Birmingham City skipper Troy Deeney won the game on a freezing night at St Andrew’s as his first brace helped beat Paul Ince’s Reading.
Deeney’s second-minute opener, followed by a 23rd-minute penalty and Tahith Chong’s first goal of the season, gave the Blues a decisive half-time lead.
But, although Lucas Joao salvaged one in the 83rd minute and Tom Ince added another four minutes in stoppage time, John Eustace’s Blues hung on to their eighth win of the season to climb to the top. seventh place in the championship.
Les Bleus got off to a dream start – and that was down to luck.
Mamadou Loum tried to block Juninho Bacuna’s right wing low cross but he broke off his high boot, threw into the danger zone and Deeney was alert enough to hang on home with his right foot at close range.
Blues keeper John Ruddy then had to make two key saves to deny Andy Yiadom and Yakou Meite before Deeney doubled the Blues’ lead from the penalty spot.
It came after Reading defender Naby Sarr’s sliding challenge allowed Deeney to attempt an athletic jump – and he ended up falling to the ground. Whether he was fishing or not, he quickly got up off the ground to shoot with his right foot from the spot.
It was 3-0 in the 36th minute when Amadou Mbengue bungled the management of a seemingly innocuous long ball, allowing Chong to run and finish with his left foot for his first goal since March.
Playback improved a lot after the break, but without much reward as Deeney actually came close to a hat-trick when he shot a foot wide.
But Andy Carroll’s late introduction from the bench had the intended effect for the visitors. With seven minutes remaining, it was the former Newcastle and England striker’s header that deflected Ince’s goal that allowed Joao to nod.
Ince then sparked a few nervous moments at the end when his low shot went through a forest of legs deep into five minutes of added time.
From the heat of Qatar… to the freezing cold of Brum
Less than a week ago, Birmingham City’s most expensive youth product, Jude Bellingham, was in Qatar trying to boost England’s chances of winning the World Cup.
But, within 48 hours of returning from England, the 19-year-old made an appearance at Small Heath to watch his younger brother Jobe play for the Blues.
The 17-year-old came on for a late appearance from the bench.
Birmingham City head coach John Eustace told BBC Sport:
“I want to dedicate this victory to four dead boys [in Solihull] and their relatives.
“We weren’t at our usual level of performance but, on the other hand, we were very clinical, which we weren’t at Blackpool last week.
“Troy Deeney’s overall performance was fantastic. Not just his goals. But we had to rely too often on John Ruddy in the first half not to score.
“Reaching 30 points halfway through is a great group effort, but we have to maintain those standards. It will be even more difficult in the second half of the season.”
Head of Reading Paul Ince told BBC Sport:
“We just made too many mistakes. And, for the first goal, we made three in one.
“You can’t come to places like Birmingham on a freezing night and do that. They haven’t opened up for us. It’s errors for all three goals.
“I told them at half time to go and at least show some pride and win the second half, which we did.
“I’m not disappointed with the performance. We were still the better team and could have won the game – but it’s still not good enough.”