Tonight Blues will either kick off the next stage of their European adventure at St. Andrews or else end the fairytale.
QPR Manager Neil Warnock suggested yesterday morning that he was ‘glad’ his side had been knocked out of the Carling Cup. He suggested the lack of fans at his home stadium was proof if it was needed that ‘no one cares about the Carling Cup, and that it needs to be revamped’. Surely this is the only way of ‘saving face’ he has for being embarrassed at home by League One side Rochdale? Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to remember one year that Blues weren’t entered into the FA Cup, due to the club secretary not submitting the paperwork in time. Surely QPR could have deliberately done this, if it didn’t matter to them? Surely they could have handed out free tickets to fans in the way they may for an informal friendly? Surely the 4,000 odd fans who DID turn up, felt the match was worth paying for attending? I bet not a single one of them walked away thinking ‘I don’t care anyway.’ How insulting to those paying fans. It surely mattered a great deal to Rochdale, who had perhaps felt a tad aggrieved at finding themselves drawn away to Premiership opposition at such an early stage.
Those of us who were blessed to be at Wembley on February 27th 2011 know just how much the Carling Cup means to supporters. Have a look at the Arsenal players on the pitch at the final whistle if you feel like suggesting it’s only because we’re a ‘smaller club’. If QPR had won last night, you can be sure Warnock’s tune would have been different.
Anyway, I digress, the point is, the Europa Cup will mean more to some, than it does to others. If we’re knocked out, there’ll be plenty saying ‘The League is our priority’, just like Warnock did. If we win, people will (quite rightly) be enthused about our potential in the group stages, whilst being nervous about the size of our squad.
I have already seen some folks suggesting they’d rather three points on the table against Watford, and I’ve seen (a lot more) folks suggesting they’d much rather win through to the Group Stages of the Europa League, and lose the next two or three domestic league games. Looking back in retrospect is an easy thing to do, so I’m going to stick my neck out here and now and say I would accept defeat against Watford for a victory at home to Nacional. Perhaps even a subsequent home loss against Milwall. It’s early days in the league, and we can always catch. If we’re out of the League, we could well be out of Europe FOREVER. The important thing for me, is that if we can stay in European competition, we’re more likely to be able to attract (and pay for!) players to bolster our league campaign too. I won’t go too far though, I think swapping relegation to League One for Europa League success would be a tragedy.
I’m often asked would I give up winning the Cup to go back to the Premiership, but my answer to that one is always a simple “No.” I was at Wembley, and so was my Son. Nothing will ever take that memory away from us. How many weeks have we seen the BCFC programme has featured the sad news of yet another Bluenose who has “shuffled off this mortal coil”? Those who died before February may have never got the opportunity to see us win a major trophy, or play in Europe. This truly can be a once in a lifetime chance. This is why we need to play to win. If we’d lost away, then it could be argued we had little to play for unless we were to go ‘hell for leather’ to turn the tie around, but in terms of fitness, etc, this could have been suicidal for our league performance, let alone for discipline, etc. As it stands, we have to be seen as the favourites to win this match. Not bad considering our underdog status in the fog and dizzying altitude of Madeira!
Bwin has us as evens to win! The longest odds I can spot online are 59/50 on Betfair (other betting companies are available, but please don’t spend your kids’ inheritance money on my account!). One company actually has us at 66/67 to win! You couldn’t make it up. This without an away goal to our name, without a ‘first choice striker’, without Jordon Mutch, Morgaro Gomis or Scott Dann (all injured). Even Liam Ridgewell is facing a late fitness test (I wonder if that should be read as ‘late bid from the Baggies’?).
The ground should be VERY close to capacity, so it should be absolutely ROCKING at St. Andrews on tonight. I’d guess about 29,000 will be making themselves heard. If we don’t make it through to the group stages, I truly hope Chris Hughton accepts defeat gracefully, “We tried our very best, but it wasn’t to be” is fine, “We didn’t want to go through to the group stages anyway.” (a la QPR) is not.
Blues have never done things the easy way, so I’m going to go for a nervy one nil win, either with an early goal and lots of understandable Nacional pressure as they try to stay in the tie, or a very late goal as both sides struggle to dominate the game. I’m hopeful the home advantage counts, and that the crowd stays behind the players, even if we concede. The fact is, if we let in a goal, we’re going to have to score two. That means we’ll need to be doubly sound at the back, and as strong as possible up front.
For me, that suggests we need to start Rooney and Wood together up front, to put Nacional on the back foot, they (especially their keeper) were precarious at the back, and that’s something we can take advantage of with two strikers at home. We’ve all been praying for attacking football, let’s go for it!
My suggested team:
Murphy (assuming no Ridgewell)
On a personal note, I’ll be bringing my 81 year old grandad with me to the match, and it’ll be the first match he’s been to since the Fairs Cup against Inter Milan 50 years ago. We won that one, so hopefully he’ll bring his luck with him. It will be amazing if we can sit together at St. Andrews for the first time (full too!), to see us achieve European victory. Respect goes to Sarah Gould at Birmingham City for getting his photograph in the programme for me too!!
Keep Right On!