For Reading, celebration and relaxation. They secured promotion with two matches to spare, the Championship title with one to spare and head for an open-top bus parade through the town centre today, the presentation of their trophy at the Madejski Stadium and a four-day jaunt to Spain.
For Birmingham, the torture has just begun before, possibly, they join Reading in the Premier League next season. Having endured their 60th fixture of the campaign yesterday, by easing past the champions at St Andrew's, they now face potentially three more games before they, too, can claim the £90 million top-flight windfall. Birmingham's hard-earned success lifted them above Blackpool into fourth – and the teams will meet in the first leg of the semi-final at Bloomfield Road on Friday and in the return at St Andrew's a week on Wednesday.
Yet despite showing signs of battle fatigue, also caused by lengthy Europa League and FA Cup campaigns, Birmingham enter the final furlong still at a gallop. A goal in each half of an error-strewn contest extended their unbeaten sequence to nine matches. "It was a good way to go into the play-offs," Chris Hughton, the Birmingham manager, said. "We've got good momentum and I'm desperate for us to finish the job off." Desperate, too, for some good news, with the club yesterday informed that their transfer ban would stay in place until at least 31 July, after parent group, Birmingham International Holdings Limited, again delayed publication of their2010-11 accounts.
Reading arrived with more than 4,000 travelling fans bearing inflatables. If they were not on the beach already, they were thinking about it. Birmingham's pacy pair of Nathan Redmond and Andros Townsend caused havoc and Redmond set up substitute Adam Rooney to slide in the opener.
Penalties then dominated. Colin Doyle's save from Ian Harte's spot kick – Harte's second miss of the season and Reading's sixth – after Pablo Ibanez had clambered on Alex Pearce and Wade Elliott's conversion, after Jay Tabb had handled. Adam Federici saved another Elliott penalty in stoppage time.
Still, no more play-offs heartache for Brian McDermott, their manager. "I'm just so pleased we're not involved in them this time," he said. "No one can call them. I defy anyone to pick from Blackpool and Birmingham or Cardiff v West Ham."
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Doyle; Ramage, Davies, Ibanez, Murphy; Elliott, N'Daw (Burke, 69), Gomis, Townsend; Redmond, Zigic (Rooney, 19).
Reading (4-4-2): Federici; Connolly (Cummings, 60), Pearce, Gorkss, Harte; McAnuff, Leigertwood (Gunnarsson, 70), Tabb, Robson-Kanu; Le Fondre, Church.
Referee Robert Madley.
Man of Match Townsend (Birmingham).
Match rating 7/10.
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