PERMIERSHIP: Reading 2 Birmingham City 1
The reasons why Birmingham City face a desperate struggle for survival in the Barclays Premier League were encapsulated in just 90 minutes.
The ability to defend set pieces and a ruthlessness to take chances as they come along are fundamentals to any team's success. They are basics of the game and Blues are simply not getting the basics right.
Unlike the last time Blues were relegated two years ago, this City side has hardly been outplayed or out-fought. They have shown their potential by consistently performing against the division's top sides. No one gets an easy ride against Birmingham but Blues do have a tendency to be show an unwelcome generosity. Like so many times this season, Reading were gifted their two goals and as long as Blues keep squandering their advantage, they could end up surrendering their place in the Premier League.
Keeper Maik Taylor did not have a meaningful save to make as the Royals were kept in check during open play. Blues were not opened up once. However, two free kicks were delivered into the box and on both occasions Andre Bikey easily evaded the attentions of Rahdi Jaidi to head home, to the frustration of Blues manager Alex McLeish.
Jaidi's marking was about as successful as the Reading steward who spent most of the first half waving his arms in desperation to try and entice the Blues fans to sit down - completely ineffectual.
"We are very disappointed, especially as we highlighted the problem at half time," McLeish said. "It happened and there isn't a lot I can do about it now. I can't go out there and head the ball clear myself. We have to rely on the guys to deal with these situations. Individual errors are costing us."
Equally frustrating was Blues wastefulness in front of goal. Gary McSheffrey set the tone by firing wide after just eight minutes when he only had Royals keeper Marcus Hahnemann to beat and just before half time Mikael Forssell also failed to hit the target from close range as Blues sought a reply to Bikey's 31st minute opener from a John Oster free kick.
Forssell did well to wriggle to the by-line and square the ball to Mauro Zarate to score his first goal for the club but the Finland international then had a superb opportunity to put the visitors in front in the 71st minute but he couldn't beat Hahnemann.
After Bikey had again beaten Jaidi to an Oster free kick in the 79th minute to put Steve Coppell's Royals back in front, substitute Cameron Jerome had an excellent opportunity to restore parity five minutes later when he outpaced the Royals defence but he flicked the ball past Hahnemann and harmlessly past the far post.
"There is no doubt that, on another day, we should have won that game with the chances we had and the way we played," McLeish said.
"I really felt we could get back into the game at half time, which we did, and their keeper pulled off a great save to deny Mikael, although he was a bit fortunate. We have been through three times on the goalkeeper and we haven't scored. I suppose you get what you deserve when you can't apply the finishing touch, and if we can't keep the ball out of the net at the other end then it looks like we will have to score two or three every game to win."
There is no doubt the defeat is immensely damaging to Blues' hopes of remaining in the Premier League, as is the knee injury to James McFadden that will keep him out of action for a few weeks.
However, Blues can look back on other games against their relegation rivals where they certainly should have come away with more points.
When Sunderland were the visitors way back in August the Black Cats grabbed a late, controversial equaliser, and since McLeish's arrival there have been disappointing home draws against Fulham, Reading, Derby County and Newcastle United, as well as no-shows at Bolton and Sunderland.
Blues have seven games left and three wins should ensure they retain Premier League status, but it isn't an easy run in by any stretch of the imagination. Blues have home games against Manchester City and then Champions
League hopefuls Everton and Liverpool before finishing their season with the visit of Blackburn Rovers, but it is the away games that will be key.
McLeish has to take his side to Wigan Athletic, Aston Villa and then Fulham, and it is vital Blues do not taste defeat in those games.
This was a game Reading, who were one point and one place above Birmingham at the start of play, simply had to win, and Blues just couldn't afford to lose. They can't afford to lose many more if their stay in the top flight is not going to turn out to be a fleeting one.
Scorers: Bikey (31) 1-0; Zarate (64) 1-1; Bikey (79) 2-1.
READING: Hahnemann; Shorey; Kevin Doyle; Hunt; Oster (Long 77); Kitson; Harper; Ingimarsson; Rosenior; Bikey; Matejovsky (Cisse 81). Subs: Sonko; Kebe; Federici.
BIRMINGHAM CITY: Taylor; Kelly; Ridgewell; Larsson; Forssell (Jerome 80); McSheffrey (O'Connor 65); Nafti; Murphy; Zarate; Jaidi; Muamba. Subs: Colin Doyle; Parnaby; Johnson.
Referee: Mike Riley (West Yorkshire).
Bookings: Blues - Ridgewell (foul).