Royals edged out at BirminghamReading were narrowly defeated 2-1 at the hands of Birmingham City in an incident-packed opener to the Sky Bet Championship season at St Andrew's.
The Royals could count themselves very unlucky to not take more from the game, having struck the woodwork on no less than three occasions and dominating for large spells. A thunderbolt of a shot by Aaron Tshibola bounced off the bar and down, and the referee judged it to have not crossed the line.
And then in the depths of second-half stoppage time, debutant Orlando Sa had a penalty saved by Tomasz Kuszczak as the Blues clung on to the points.
Blues had taken a lead as David Cotterill diverted in a free-kick, and Jon Toral's header doubled it after the break. Nick Blackman's fine header had got Reading back into the game, but ultimately Birmingham took the points.
Reading made a positive start when Oliver Norwood struck the crossbar with a superb curling free-kick as early as the fourth minute. The opportunity arose as a result of good build up from two of the club's new summer signings - after a strong run Stephen Quinn laid the ball to Orlando Sa who beat Blues right back Paul Caddis, and the Portuguese striker shaped to shoot but was fouled on the edge of the Birmingham area.
The first 20 minutes saw Reading as the side in the ascendancy with their best chances coming from two further set pieces. The first was a wicked delivery, whipped across the box by Nick Blackman, that saw Paul McShane stretching for the ball at the far post but was just unable to guide the ball on target.
By this time Blackman was causing the Birmingham defence problems and won Reading another free kick on the edge of the opposition box as David Cotterill was beaten and bought down the attacker. Norwood's strike, from a similar range as his first, cleared the wall but sailed over the bar.
The Royals continued to probe and were looking the better side as they kept good possession in the Birmingham half. An Aaron Tshibola run and attempted cross was well blocked Gleeson earnt the Royals a corner. Quinn’s resulting ball in saw a hooked Paul McShane effort saved by Kuszcsak, and the Pole could only parry the ball to the feet of Tshibola whose shot on the turn was deflected over the bar from point blank range.
Kuszczak was the busier of the two 'keepers in the first half and was again tested when he dropped Oliver Norwood’s 30-yard drive at the feet of two Reading attackers but managed to recover before either could react.
It wasn’t until the 40th minute that Birmingham had their first opportunity of the game, which came against the run of play as they won a free-kick on the counter-attack on the edge of the Royals box. Cotterill stepped up to strike from 20 yards and his shot took a fortuitous deflection off the Reading wall, leaving Jonathan Bond with no chance as the ball looped into the net to give Birmingham the lead.
Half-time: Birmingham City 1 Reading 0
It didn’t take the Blues long to extend their lead after the break when Jon Toral who headed home from seven yards out from a Clayton Donaldson cross.
However before the hour, Reading were back in it. Some good build up play in the City half resulted in a Williams shot which was parried out to Chris Gunter on the right byline, and his delivery found Blackman who firmly headed the ball beyond the goalkeeper to halve the deficit.
A flurry of Reading chances followed as they turned up the pressure searching for an equaliser the best of which came courtesy of a McShane header. He latched on to a flighted cross which he saw clatter off the top of the crossbar as he nearly drew Reading level.
A few minutes later the Royals struck Birmingham’s crossbar for a third time. After a mix up from the Blues' defence, the ball broke to Tshibola on the edge of the penalty area, who unleashed a viscous shot striking the underside of the bar and bouncing onto the line before the ball was frantically cleared.
With Reading asserting heavy pressure, sub Simon Cox was bought down in the area during stoppage time by Jonathan Spector, and the referee pointed to the spot to give the visitors a chance to level from 12 yards. Sa stepped up to strike, but Kuszczak guessed right and Cox couldn't convert on the follow-up from a tight angle, and the referee followed up shortly with the final whistle.
Full-time: Birmingham City 2 Reading 1
Reading: Bond, Gunter, McShane (c), Hector, Obita, Tshibola (Samuel 86), Norwood, Quinn (Cox 83), Williams, Blackman (Robson-Kanu 79), Sa.
Unused subs: Al-Habsi, A.Taylor, J.Taylor, Ferdinand.
Goals: Cotterill (40), Toral (47).
Birmingham City: Kuszczak, Grounds, Kieftenbeld (Davis 61), Gray, Gleeson, Donaldson, Cotterill (Robinson 81), Toral (Shinnie 70), Spector, Morrison, Caddis
Unused subs: Legzdins, Maghoma, Novak, Thomas.
Goal: Blackman (58).
Attendance: 19,171 (1,406 away).
Referee: Peter Bankes