireland, in January, for all of £400,000. Given what promotion is now thought to be worth, his purchase could be said to represent good business by McLeish. Having once been on Aston Villa's books, before returning to Ireland because of homesickness, Fahey clearly has a taste for life in the West Midlands now.
It was Fahey's involvement in Birmingham's second goal that proved crucial in putting City's nerves to rest. He slipped a pass to Phillips, who was flirting with offside, but carried on to curl his shot neatly inside the far post.
The visitors' elation lasted all of 60 seconds. That was the time it took for Dave Kitson, hitherto anonymous, to find Matejovsky. The Czech midfielder had been on the pitch for only seven minutes but was clearly up to speed as he beat two players before finishing inside Maik Taylor's far post. The Czech nearly scored again with 18 minutes left, but instead brought a sharp save by Taylor high to his right.
Thereafter the threat was minimal, leaving McLeish, who has endured a difficult season including poisonous criticism from the club's managing director Karren Brady, finally with something to celebrate.
Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Rosenior, Bikey, Duberry, Harding (Doyle, 57); Hunt, Karacan (Matejovsky, 54), Tabb, Kebe; Kitson, Long. Substitutes not used: Federici (gk), Cissé, Gunnarsson.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Carr, Martin Taylor, Jaidi, Traoré; McFadden (Larsson, 65), Johnson, Carsley, Fahey; Phillips (Bouazza, 72), Jerome (O'Connor, 81). Substitutes not used: Doyle (gk), Bent.
Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire).
Booked: Birmingham City Jaidi, Phillips, Traoré.
Man of the match: Fahey.
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