As I said in my last blog, I’m going to skip over Queens Park Rangers. We lost to a side that I’ve been telling everyone had been the worst side to visit St Andrew’s this season, we lost to a side with 10 men, we lost to a side that we really should have troubled more, we lost to a side that according to the experts, are underachieving and are under pressure. Granted, we had injuries of our own to contend with and late changes never help anyone. But it felt like just one of those days. We’re not going to go the whole season unbeaten but if we win our home games, we’ll pick up a decent haul on the road with our strength on the counter. This defeat was easy to rationalize for me. We lost a game, it’s going to happen. We can and probably will still win the Championship in my mind. For some though, it seems to be the end of the world.
Still, whichever side of the fence you sit on, you have to concede that Blues always bounce back, at least as far as results go. I was surprised to hear – and you might be too – that we haven’t lost back to back games since January 2008 (Chelsea and Sunderland) and we were facing a Coventry side that haven’t kept a clean sheet in their last seven, that have lost their last four, that are languishing just above the creaky trap door that covers League One? Surely we’d beat this lot?
I’d been stupidly excited about this game since Friday afternoon when I read on the Fox Sports website that it would be screened live here in Australia. It required a 6:30 AM get up but considering I’d been up at 3 AM to support Lewis Hamilton the previous night, 6:30 was more than a breeze. Knowing what I know now, I should’ve heeded my own warning from Friday night. “It would by typically Blues,” I announced to my Aussie hosts “to lose this one.” Since I was last in Australia in 2004, my hosts have learnt quite a bit about Blues – mostly about our brushes with success and our uncanny ability to kick ourselves unbelievably hard in an area that God only intended to be treated nicely on an all too regular basis.
Going to bed last night, I had that kid before Christmas feeling. I couldn’t wait for morning to come so I could get up and watch us knock the ball around, play some majestic football and put Coventry to the sword quite effortlessly. Especially since we’d despatched Sheffield Wednesday relatively comfortably in our last outing at St Andrew’s. I was convinced I’d be up at 4:30 AM, just pacing up and down waiting for the game to start. I wasn’t. I fell asleep during the Premier League Highlights show last night around 9:30 PM and was only awoken by an annoying, whining noise (my alarm, as opposed to one of the locals!) at 6:30. Enough time to do a coffee, see the team and then settle down to watch us comfortably annihilate our neighbours.
I should point out that I expect this from Blues every week. It doesn’t come from a place of experience or expectation, merely from a place that gets excited about seeing St Andrew’s on the telly, seeing the word ‘Birmingham’ written anywhere, a place that insists that my bedroom still has to be painted blue and white. I’m 27 but somewhere I got stuck when it came to supporting Blues. I’m still 7 when it comes to supporting Blues. I love the club unconditionally, I am loyal unconditionally, I believe we are the best, I believe everyone who supports another club is wrong and that we are the centre of the universe, not that I can possibly conceive how big the universe is at such an age, mind. Blues play, Blues must win, Blues must play well, everyone must love us. This is how I feel about Blues. My mind is capable of being sensible but most of the time, I support Blues with my heart. It’s an affliction. Really.
However, I invite you to join me. It makes football so much more fun when viewed through the eyes of a child instead of being able to comprehend just what the people involved in modern day football are really like.
My first surprise of the morning came upon opening the curtains. I was greeted by two fighting wallabies about 30 feet away from the back door. Occasionally they’d look up to see that I wasn’t doing them any harm then they’d continue to whack each other in the face (and to clarify : when I say ‘wallabies’, I mean small marsupials, I do not mean international rugby union players.) I watched for a good five minutes before one took off into the bushland with the other in hot pursuit. By the time I’d gotten back into the house, the Blues line-up was on the screen. Pretty much what I’d expected. I mumbled to myself “Yep, Taylor in goal, French Franck at left back, Agent and Radhi at centre back, Hunty right back, Lars… Hunty?” I scratched my head. The bad thing about sleeping through the day in the UK is that you’re either a) An alcoholic or b) On the other side of the world. Since I don’t drink, I was clearly on the other side of the planet and so had missed the news that we’d signed a bloke called Hunt from someone – or he was a youth player that I’d never heard of and had already elbowed Jared Wilson out of the way. Hmmm. It soon became apparent that it was Nicky Hunt, opinion pending.
I’d read yesterday that we were interested in Ryan Taylor from Wigan (not for the first time, either) for the right back slot but presumed that since a deal hadn’t been done, we’d be going with Jared Wilson against Coventry. Note to self : Presume to know nothing when it comes to the inner-workings of a manager’s head. I smiled to myself as I considered the speed at which Big Eck had found a replacement for Parnaby and Kelly. If only he’d been so quick to sign a centre half last January, I might be arising early from my pit and missing much needed beauty sleep for games against substantially better opposition, my mind mused (yes, if you’re a Coventry fan, you might well be saying to yourself “You want to try beating us before you go thinking about playing anyone better, Brummie Boy!” Feck off.) I sloshed around in the memory bank for what I knew about Nicky Hunt. “Reading? That was nice of Coppell to let his full back go to a promotion rival… but then, he’s that sort of chap, isn’t he?” Then I considered it. Surely I’d gotten it wrong. It’s been driving me to distraction all day. Just who does Nicky Hunt play for?
I must confess that the last time I was in Australia, I found myself falling out of touch with the news in the lower leagues of English football. They tend to cover the Premier League exclusively here and since Blues were riding high at the time, I sort of thought it a bit of a waste of time in keeping up since we wouldn’t be going back there any time soon! When I arrived home in January 2005, I just sort of kept my ignorance up and when we did slip out of the top division, I was, shall we say, more than a bit perplexed about the division in which we found ourselves. I’ve made a point of trying to keep up with all divisons in England since but my knowledge is nowhere near what it used to be – and considering where Blues are and what our attendances have dropped to, I feel a bit guilty for becoming a bit of a fair weather football fan in that sense. I no longer obsessively pour over the pages of ‘British Footbal Weekly’ or the Beeb or Sky Sports sites like I used to.
This will change when I get broadband, I tell myself. In the UK, it’s not too difficult to keep up with certain moves because things like teletext and the last 20 odd pages of pretty much any newspaper are exclusively football – as is Setanta Sports News and Sky Sports News. Therefore, spending hours and hours trawling through sports sites isn’t really too necessary. You just sort of absorb information about football without wishing to. Here though, they do the round up of the Premier League and that’s pretty much your lot. So I need to commit to keeping up with football these days. Only, the problem is that I’m on dial up and using the internet involves paying a connection charge and then tying up the phone line. Not to mention the chronic speed of the thing on modern day websites. Ad blockers help but it’s still far from ideal. For the last two weeks, I’m pleading sheer inconvenience for I know of not much that’s happening in the football world. And this is my excuse for not immediately finding out who Nicky Hunt plays for. I shall dial up shortly and find out. Just as soon as I’m done with this (it disconnects after four hours and with the speed I write articles, if I dialled up now, checked, put it into this article and then finished it, it would disconnect leaving me no time to actually post this thing. So therefore, I shall be honest and say that I can’t remember who Nicky Hunt plays for.)
Onto the game and my first thought was about how empty St Andrew’s looked. Then I was thankful that Newcastle versus the Villa was on Fox Sports 1 because the majority of Australia would be tuning into that and therefore, missing just how sad St Andrew’s looked. I tell everyone all the time just what St Andrew’s can be like but none of them have ever seen any evidence of it, either in person or on the TV. Everyone should experience a full and rocking St Andrew’s just once. It’s the best place on Earth as far as I’m concerned. And I’ve seen some fairly impressive places. But somehow, 17,000 on a cold Monday night when it seems as though those 17,000 are being held there under duress just doesn’t seem to cut it.
Onto the game, what’s to be said?
I generally try and avoid writing reports or opinions straight after the game because inevitably, the disappointment or jubilation tends to influence just exactly how I saw the game (I think it’s the same for most people, too) and after looking forward to this one for 3 solid days, I can’t stop the disappointment gnawing away at me. I’m torn between which way to go with the report and my opinion because the Coventry City ‘keeper was named man of the match but at no point did I feel like we were deserving of the three points (aside from the “I support Blues and we should always win, Dagnamit!” sort of way) and as I think back through the 3 hours since the game finished, I’m consumed with anger and disappointment about the fact that they’ve let me down so badly again. In that sense, I’m not like a kid… if you buy me a Big Mac and a large Coke from McDonalds, I don’t forget that Blues have fecked up again. I don’t forget that I’ve invested quite a lot in them when it comes to this one game alone and yet again, they’ve done it. They’ve lost a game that no-one in their right mind would’ve put money on them losing. That hurts and yes, that’s typical Blues.
We did create chances – albeit not clear cut ones and sometimes they were a touch fortuitous but chances nonetheless. Westwood made some almost superhuman saves and on another day, despite our not playing well, we could’ve put 2 or 3 away today.
Nicky Hunt – I thought he looked okay and slotted in well. He crossed well, too. Cameron Jerome cannot cross the ball. Let’s try and stop him doing that, hey?
Quincy – He came on and tried to change the game. His energy as well as his skill on the ball was a joy to behold and when he was in possession, you did get the feeling that something might happen. A conundrum because sometimes, he disappears completely when he’s given a start.
James McFadden – Given a start, McFads looked better. At times, you could tell he is a class apart in this division and if given a run of games, I’m convinced he’ll learn to trust his team mates a bit more as well as be able to make centre halves look rather foolish with his skill and class.
No. You know what? I’m pissed off with positive today. I’m completely pissed off and I think I summed up such a performance with my own rant just before the final whistle “Before today, I claimed that QPR were the worse side I’d seen at St Andrew’s this season. Today, I change my mind. It’s actually us!” That said, I was having one of those days by the time half time had come. Things weren’t going to plan. We weren’t playing well, we weren’t 5-0 up like I’d imagined all weekend and although I still backed us to win, I couldn’t help but feel that it would be another nervy 1-0 with it doing nothing to douse the flames of apathy at St Andrew’s. I want the clouds gone and when it became clear that it wasn’t going to happen, I turned into a typical whingeing Pom.
I accused Dion Dublin of being biased (“He played for Coventry and the Vile and he nutted one of our players once, how can he possibly be objective???”) when he claimed that Coventry were the better side at the break, I bemoaned every misplaced pass, I slated Clinton O’Morrison for over celebrating (even though he claimed he didn’t in his post match interview and was actually very complimentary about us!) and not to mention what I muttered about Ridgewell when he held back Morrison for a clear penalty in the first half. It was spoiled, all ruined, all rubbish. Blues losing tends to have that effect, doesn’t it? For the rest of the day / weekend / whatever, things are just a little bit less good than they ought to be.
In truth, we never really looked like a side. Occasionally we’d put a small passage of play together that gave hope to a more sustained period of pressure and more good play but it never seemed to completely click. We were disjointed and uneven and the three in midfield up against Coventry’s four always seemed to struggle. Gary Birtles made the point that Coventry ALWAYS had Mifsud floating around on the wing and he was a great out ball whereas Blues had no-one. Time and time again, we lacked width on the left and it all went too central and too tight. Coventry – especially after the goal – packed the middle of the defence and Blues found it increasingly more difficult to find the key to unlock a determined Sky Blues back line.
And that’s not to take anything away from Coventry who, at times, played some neat football and looked dangerous on the counter attack without creating too much to worry Maik Taylor. Jay Tabb really ought to have made it 2-0 and had he done so, it might’ve even become 3 or 4 as Blues would’ve gone even more kamikaze to try and get back into the game. At the end, we had four up although a lack of movement (something that’s difficult to pick up on TV) was evident as Quincy, 25 yards from goal, ran parallel along the edge of the Coventry area with the ball at his feet with his arms out to his side frustratedly asking for a ball for him to play. With so many good strikers, we really ought to do better and I’ve often wondered whether St Andrew’s is a good place to come and defend for away sides because the pitch is so small and packing the defence whilst always showing our wingers (not that we had any genuine wingers on display today) inside always leaves a severe lack of room and only the very best through ball will suffice. Today and not for the first time, we lacked that very thing. That and too many balls not finding their targets with too many being cut out and our crossing simply not being good enough. Jerome in particular struggled with his delivery into the box all night long.
Overall, I’d file this one in the ‘frustrating and confusing’ category. The Coventry ‘keeper winning man of the match whilst most agreeing that Blues didn’t really turn up until the last twenty minutes or so. Our visitors came, opted to try and play and ultimately reaped their rewards. They were slicker than us in the first half and whilst the clear cut chances went our way, a combination of a great goalkeeping display and a lack of top class finishing was ultimately our undoing.
After QPR, I wasn’t unduly worried. As I said, we’re going to lose games on the road against promotion rivals and even, occasionally, against sides that we really should be beating. But two games on the bounce given the performances is a bit of a worry and Big Eck and his team really need to act quickly to halt the trend. Especially given a highly unforgiving support that do not seem to be satisfied with much at the moment. A good win and a decent performance would be very much a welcome tonic, especially given that we’re now four points behind a club that no-one likes to be four points behind.
Onto Nottingham we go.