Now don’t get me wrong but nobody likes going to the seaside more than me. However, the prospect of travelling all the way up to Blackpool on a cold Tuesday night in January does not feature high on my list of fun things to do. Added to this Birmingham City have not won at Bloomfield Road since 1960. It was with great trepidation therefore that I found a satisfactory stream on computer to watch the match. I was pleasantly surprised to see that we had decided, or at least our management had, to play 4-4-2 reinstating Hleb and Fahey to assist Gardner and Ferguson in midfield. The goalkeeper and defence naturally were as you were and the final line-up was completed by Cameron Jerome and Matt Derbyshire. It was clear that we intended to attack and go all out for the win.
The subsequent game did not disappoint; with barely 90 seconds on the clock Derbyshire missed a sitter from 4 yards out when he met a cross from Liam Ridgewell from the left at the near post. The striker contrived to divert the ball wide of the far post to my anguish and astonishment. Another chance fell to Derbyshire with less than 5 min gone following a cross from Cameron Jerome only for his strike partner to shoot wide from 6 yards. In fairness to Derbyshire, he was stretching. Barely a minute later Jerome missed the first of numerous chances on the night that could have actually put our goal difference into positive territory!
Whilst Blues were dominating the match it did not mean that Blackpool did not have chances of their own. Indeed after nine minutes their first attempt on goal by Varney narrowly cleared Foster’s goal. Blues nearly paid for their early profligacy when only a brilliant save by Ben Foster prevented Matt Phillips opening the scoring against the run of play with just under 14 min played. The game was turning into an exciting encounter with end-to-end action but with Birmingham definitely in the ascendancy. I was beginning to despair of all the missed opportunities to score against a Blackpool defence that was as watertight as colander. However, it was a mistake by full-back Crainey who gifted the ball to Hleb leaving the Belarus international to drive at Richard Kingson and coolly slot the ball into the net. Within a couple of minutes there was a let off when the lively Matt Phillips missed the chance to equalise immediately with a header. Unfortunately, the ball skimmed past his forehead from Varney’s excellent free kick into the area. Chances continued to occur at both ends and Ben Foster was called upon to save a good shot by Taylor-Fletcher keeping Blues’ lead intact.
On 38 min a well worked corner resulted in Gardner shooting from 20 yards just over the angle of post and bar. At the other end Phillips missed another chance from a cross from Crainey when well placed 10 yards out. Yet another chance fell to Jerome who was otherwise creating trouble for the Blackpool defence and after a lovely run by Hleb who played a perfectly weighted pass into the striker whose shot was then well saved by Kingson but Jerome should have done better. From the resulting corner the Blackpool defender, Cathcart definitely handled the ball only for the referee, Mr John Moss, officiating in his first ever premiership game, to wave away the Birmingham players’ protests. I honestly do not understand what it is about referees and us this season; Cathcart did not handle the ball with one hand, he used two! So it was that Blues went in the interval one goal to the good when in reality on the balance of play and the number of chances spurned the school should have been three or four.
An open game so far continued in a similar vein at the start of the second half. It was noticeable that Fahey had moved out a little wider to counter the threat down Blackpool’s right flank from Phillips and Eardley. Mr Moss to his credit was allowing the game to flow and for that he should be commended; however, he inexplicably failed to give a free kick for at least four infringements against Gardner and Liam Ridgewell which allowed the marauding Blackpool midfield driven on by the excellent Charlie Adam, Luke Varney and Matt Phillips to counter. Blackpool were putting a considerable amount of energy into the early exchanges the second half and chances came thick and fast. Varney seized on a mistake when Blues gave the ball away but fortunately for us his shot was fired over the bar. The dangerous Adam placed a delightful left footed shot which was curling towards the far top corner from 25 yards. Ben Foster did very well to save but could only parry the ball out to Taylor-Fletcher who was unable to convert rebound and the ball looped up harmlessly wide.
Jerome continued to frustrate and my head was in my hands again as not only did his get himself needlessly offside from a Gardner shot but having carved out of position near the penalty spot he missed any way! Barely a minute after this Jerome got in down the inside left channel but was unable to deliver a simple square ball to Matt Derbyshire who had made an excellent run to the edge of the 6 yard box and must surely score had the ball been delivered correctly. Blackpool for their part nearly made Birmingham pay for the mounting number of missed chances and the away side had Roger Johnson to thank for a timely block of Matt Phillips’ shot from the counter-attack that resulted.
Blues were lucky again when well worked move involving Charlie Adam yet again resulted in a ball put through to DJ Campbell whose shot lacked the power to trouble Ben Foster. On 65 min, one of the best chances the game fell once again to Cameron Jerome; outpacing the Blackpool defence and clean through with only Kingson to beat his chip cannoned agonisingly back off the near post; a truly dreadful miss! I was by now screaming at the computer pulling my hair out and having paroxysms. If that wasn’t bad enough a free kick from Larsson 25 yards out struck the same post and it was turning into one of those nights. I have been a Birmingham City supporter for long enough now to know that the inevitable was going to happen and I did not have to wait long before my head was in my hands yet again as our ex-player, DJ Campbell slammed in the equaliser following a well worked move. Eardley drove to the by-line and chipped a lovely cross from the right to Taylor-Fletcher who headed the ball back across to DJ Campbell standing in splendid isolation in the middle of the penalty area despite the fact that there were four Birmingham defenders, all of whom had failed to mark properly. Irritating though the equaliser was, DJ Campbell had demonstrated clearly how it should be done; Cameron Jerome and Matt Derbyshire take note! The latter proceeded to shoot wide from 8 yards out 3 min later and it is just as well that he was offside and the linesman’s flag had spared his blushes.
Blackpool were looking ominous and it was clear that with the aid of the crowd that the momentum was with them and I feared the worst thinking that another chance could undo a lot of good work in what had otherwise been an excellent performance from Birmingham. Chances continue to come both ends and Foster was called upon to save from Euell and Varney. Hleb dribbled his way into the box on 73 min and was clearly brought down by Vaughan. The referee was standing 5 yards from the incident and yet again waved away Birmingham’s protests. I have come to the conclusion that an opposition defender will have to take a machete or a baseball bat to one of our players before we are ever going to be awarded a penalty kick this season. I have to confess that I had resigned myself to losing this game since this sort of scenario seemed all-too-familiar. Beausejour came on for Derbyshire but within seconds Charlie Adam for Blackpool hit a crisp cross shot that for once beat Foster only to cannon off the far upright. There is no doubt that Birmingham deserved this bit of good fortune as it would have been a travesty of justice had Blackpool scored the winner at this juncture but there is also no doubt that Blues would have had only themselves to blame had the ball ricocheted in off the post rather than out to safety.
Gardner missed another good chance when fed in by Beausejour a minute later when his shot was well saved by Kingson. It was at this point that I lost the computer feed and spent the next 3 min frantically trying to find another stream. There were 5 min to go when I did and the score was still 1-1. There have been clearly been another couple of substitutions which I missed. With just over a minute to go Kingson came for a punch to a cross only for Beausejour to pick up the rebound. He delivered the ball back into the area to Roger Johnson at far post. His square header back across was quite beautifully controlled by his centre half partner, Scott Dann who took another touch steadied herself before burying the ball into the back of the net. This was a fabulous finish which a top centre forward, if we had one, would have been justifiably proud of. Blues closed the game out reasonably comfortably after that and although they had made heavy weather of it, Blues at last have their first away win in the Premier League since March.
A welcome three points and it has to be said thoroughly deserved; this game nevertheless demonstrated so clearly how desperately Birmingham require a competent striker to convert the numerous chances that were created tonight. This was easily the most entertaining game that Birmingham have taken part in this season and the best performance they put in since we played Bolton Wanderers earlier in the season. Blackpool are easy on the eye and good to watch and tonight was no different. However, a note of caution has to be acknowledged regarding their defending. They were very lucky this evening that they were playing against our incompetent forwards as I am certain that had we a striker on the pitch worthy of the name tonight, Blackpool would have been on the wrong end of embarrassing score line. They unfortunately have the potential to leak goals and despite their encouraging start to their season it could cost them in the second part of the campaign. Hull City had 27 points at this stage in their first season and barely escaped relegation in the end gaining very few more. Despite this warning, I like many observers, wish them well because they are very entertaining and a breath of fresh air in the Premier League.
The Good: The game; excellent entertainment – I thoroughly enjoyed it. Scott Dann’s finish was class.
The Bad: Our finishing! Awful! Cameron Jerome was by far the worst offender.
The Ugly: I cannot think of anything that falls into this category and to make something up would be unfair to both teams.
Richard Kingson 6, Stephen Crainey 5, Ian Evatt 7, Craig Cathcart 6, Neal Eardley 8, David Vaughan 7, Charlie Adam 9, Gary Taylor-Fletcher 8 (Jason Euell 6), Matt Phillips 8 (Brett Ormerod 6), Luke Varney 7 (Keith Southern, 81, 6), DJ Campbell 7.
Subs not used: Paul Rachubka, Rob Edwards, Alex Baptiste, Ludovic Sylvestre.
Goals: DJ Campbell 68
Birmingham City (4-4-2):
Ben Foster 8, Stephen Carr 7, Roger Johnson 8, Scott Dann 9, Liam Ridgewell 7, Barry Ferguson 8, Craig Gardner 7, Keith Fahey 7 (Seb Larsson, 57, 6), Alexander Hleb 8 (Kevin Phillips, 82, 6), Cameron Jerome 4, Matt Derbyshire 6 (Jean Beausejour, 76, 7).
Subs not used: Maik Taylor, Nikola Zigic, Stuart Parnaby, Martin Jiranek.
Bookings: Foster 56
Goals: Hleb 24, Dann 89
Referee: J. Moss (West Yorkshire) 5:
I’d like to be charitable as it was his first Premier League match but the two blatant penalty decisions that he failed to give were shocking. This could have cost Blues and it is only down to a bit of good fortune that it didn’t. He will have to improve with regard to these key decisions. However, he did let the game flow and played good advantages.