MATCH REPORT: 2005/2006 Season

28 January 2006: FA CUP ROUND 4
Reading: Long (31 mins).
Birmingham City: Dunn (67 mins).
Half Time: 1-0
Attendance: 23,762

Replay: 7 Feb 2006
Reading: Stack, Halls, Sonko, Gunnarsson, Makin, Hunt, Sidwell, Harper, Oster, Lita, Long (Doyle 90). Subs Not Used: Hahnemann, Little, Ingimarsson, Osano.
Birmingham City: Maik Taylor, Tebily, Melchiot, Bruce, Lazaridis, Pennant, Izzet (Kilkenny 57), Johnson, Jarosik (Forssell 57), Heskey (Dunn 57), Sutton. Subs Not Used: Vaesen, Oji.
Reading: Oster, Sonko.
Birmingham City: Tebily.
Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).

This was Reading's third encounter with Premiership opposition and in my opinion, by far the most significant. Even though only four of the probable line up for Tuesday's league game against Norwich were risked today, Birmingham had to pull out all the stops to force a replay. Such is the confidence, skill and energy within the squad, the Royals are now able to compete comfortably with Premiership opposition.

Ultimately it was sheer physical presence that enabled City to force an equaliser. Melchiot's long throw was nodded on by Sutton, using all his guile and strength to hold off Sonko's challenge, and Dunn reacted sharply to smash the ball past Stack from close range. City might claim they had chances near the end to win the game, but overall Reading were at least their equal. Certainly for the majority of the match Reading's back four coped comfortably with Heskey and Sutton.

Reading looked fresh after their trip to Portugal. Hunt, playing wide on the left, saw a lot of the ball during the opening exchanges, and his direct approach paid dividends forcing City to concede two corners in quick succession. Chances were few in the first half with neither 'keeper really troubled. The goal which separated the teams was created by good passing and movement and clinical finishing. Premiership quality from a Championship team. The final pass from Harper sliced through the City defence where Long had enough time and space to make a real hash of it, but instead finished showing remarkable composure and excellent technique. Taylor had no chance as it flew low into the net just inside the post. He even celebrated like a man who had expected to score!

Reading dominated the first fifteen minutes of the second half and Bruce was forced to make his triple substitutions to freshen up his flagging team. Dunn made an impact immediately forcing a comfortable save from Stack which he made look spectacular. As City pushed forward Long and Lita looked more dangerous. Neither had been able to really get at the City defence in the first half but they grew in confidence as the game progressed. Lita turned his man well using his strength on a couple of occasions, and Long forced defenders into conceding fouls with his pace and willingness to take players on. THe game could have gone either way.

Harper as usual covered an unbelievable amount of ground, Oster looked comfortable in possession, and Hunt kept Melchiot at full stretch throughout. He also found time to unsettle Pennant producing an 'off the ball reaction' which incurred the wrath of the home fans. Sonko had one of his less accomplished performances which was more than compensated for by the magnificent defensive work of Gunnarsson. He was in first every time to win the ball and I don't recall him missing much in the air - no mean feat against such a big side as City. Well played the reserves. Now lets see what the first team can do against Norwich.
John Wells


The great FA Cup. Effectively this was a genuine second team, who did very well. I totally agree with promotion being the absolute priority, but being in such a strong position in the league, the players having just returned from a well earned break in Portugal and Birmingham below strength also, I can't help feeling this game was there for the taking and if we had won who knows how far we'd go. Of course we're still in the competition but can't help thinking our chance has gone. It was also a shame for such a big crowd who turned out on a freezing day. As it turned out a 1-1 draw was the worst result possible for us which now means four games in thirteen days. With fifteen minutes to go we should have thrown the kitchen sink at them played 2-3-5 because it should have been win or lose. I thought our lads did ok outplaying a poor Birmingham side for the first half but their triple substitution gave them the edge in the second. Sutton deserves mentioning for entering the ever growing academy of diving cheats while ref Styles being a so called premiership ref did his utmost to look after his mates from Birmingham. Stack had a great game and Halls had a fairly forgettable debut but will not want to see their goal when he went walkabouts and left Dunn totally unmarked. All eyes turn to Norwich on Tuesday and I'd bet 95% of those there yesterday would swap a defeat yesterday for three points on Tuesday. Let's hope normal service is resumed then.
Nick Newbury

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