Blues’ unbeaten run was extended to 10 games thanks to a 2-1 victory over Reading on Tuesday night.
After a goalless first half, Blues took the lead when Gary Gardner prodded from close range. The game was made safe when Lukas Jutkiewicz nodded home Che Adams’ superb cross from the right-hand side, the goal rendering Yakou Meite’s late goal a mere consolation.
This was another important victory for Blues whose ability to remain organised and concentrated for the most part ensured that Reading were put aside.
Monk will have every right to be a little frustrated with his side’s display for the most part. Reading didn’t just enjoy more possession but they won more aerial battles, more tackles and generally made life difficult for Blues, particularly in midfield where Leandro Bacuna, John Swift and Liam Kelly stood.
But what Reading showed in willingness and technical ability, they lacked in organisation and discipline which allowed Blues opportunities. It could have been more than two.
Lukas Jutkiewicz and Che Adams were given far too much respect early on and that set the tone for the game, Reading defenders either too tight or too far off the forwards who were able to get the ball down and make things happen. It also helped that Jota was up against Tyler Blackett and Jacques Maghoma was looking sharp.
Blues started with intent but after Maghoma and Jutkiewicz wasted half chances, Reading almost took the lead. From Leandro Bacuna to Liam Kelly to John Swift to Yakou Meite who twisted and turned before firing a powerful shot that Lee Camp managed to stop.
After Che Adams’ dink landed on top of the net, Lee Camp almost had a disastrous moment, attempting to handle Liam Kelly’s shot but seeing the ball slip from his hands and fall just wide of his post.
Che Adams was enjoying himself but lacked a clinical finish after escaping his marker before Camp was called into action again, this time managing to palm away John Swift’s free-kick. That was pretty much it for the half, Reading attempting to gain control but lacking penetration, Blues breaking with pace but lacking precision.
It was becoming one of those games where a bit of luck or a moment of brilliance was required. Blues produced both.
First, the luck.
Three minutes into the second half, Jota’s corner was nodded on by Michael Morrison and his attempted effort at goal found its way to Gary Gardner who prodded home from close range. For those not keeping count, it was the first goal since Maxime Colin’s consolation against Cardiff City that did not directly involved Jota, Jacques Maghoma, Lukas Jutkiewicz and Che Adams, a run of 22 games and 27 goals.
Blues were on top and the confidence was flowing. A swift move between Mahoney and Adams ended with Jota who saw his effort blocked. Colin dispossessed Blackett twice but his cross was inches from the boot of Adams. Jota produced a wonderful cross that was well caught by Jaakkola as Juke looked to pounce.
The goal never came and Blues were almost caught out, Kieftenbeld losing possession then in attempting to rectify his mistake, almost putting the ball past Camp who made the save. Reading brought on Gareth McCleary and and Sam Baldock in an attempt to get them going, but The Royals weren’t ready for what came next.
Che Adams received a pass in the channel and found himself in a tussle with Tiago Ilori who pulled, pushed, kicked and scratched the Blues number 9. The linesman didn’t flag, the referee saw nothing wrong and the fans were screaming for a free-kick.
Adams had had enough. He shrugged off Ilori and turned. The centre-back was too scared to engage. Adams, clearly wound up, decided against the simple pass and instead produced one of the finest crosses you will see this season, a pinpoint delivery from the right-hand side that landed perfectly on the head of his strike partner who headed back across goal. Sensational.
The move fired up Adams and he was enjoying himself as the game started to open up. He found Jota, Mahoney and Solomon-Otabor but none of them could make the most of their chances. He played balls through for Mahoney and Lubala who simply failed to read his intention despite the space being there.
The clincher never came and Reading eventually worked their way into the Blues area. We had switched off. Yakou Meite had warned Blues with a header that Camp did well to deny but the keeper was fooled when Meite found himself in behind again, making the first move and watching on as the Ivorian knocked the ball over him.
Despite looking raw late on, Blues managed to hold on for another three points and a victory that lifted the team into the top half of the league. The result also extended Blues’ unbeaten run at home to 12 matches, a run we haven’t achieved since Chris Hughton was in charge of the club. We finished in the play-offs that season.
Perhaps that is a dream too far. Perhaps, Garry Monk is just that good.