At last the day had finally arrived and after a summer which seemed to take for ever, the excitement of going to the first home game in season was beginning to kick in. I had originally intended to go to the Derby game but as fate would have it we had 16 guests coming for lunch on the Sunday after the game. When I casually mentioned about attending the match, the look I got from my wife told me everything I needed to know about the advisability or otherwise of this venture. Discretion being the better part of valour, I decided that I had better stay home and help with the preparations. I did get to see extended highlights of the Derby game and shared the view of most pundits that suggested that Blues had played very well indeed, had been the better side but had nevertheless emerged from the game with nothing to show for it. Good though the performance was, football is about results and after all the turmoil and changes that have occurred over the summer period I was feeling strangely apprehensive about forthcoming game especially as our opponents Coventry are fancied to be among the strugglers in the Championship this season. The capacity for screw ups when it comes to our beloved team is boundless when up against opposition that by rights we should beat.
An early morning walk with my Welsh Terrier, Dilys, donning of the shirt of the faithful, in this case the new away kit, and I was ready to jump in the car and drive to Guildford to pick up my mate, Will. We met up at about 1030 flipped onto the A3 and then onto the M25 before picking up the M40 north. We chatted about forthcoming game, the likely team and formation and the mood appeared to be one of guarded optimism tinged with a healthy dose of realism as to our prospects for the coming season. I am bound to say that I have no high expectations for this year since we have, as everyone knows, lost a number of key players who shall remain nameless as frankly they are no longer Birmingham City players and whilst I wish each and every one of them good fortune with their future careers, they have moved on and so should we. I have deliberately not written any articles over the summer because I prefer to deal in facts rather than the endless stream of reheated stories that keep appearing in the media about this player and that going here and there for amounts of money that also seem highly variable. As for Messrs Zigic, Jerome and Dann, they are Birmingham players until the ink is dry on other pieces of paper elsewhere. The uncertainty regarding the fate of these players and all the stuff surrounding the owner, the finances and stuff just thrown in for good measure does not help the club, the manager, the squad or the fans but the situation is as it is and we all just have to get on with it.
Will was feeling peckish and I have to say that the thought of a bacon sandwich was appealing and we therefore pulled in to the new service station just near Wycombe to satisfy this need. We saw a small group of Villa fans in the restaurant, and Will, never one to miss an opportunity, decided to bate them. Mocking the afflicted is something that has gone on through the ages. After all, visits to the asylum to laugh at the inmates was a common form of weekend entertainment for the aristocracy in the 18th and 19th centuries and so I suppose one could look upon our banter towards our brethren from B6 as similar to that! Will started off the exchange by suggesting that he hoped that their seats in the stand weren’t too far back since the ball would be spending an awful long time in the stratosphere. He also pointed out that he couldn’t help noticing that all of Villa’s creative midfielders have now been flogged off that this was no matter since they didn’t need them as they either had to pass the ball back and forth square across the pitch before hoofing it towards their lone striker or down the channels or they could be missed out altogether by simply passing the ball back to the goalkeeper who could simply do the hoofing from there. 😀 I joined in by suggesting that the Villa physio would have his work cut out massaging Shay Given’s groin and Darren Bent’s neck as the result of repetitive strain injury! 😀 Exciting times ahead indeed! 😀 😀 The vacant looks on the faces of those clad in claret and blue told you everything you needed to know about dealing with the feeble-minded! I said to Will that these were not the droids we were looking for and that they could go on their way; move along.
Fortified by some pig between two slices of bread and coffee, we completed our journey to The Oak in Baginton to pick up Will’s brother Chris and Little Jack, Chris’ grandson. We had arrived early with the intention of getting to St Andrews in time not only for a pre-match pint at the George but also to pick up some tickets for the European tie on Thursday week. Chris’s daughter Emma informed us that her Dad was in the bath and she would go upstairs and wake him up. The best laid plans of mice and men were clearly not going to happen and so we had a pint instead. We got to St Andrews at about 2:30 and met up with Will’s Uncle Frank to collect Will’s ticket for the match. It was good to reacquaint myself with the buzz, excitement, colour and smells of football that go to make up the atmosphere. We had enough time for a pie and a pint before the teams came out and lined up the kick-off.
Blues started brightly and could have been ahead very early on when following some neat passing Chris Wood, starting in place of Rooney, controlled the ball deep inside the area and laid it off to the incoming Gomis. Only a brilliant block by Sammy Clingan prevented the opening goal. The opening exchanges suggested an entertaining open game was in store but unfortunately the pace dropped after about 10 minutes and although both teams were fairly neat and tidy, the tempo was simply not quick enough for either side to penetrate effectively. If anything, the visitors had the better the chances on offer and Blues were lucky to escape an excellent opportunity created by Lukas Jutkiewicz who turned swiftly but too easily around Steven Cauldwell from Chris Hussey’s pass but his left-footed cross-shot was dragged well wide of the far post from fifteen yards when by rights he really should have scored. Coventry went close on the half-hour when Clingan’s free-kick was deflected by the Birmingham wall. The vicious spin on the ball diverted it from wide of the post to just inside and only a last-ditch save from Boaz Myhill prevented the opener. The keeper was called into action again just before half-time when Gary McSheffrey produced a shot destined for the top left-hand corner which was once again well saved. Although Coventry, arguably had the better the chances, Blues certainly enjoyed the majority of the possession and build up play. What was lacking was tempo and this allowed a well-organised Coventry rearguard to get set every time Blues ventured forward.
The pattern of the game continued very much in the same vein as the first half with Birmingham dominating possession without the necessary penetration to score. Coventry were now creating very little of their own but there was one anxious moment for the home crowd of just under 20,000 when a deep cross by Chris Hussey was caught routinely by Boaz Myhill but as he landed he bumped against the far post and step backwards to regain his balance. Fortunately, he had the presence of mind to keep his hands out in front of him and thereby prevent the ball crossing the plane of the line. The visiting supporters implored the assistant referee at the Gil Merrick end to award a goal but he was well positioned and declined to do so. Having seen the replays of this incident there is no doubt that it was a close call but from the officials viewpoint he cannot possibly be 100% sure that the ball across the line as from where he was standing the post was in the way as was the goalkeeper’s left hand and arm. He would have to be in no doubt that he could see the whole ball beyond the post and he clearly felt he could not do so and therefore the decision has to be right. On 68 min the hard-working Wood was replaced by Rooney and this seemed to spark Blues aggression in the final third. After only 4 minutes from the substitution a deep cross from Liam Ridgewell was flicked on by the big forward and he was unlucky having beaten Murphy in the Coventry goal to see his effort cannon back off the foot of the post. In recent games, Blues seem to have hit the woodwork a great deal and the groan of the crowd suggested that it was to be another Groundhog Day. However, quick thinking by Rooney, resulted in him retrieving the ball and with a perfectly weighted pass into the path of Fahey sprinting into the box, the ball was crashed into the net from 10 yards for the breakthrough. Delighted though the home crowd were, there was a “Thank God for that” quality about the celebrations.
Coventry’s valiant attempt to gain a much-needed point for their endeavours was finally undone. Despite their best efforts, they never really threatened Blues after that and could quite easily have gone further behind had a clear foul on Stephen Carr been given as a penalty instead of a free kick an inch outside the box on the right flank. The assistant referee at the Tilton Road end had quite rightly flagged for the infringement but took the soft option. I saw this incident very clearly from my vantage point and there is no doubt that contact took place just inside the box but as we all know, Birmingham do not get awarded penalties unless criminal assault occurs and even then it is open to the interpretation! Blues cause was helped towards the end by a series of silly free kicks that they gave away which allowed Birmingham to play what little time added on there was in Coventry’s half of the field.
This was not the greatest game in the world by a long chalk. The performance was nowhere near as good, perversely, as that enjoyed by those who went to Derby last week. However, the fundamental difference was that Birmingham won the game and in the final analysis this has to be the most important aspect of all this as it was vitally important to get our campaign up and running with three points in our initial home game. I suspect that Blues will actually perform better away from St Andrews than at home. I also think that we have not had enough preseason games and preparation this year but as the games come thick and fast I am hopeful that the side with a number of new faces in it will get better with improvement in tempo which in my view was a major problem yesterday. A win is a win and I think we have to take it gratefully and move on. As for Coventry, they are the pundits’ tip to be contesting the fight against the drop and it is difficult to see where their goals are going to come from. They appear to have even greater problems and we do in this regard.
The Good: The substitution of Rooney against a tiring Coventry defence resulted in Blues best spell of the game. He looked sharp and added much-needed spark to obtain the win.
The Bad: The tempo at which we played the game for much of the match. We allowed Coventry too much time to reorganise and better sides than this will make us pay if this part of our play is not corrected.
The Ugly: Gael Bigrimana’s dodgy haircut! On a serious note, I thought the Coventry midfielder was the best player on show. I certainly do not agree that Fahey was man of the match. From a Blues perspective I thought Burke, Gomis and Carr were more worthy candidates.
Birmingham City: Boaz Myhill 6, Stephen Carr 7, Steven Caldwell 6, Liam Ridgewell 6, Chris Burke 7, Jean Beausejour 6, Jordon Mutch 6, Morgaro Gomis 7, Keith Fahey 6, Curtis Davies 6, Chris Wood 7 (Adam Rooney, 68, 7).
Subs not used: Colin Doyle, David Murphy, Scott Dann, Jonathan Spector.
Goals: Fahey (72)
Coventry City: Joe Murphy 6, Richard Keogh 6, Chris Hussey 7, Sammy Clingan 7, David Bell 6, Luka Jutkiewicz 7, Gary McSheffrey 7, Martin Crane 6, Roy O’Donovan 6 (Shaun Jeffers, 86, N/A), Cyrus Christie 6, Gael Bigirimana 8.
Subs not used: Chris Dunn, James McPake, Nathan Cameron, Conor Thomas.
Bookings: Bell (90+1).
Attendance: 19, 225 (1,670 away)
Referee: Anthony Bates (Staffs) 6: Average at best. There were too many inconsistent decisions and I feel strongly that he and his Assistant bottled the penalty incident and took the soft option.