Birmingham City 1 Reading 1: McLeish puts Birmingham on road to turning corner

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The Independent Online

There are so many teams with new managers down there believing they have turned corners, the bottom half of the Premier League is starting to resemble the worst nightmare of an obsessed town planner. Fortunately for Birmingham they have a man at the wheel who can see the long hard road stretching straight out in front of him. After Saturday, and Alex McLeish's first home game in charge, so should the rest of St Andrew's.

Birmingham simply do not have the quality or the depth to ensure that the journey away from trouble will be as rapid as it will be devoid of bumps and bangs. Granted, McLeish may very well strengthen in the transfer window, but with all the uncertainty of takeovers and makeovers at the club right now, his pot will not be bottomless. Expect a few Scots together with, perhaps, Milan Baros from Lyons and, who knows, Michal Kadlec from Sparta Prague. Do not expect a 20m cavalry.

McLeish appreciates this and that is probably why he is putting so much stock in raising the "spirit" and "passion" within the set-up. When a new manager takes recourse in the old plea to the fans "to make our ground a fortress", you can usually tell he is not anticipating his side to start playing like Arsenal in the forthcoming months. Furthermore, his healthy sense of reality would be the reason why he will surely be down on hands and knees in front of the medical staff begging them to keep Damien Johnson and Mikael Forssell fit. These two injury-prone game breakers can be the spearheads in any mid-term success McLeish can effect.

The former added the bite to the home midfield against Reading, while the latter scored a goal after just four minutes and from then on at least reminded of that striker who appeared such a bargain when bought from Chelsea for 3m. Forssell's partnership with Cameron Jerome has a certain potential about it and should really have produced the goal to take all three points here after Stephen Hunt equalised with the penalty he himself had won when tripping over Maik Taylor's outstretched arm. The goalkeeper was not the primary villain in that crime against his own team as Mat Sadler's 'Big Jessy' back-pass had left him little choice. From there, Taylor had to watch on as his opposite number, Marcus Hahnemann, conjured a performance that earned him the man of the match honours and his side a precious point.

Saying that, there were other Reading heroes, too, and Steve Coppell has seemingly rekindled the unity and determination which characterised their debut season in the Premier League last year. Coppell was particularly impressed with Hunt, the Republic of Ireland winger, whose "controlled fury" is becoming more irresistible by the week. "You want 11 Stephen Hunts on your side," said Coppell. "He gives 100 per cent commitment to the cause. He remembers where he came from and he is determined to take advantage of everything he can give to the game. He puts a lot in and I hope he gets a lot out because his attitude is superb."

McLeish would say Amen to that. You take out, what you put in. Then you can talk about turning corners.

Goals: Forssell 4 (1-0); Hunt 51 pen (1-1).

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Taylor; Kelly, Schmitz, Ridgewell, Sadler; Larsson, Johnson, Muamba, McSheffrey; Forssell (O'Connor 75), Jerome. Substitutes not used: Doyle (gk), De Ridder, Parnaby, Jaidi.

Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Murty, Sonko, Ingimarsson, Shorey; Hunt, Harper, Gunnarsson (Cisse 28), Convey (Long 84); Doyle, Kitson. Substitutes not used: Federici (gk), Lita, Bikey.

Referee: L Probert (Wiltshire).

Booked: Birmingham Johnson, Ridgewell. Reading Murty.

Man of the match: Hahnemann.

Attendance: 27,300.

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