A Scotsman should feel at home at a place called St Andrew's and the Birmingham faithful were as loud and as supportive yesterday as Alex McLeish had called for on his first match in charge on Birmingham soil. Reading, however, were not so compliant and in party season delighted in playing the gatecrashing role. Indeed, they did everything but steal all the points, not to mention the vol au vents.
This was only their second point on the road this campaign and was earned courtesy of an outstanding display from their goalkeeper, Marcus Hahnemann. On another day Birmingham would have prevailed they probably deserved to and for that reason McLeish was not too despondent. Before he arrived last month, they had lost seven from their last eight; now they have lost one in their last three. Hardly a miraculous turnaround, but, all the same, commendable.
"It was a spirited performance," agreed McLeish. "But that ball just wouldn't go in for us. I was particularly pleased with the fans' reaction. But I don't want it to be a one-off. I want it to be like that all the time, as it does give the players energy."
The rousing welcome they afforded McLeish certainly appeared to rouse Mikael Forssell, who struck after just four minutes. Gary McSheffrey's corner was flicked across the six-yard box by Fabrice Muamba and from there it dutifully floated its way on to the Finn's forehead. Nicky Shorey must have believed he had cleared the danger as he desperately got body to ball, but it went only as far as Forssell's cranium again and this time he was able to find the necessary power. McLeish was out of his dugout and finding the Second City all very enjoyable.
His joy was tempered somewhat by the next 45 minutes, in which Reading looked the more composed if not the more dominant, and they equalised in the 51st minute following Mat Sadler's underhit back-pass. "I thought we were in control up until that moment," said McLeish, conceding it was a ghastly mistake by the full-back. It allowed Stephen Hunt a clear run on Maik Taylor, who inevitably brought him down as he waltzed by. The Irishman converted from the spot.
Birmingham charged upfield and produced a frenzied 10 minutes but somehow no goal. In the 54th minute Cameron Jerome headed narrowly over the bar, then the defender Ibrahima Sonko nearly located his own net and then Hahnemann produced two fine saves in as many minutes. If the American's diversion of another Jerome header was heroic, then his saving of a Sebastian Larsson free-kick almost matched it. Hahnemann was proving impossible to pass, especially as the timber around him was consenting to assist.
In the 73rd minute, Birmingham thought they had retaken the lead twice. The crossbar crashed back McSheffrey's sweetly struck free-kick and from the rebound was dramatically called into action again as Larsson attempted to follow up and Sonko made a magical clearance off the line. Time was running out; Hahnemann's well of brilliance wasn't. He once more played the saviour, by denying Liam Ridgewell. "That wasn't two points dropped, it's another point on the board," stressed McLeish. "In this league, every point is a prisoner."Reuse content