BIRMINGHAM CITY 1 READING 3
Birmingham City manager Alex McLeish insisted that his side’s defeat to promotion rivals Reading “doesn’t decide anything”.
Second-half goals from Kevin Doyle and Kalifa Cisse saw the visitors respond to Kevin Phillips’ brilliant equaliser and leapfrog Blues into the second automatic promotion place.
But McLeish insisted the only difference between the sides was the quality of finishing and that promotion back to the Premier League remains the aim.
He said: “We had chances but Reading were more clinical than us and it’s obviously disappointing. But it doesn’t decide anything.
“They are an efficient side who do the simple things well. They are not a beautiful passing side but they all know what they are doing and they’re hard to beat.”
McLeish refused to be drawn on speculation surrounding targets in next month’s transfer window but admitted he is not short of options.
He said: “We’ll always look at other players who can improve the team but we won’t bring in anyone who isn’t better than our first XI.
“If everybody is fit then we are fine but we’ve had four or five out recently and all of a sudden we look like a small squad.
“I am being inundated with calls from agents. It’s silly season and there is no shortage of players on my desk.”
The returning James McFadden showed a few nice touches early on but it was a bad one from him which led to Hunt’s 13th-minute opener.
McFadden fouled Noel Hunt – who had seconds earlier clashed heads with Franck Queudrue – 25 yards from goal and the forward nonchalantly bent the resulting free-kick over the wall and into the corner.
Maik Taylor got a hand to the shot but could not prevent Hunt from claiming his 11th goal of a productive first season in England.
The dazed Hunt was then brought off as a result of his earlier head injury with Shane Long partnering Doyle up front.
The game lost its tempo for the remainder of the half after Hunt’s departure but Steve Coppell’s side started the second brightly.
Birmingham looked clueless in attack before a mistake from Cisse allowed Phillips to produce a superb individual goal in the 60th minute.
The Royals were totally in control of the ball when Cisse needlessly turned into trouble in midfield where he was robbed by Lee Carsley.
Phillips nipped in to steal the loose ball and after nutmegging Ivar Ingimarsson advanced unchallenged to the edge of the area and lashed in a stinging low drive.
It was a sublime goal but just six minutes later his counterpart Doyle put the visitors back ahead.
Stephen Hunt swept in a curling free-kick and Doyle got ahead of Radhi Jaidi to steer a flicked header wide of Taylor and into the far corner.
Any hopes of a Blues comeback were killed off when Cisse converted a cross from the tireless Doyle in the 82nd minute.
Scorers: Hunt (13) 0-1, Phillips (60) 1-1, Doyke (66) 1-2, Cisse (82) 1-3.
BIRMINGHAM: Maik Taylor, Parnaby, Jaidi, Queudrue, Murphy, Larsson (Bent, 75), Carsley, Quashie, McFadden (Owusu-Abeyie, 70), Phillips, Jerome. Substitutes: Doyle, Hunt, Agustien.
READING: Federici, Rosenior, Duberry, Ingimarsson, Armstrong, Henry (Gunnarsson, 75), Cisse, Harper, Stephen Hunt, Doyle, Noel Hunt (Long, 27). Substitutes: Andersen, Matejovsky, Bikey.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral).
Bookings: Blues – Queudrue; Reading – Rosenior, Federici.