Royals send Christmas message
Birmingham City 1 Reading 3
Sunday 21 December 2008
Reading, outstanding when winning at Molineux in September, made another strong statement of intent in the West Midlands with a victory that ensures they, not Birmingham City, enter Christmas as closest challengers to the Championship leaders, Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Steve Coppell's team are in the top two for the first time since taking the drop with yesterday's opponents in May, and looked very much worthy of their position. Republic of Ireland internationals were the architects of Reading's fifth successive victory and eighth in 10 games, Noel Hunt and Kevin Doyle scoring either side of Kevin Phillips' stunning 11th goal of the season and Doyle setting upKalifa Cissé for the clincher.
Hardly could the second half of their League programme have started more encouragingly. To win and play well was pleasing enough; to also expose the inadequacies of their arch-rivals with their own vib-rancy and inventiveness was a bonus.
"I said we'd have to play well here to get a result and we did play well," Coppell said. "The players are aware, though, that it's only part of a demanding Christmas programme. It doesn't make it a good Christmas."
Reading, Hunt in particular, overcame some adversity. Franck Queudrue appeared to emerge the worse from an early collision with the forward, who was himself nevertheless sufficiently dazed as to be whipped off soon after curling a delicious 25-yard free-kick over the wall and in off Maik Taylor's hand after 13 minutes. "It was a hell of a blow of heads and like Emergency Ward 10 on the sidelines, so I took a decision to send Shane Long on," Coppell said.
Yet Reading continued to cope much the better, David Murphy fortuitouslydeflecting James Henry's drivencross away from Stephen Hunt, then Doyle acrobatically volleying Liam Rosenior's cross straight at Taylor.
So rarely did Birmingham threaten before half-time that Cameron Jerome's first start in nine matches was an irrelevance. An equaliser came out of the blue on the hour, though, when Lee Carsley caught Cissé dithering in possession near the halfway line and sent Phillips away on an unchallenged run that ended with a magnificent finish, speared low and right-footed beyond Adam Federici.
Birmingham pushed hard, albeit briefly, once Doyle had escaped Radhi Jaidi and flicked in the header from Stephen Hunt's free-kick that kept him top of the League's scoring list.
Although Jaidi subsequently hit Jerome with a free close-range headerfrom Seb Larsson's corner and Phillips was denied by a diving tip-over, the extra gear Reading possessed was located as Doyle centred superbly for Cissé to overpower Stuart Parnaby and head in. "The Birmingham goal was my fault, so it was a relief to score," Cissé said.
Alex McLeish was predictably shorter on Christmas cheer as he contemplated a second successive defeat. "We had chances but they were more clinical than us," he admitted.
Latest in Sport
The muddy truth of the Christmas Truce game
Alexis Sanchez video: Turns out the Arsenal forward is brilliant at playing the piano too
Premier League: Chelsea vs West Ham match preview
Sir Alex Ferguson on Jose Mourinho: 'He's good looking, speaks five languages, wins everything - it's unfair'
Jose Mourinho on Sir Alex Ferguson: 'A good friend, a good person, a fantastic sense of humour. I like him very, very much'
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 2 Christmas comes early to Hong Kong, as millions of bank notes spill out onto busy street
- 3 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 4 Northern Lights above Britain: Stunning Aurora Borealis illuminates Northumberland sky on Christmas Eve
- 5 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food