Reading 0 Birmingham 1
Marcus Hahnemann’s goalkeeping error put Birmingham in the driving seat for promotion as a dramatic final afternoon of Coca-Cola Championship action reached half-time.
Hahnemann failed to gather Birmingham midfielder Keith Fahey’s low shot as the Royals’ awful home form looked set to cost them again.
Both sides began the day knowing they could claim automatic promotion to the Barclays Premier League at the first attempt while also knowing Sheffield United could deny the pair with a result at Crystal Palace.
Reading looked certain to have to settle for a play-off place at best just a fortnight ago but away wins at Derby and Norwich coupled with Birmingham’s last-gasp defeat to Preston last weekend meant the door to promotion was still ajar.
However Steve Coppell’s side had gone seven games without a win at home – a run stretching back to late January – and kicked off as underdogs in the three horse race.
Jem Karacan chanced his arm with a 25-yard shot in the opening seconds as the Royals pushed forward in glorious sunshine.
Cameron Jerome nearly forced an opening at the other end when he made a bright run behind the defence but his pass was just unable to find Fahey in the area.
Jimmy Kebe then had the first shot on target after a fine crossfield ball from Andre Bikey picked him out on the left of the area but his shot was straight at Maik Taylor in the Birmingham goal.
Kevin Phillips hooked an acrobatic effort wide after Reading made a hash of dealing with a long throw as Alex McLeish’s side began to press.
And the Blues had the lead in the 19th minute.
James McFadden took a corner which was cleared back to him and he drilled a second cross deep to the back post.
Phillips cushioned a header down to Fahey and after cutting in from the left the Irishman curled in a shot from the edge of the area which should have been gathered by Hahnemann but somehow squirmed through his grasp and over the line.
Stephen Hunt flashed a dangerous ball across the face of the goal as the hosts looked for a response but Birmingham went in at the break one up.