The pressure surrounding Birmingham City’s make-or-break trip to Berkshire on Sunday went up an extra notch last night. In the same way Birmingham fans found themselves temporarily cheering on Burnley a week earlier, it was Norwich City who attracted the support of the blue half of the Second City last night.
However, unlike it had done in Lancashire last week, the fixture in Norfolk failed to fall in favour of Alex McLeish’s men.
A brace of headed goals from Reading’s Irish striker Shane Long in the second half at Carrow Road not only pushed Norwich closer to League One, it kept the Royals’ hopes for automatic promotion to the Premier League alive. Should Reading beat Birmingham at the Madejski Stadium on Sunday and should Sheffield United fail to win at Crystal Palace, then it will be Steve Coppell’s side who will seal the final slot of the Championship’s all-important top two.
Although Birmingham’s destiny is still in their own hands, Reading’s 2-0 victory at Norwich would have come as a bitter blow.
Had Reading failed to see off the relegation-haunted Canaries then, with their automatic promotion hopes over, the likelihood is that Coppell would have fielded a weakened side against Birmingham in preparation for the lottery that is the Championship’s play-offs.
Birmingham, who disappointingly didn’t have one single player named in the Professional Footballers’ Association Championship Team of Season, now face a nerve-jangling journey to the Madejski Stadium where they will come up against a rejuvenated Reading, who hold a comfortable advantage in terms of goal difference.
His side’s failure to secure promotion in front of their own fans at St Andrew’s will remain particularly galling for McLeish throughout the remainder of this week.
“We have had a terrific record at home. In terms of Reading and Wolves and our rivals up there, it’s probably been the best,” said McLeish.
“I’m not sure of the total statistics but we’ve had a terrific record at home despite not getting as big crowds as maybe ten or 12 other clubs in the division.
“We’ve tended to win most of our games at St Andrew’s so that’s the big disappointment that we had a fantastic opportunity and we blew it.
“We have one (opportunity) left to go up with automatic promotion.”
Meanwhile, Birmingham have appealed against Lee Bowyer’s sending-off against Preston North End on Saturday, the hearing for which will be heard this afternoon.
Bowyer was shown a red card by referee Phil Dowd for a petty grapple with Preston midfielder Lee Williamson, who was also given his marching orders, on the hour mark at St Andrew’s during the potentially disastrous 2-1 defeat to the Lilywhites.
The Blues have submitted a claim for wrongful dismissal backed up by written and DVD evidence to the Football Association. Dowd dismissed Bowyer and Williamson on the grounds of violent conduct for alleged head-butting, an offence that carries an automatic three-game ban.