Well this was a red letter day indeed. I was taking Mrs Bazza to her first ever football match in the guise of a Valentine’s Day treat. The club had a hospitality function on which Chris, Will and their wives, Gayle and Juley had also signed up for. My wife doesn’t have the football gene and asked when I told her I was taking her out to dinner in Birmingham; her questions were why are we going all the way up there and do you mean I have to watch football? Never mind getting her into a football stadium at all was a start. Will arrived at my place in a shiny new Ford Galaxy that he had purchased in lieu of his enlarging family and we set off for Birmingham via the M40. We picked up Gayle and Chris at Baginton and went straight on to St Andrews arriving a few minutes late but not so much as it mattered. A glass of champagne, a starter of sliced duck on a bed of salad followed by rack of pork with fresh vegetables and mashed potatoes with a chocolate whisky tart with raspberry and vanilla sauce for dessert set us up nicely for kick off having taken our seats in the directors’ box. I tried to explain to my missus which team was which and that the noisy raucous mob to our left was the lot from Newcastle.
As is often the case there are always late comers and we were obliged to stand up to allow a couple of people to get by. As I looked back towards the pitch the ball was in the net, the Toon Army were going mental and the visiting players were hugging and kissing Lovenkrands in the spirit of the occasion. I had to go with the benefit of the replay on the screen and it was clear that following an initial cross from Enrique which was blocked a follow up cross from Gutierrez was half volleyed past Foster at the near post by Lovenkrands who had got across the front of Roger Johnson who frankly was having a kip; a really soft goal as bad as the one that we conceded against Manchester City recently. There was only 95 seconds gone and we were losing a game that we were fancied to win.
We looked decidedly shaky but settled down after ten minutes to take control of possession. Blues did create the better chances and should have equalised from one of three efforts from Zigic who fired in a smart shot which was well saved by Harper and two from Gardner who got in a good position to score about five minutes before the break when his cross shot was once again well parried by the keeper but he was fortunate perhaps that there was no blue shirt in the key position for a tap in from the rebound. Gardner was guilty of missing the best chance of the half from the edge of the area that he fired high and wide when hitting the target should have been the least expected.
A half time pint was followed by another poor start to the period from Blues when they allowed the Newcastle midfield far too much space between the lines and a cross once again by Gutierrez from the left was delivered too easily for Leon Best to head in above the normally solid and dependable Roger Johnson who was responsible on the night for both concessions. After this the heart and fight seemed to go out of Blues who looked tired, leaden-footed and lacking drive and tempo. There was a little flurry towards the end and Zigic sent a free header over the bar from eight yards and Jerome who came on for Larsson scuffed a good chance and Phillips another substitute was unable to capitalise as the ball bobbled across in front of him. Roger Johnson completed a disappointing match for him when he headed a bullet of a ball from a corner straight at Harper when a couple of feet either side of him would surely have reduced the arrears.
Frankly, we were never going to win this game once we went behind early and definitely when 2-0 in arrears. In keeping with the occasion, short of wrapping the goals up in heart shaped boxes, filling all the gaps with chocolate, tying pretty ribbons and bows round them and attaching labels professing undying love and kisses to the Toon Army, the goals could not have been more gifts than they were. In the end, Blues didn’t play all that badly overall and Newcastle weren’t that great but they moved the ball quicker in the second half, they were first to more knock downs than us and they were slightly more accurate. The statistics from the game were pretty even but Newcastle got the basics right, took their fleeting chances when they presented themselves and most importantly defended properly which we did not. We were well beaten in the end and Newcastle deserved their win and the three points that go with it.
A massive opportunity missed for Blues I’m afraid.
Ah well, on to the Owls on Saturday; don’t screw that up Blues please.
The Good: The first half performance which Blues for their part played well. The company my wife and I shared, the food, the champagne and the occasion.
The Bad: Shocking defending for both goals! Newcastle will not have an easier win than this all season.
The Ugly: The officiating; appallingly poor all night.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Foster 6, Carr 7, Ridgewell 6, Jiranek 6 (Murphy 73, 6), Johnson 5, Bentley 8, Ferguson 5, Gardner 6, Larsson 6 (Phillips 76, 6), Zigic 7, Martins 6, (Jerome 58, 6) Not used: Doyle, Fahey, Bowyer. Beausejour
Booked: Murphy 86
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Harper 7, Enrique 7 Williamson 7, Simpson 7, Collocini 7, Tiote 7 Nolan 6, Barton 7, Gutierrez 8 (Campbell 87, N/A), Best 8 (Guthrie 76, 6), Lovenkrands 8 (Ranger 65, 6). Not used: Perch, Kuqi, Fergusson, Krul.
Booked: Nolan 36, Barton 62, Ranger 90 + 4.
Goals: Lovenkrands 2, Best 50.
Ref: Lee Mason (Lancashire) 3 – missed a clear back pass infringement in the first half for a free kick that would have been only six yards out. This referee has to be the worst official on the circuit apart from Martin Atkinson who is in a class of his own. Mr Mason totally failed to allow the game to flow and blew the whistle for the slightest thing disrupting flow and his management of the advantage law was laughable. Most poor decisions were minor things but they mount up over a game. His assistants were equally poor with several offside calls plain wrong. The officials did nothing about the blatant time wasting and although he added on four and five minutes in the two halves the extra time was for head clash injuries rather than time wasting. Joey Barton bounced the ball in the corner at least half a dozen times every time before placing the ball in the quadrant to restart and nothing was done.
I don’t blame Newcastle by the way as they were 2-0 up and disrupting any rhythm or pressure the home side might have been able to build was clearly in their interests. I would expect the same from our lot had the roles been reversed and there was an official present allowing you to get away with it. In the final analysis it still would have made no difference as Newcastle shut up shop at the end and saw the game out competently.