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Birmingham v Reading preview: Overachievers meet in the second city

Friday night's Championship offering comes from St Andrew's where Birmingham City host Reading in a match between two sides who have performed better than expected so far this season.

The pair have had plenty of well-documented financial issues over the past few years and, as a result, were expected to struggle in the second tier this season.

However, both sides have displayed plenty of courage and resolve so far and this one is teed up to be a match between two sides who can go into the busy Christmas schedule feeling positive about themselves.

Birmingham currently occupy 14th in the table and are five points above Wigan who are 22nd and the first of the teams in the bottom three. Reading meanwhile are 8th and will be looking upwards to the playoff places following successive wins.

What: Birmingham City v Reading
Where: St Andrew's, Birmingham
When: Friday 16th December, 20:00
How to watch: Sky Sports Football
Odds: Birmingham 23/20, Draw 21/10, Reading 11/4

Brum enjoying decent campaign

Birmingham's summer transfer business largely consisted of unproven loan players and free transfers, with their seemingly never-ending financial issues impeding their ability to go big in the market.

John Eustace was drafted in as manager following the departure of Lee Bowyer and the former QPR midfielder's remit was to keep them in the division.

So far, they have outdone expectations and come into this match on the back of a decent run of form, losing only one of their last six matches. 

The squad has a nice blend of youth and experience. Troy Deeney is the obvious leader of the pack and the 34-year-old is still going strong at his boyhood club despite goals not coming as regularly as before.

Meanwhile, the younger players are faring well too - Auston Trusty has been an excellent loan addition from Arsenal while the Blues faithful were ecstatic to get playmaker Tahith Chong back from Manchester United on a permanent basis.

Being well-organised is the modus operandi of Eustace with only Sheffield United and Coventry enjoying better defensive records in the league this term.

It might not lead to breathtaking football the neutral wants but fans are more than happy following years of mediocrity - the last six seasons have seen Birmingham finish between 17th and 20th.

On Saturday, at Blackpool, they were fairly unlucky not to come away with the three points after having two goals ruled out for offside while they were certainly more creative than the Tangerines.

Royals aim for unlikely playoff berth

If Birmingham are having a good season then Reading are having an outstanding one as Paul Ince continues to defy pre-season expectations.

Many predicted them to whipping boys in the division after they narrowly avoided the drop last season, their campaign not aided well by a points deduction.

Cost-cutting was the order of the day during the summer and they lost key players such as Josh Laurent and Andy Rinomhota in midfield.

In their place arrived older more experienced players like Tom Ince and Andy Carroll and, in a similar vein to Birmingham, the blend of youth and experience has worked.

Incredibly, a win here would put them up to fifth in the table, albeit possibly on a temporary basis. Reading are still as big as 40/1 To Be Promoted this season. 

Ince's men have recovered well from a period of poor form which saw them win only once in nine games. Many thought the bubble had burst but back-to-back wins indicates Reading are here to stay.

They got the better of an in-form Coventry on Saturday as Amadou Mbengue's first senior goal saw off the Sky Blues.

The area they do need to improve in is defence though. Reading have let 30 goals go past them this season which is the most out of any of the top 15 Championship teams.

In terms of recent meetings between the pair, it has been a game for the away team - the travellers have won four of the last six contests and it's 11/4 Reading Full Time Result here. 

Both teams have scored in all six of those games as well, meaning this one could be an unlikely cracker.

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Continuity expected in terms of team selection

Blues boss Eustace is unlikely to make sweeping changes to his team which collected a point at Bloomfield Road on Saturday.

Krystian Bielik came through 90 minutes upon his return from the World Cup with Poland and should be fine to go again. Lukas Jutkiewicz is pushing for a recall but has only started twice this season.

Reading also had players return from the Wold Cup to face Coventry with Junior Hoilett, Baba Rahman, and Mamadou Loum all in action.

Centre-back Tom Holmes picked up a head injury on Saturday and is unlikely to be risked, meaning Tom McIntyre should slot in at the back instead.

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