Birmingham City v Reading
The last Championship gameweek before Christmas starts on Friday night in the midlands as Reading travel to St Andrews to face Birmingham. These are two teams that were tipped by many to be relegated this season, but they have both been impressive so far, sitting in 14th and 8th respectively. Birmingham come into this one on the back of three games without a win and drew 0-0 at Blackpool last time out. Reading returned to action after the international break with an impressive 1-0 win over Coventry, who went into that game on the back of four wins on the spin.
There were many people that predicted Birmingham to go down this season, and questions were asked when John Eustace was appointed in his first senior job in the professional football, having been an assistant at QPR for four years prior to this. They have become very difficult to beat and have only lost three games since the end of August. Sat only five points outside the top six, if the Blues can convert some of their draws to wins then they may be able to put on a very surprising playoff charge, but they will need to keep looking behind their shoulders as they are the same distance from Wigan in the bottom three. It is unlikely that Eustace will make too many changes after the stalemate at Blackpool and he has no injury concerns to deal with. Their only player at the World Cup, Krystian Bielik, managed 90 minutes last weekend despite playing plenty of minutes for Poland in Qatar.
Just like the home side, the visitors were predicted to go down by bookies, pundits, and fans alike at the start of the season. However, a strong start had Reading fans dreaming with a run of six wins in eight at one point in September and October and whilst their form since has faded, they still sit in eighth, two points outside the playoffs. However, they have to improve on the road, where they have lost seven of their eleven matches and have only scored eight goals. They can take confidence from their victory at Hull before the break which halted a run of one point from their five away games before that. Reading had three representatives in Qatar with Junior Hoilett, Baba Rahman and Mamadou Loum all playing in the tournament, and all managed to play a part in the victory over Coventry last weekend. Tom Holmes picked up a head injury in that game and probably won’t play here which should see Tom McIntyre play, but Naby Sarr is also an option.
Birmingham have been struggling to pick up wins and have drawn a lot of their recent games but they’ve been unfortunate. Whilst they’re winless in three, they have won each of those games on expected goals by a comfortable margin, registering over 1.5xGF per game whilst keeping Blackpool and Swansea to under 0.50 expected goals and allowing Sunderland just 1.12xGF. In 17 of their 22 games so far this season, they have registered at least 0.95 expected goals, and have picked up some impressive results. Burnley are the best side in the league and whilst they only managed a point, Birmingham can feel hard done by as they created the best chances, winning 1.38-0.60 on expected goals. This was not a fluke. They have beaten Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on expected goals, as well as heading to Ewood Park and winning 2-1.07 on expected goals despite losing 2-1. Those three teams currently make up the top three in the division and Reading should poise much less of a threat to them.
Reading’s home and away form are a remarkable difference. Whilst they have the fourth best record in the division at home, picking up 22 points in 11, away from home they have managed just 10 points in 11 games, losing 7 of those. On the road, they have lost four of their last six and have kept just one clean sheet, conceding 10 in that time. They have picked up six points from their last two games but have perhaps been fortunate to do so, having lost both games on expected goals (0.98-0.92 and 1.02-0.71). I think that there is evidence to suggest that the data should catch up with them here and I struggle to see them keeping Birmingham out, and I think they will add to the 19 goals conceded in 11 away games. They have failed to score in five of their games on the road and have managed just 8 all season. I think that there is value in a Birmingham win here, despite Reading sitting higher in the table.
Yakou Meite is Reading’s left winger who has scored plenty of goals for the club in the past, with three double digit goal seasons. He missed a lot of last season due to injury and was not in the starting XI at the beginning of the season but has started to become more of an outlet for them up top, with three goals and two assists in eight starts. He averages the most shots per 90 of anyone for Reading at 2.35 with 1.18 on target per 90. His expected goals is the highest of any Reading player at 3.3 despite only having eight starts. He has had at least one shot in 12 of his 13 appearances this season, only failing to do so in an 11 minute cameo against Watford. In games where he has played 70 or more minutes, he has had 11 shots in six games. Five of the six games where he has played substantially have come in the last seven Reading games, suggesting his minutes are increasing as Paul Ince trusts him more. If Birmingham take an early lead, which I think could happen, Reading will be forced to go for it and this should allow opportunities for Meite.
In their last five home games, Birmingham have conceded a total of 48 shots, averaging almost ten per game. They have also conceded two in each of their last two at St Andrews and whilst this has been unfortunate in terms of expected goals, it suggests that they are allowing plenty of chances. Meite is Reading’s main man in terms of shots and if Birmingham take the lead which is likely, Reading will be forced to try and find a goal and this should allow opportunities for Meite.
At home so far this season, Birmingham average 5.91 corners per game, a number which rises to 6.33 corners per game in their last six. They have had six or more corners in 73% of their home games so far this season and in seven of their last 10. They will be desperate to win this game and therefore John Eustace will want to put them on the front foot early as they try to create chances.
On their travels, Reading concede an average of 5.09 corners per game, a number which rises to 6.83 conceded per game when you take into account only their last six games. They have conceded four or more corners in each of their last six away games and five or more in four of their last five. Birmingham should be able to use their wide players to create plenty of opportunities for corners here, particularly if Reading frustrate them.
Written by an Andy verified content writer
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