A bit of a gloomy report from Bazza this week, however I still remain optimistic. A long way to go yet! 🙂
Will was unable to go to the match and so it was going to be another trip on my own. He did suggest that I might try going on the train from Reading, getting off at Leamington Spa where Chris, Will’s brother would pick me up and we would go to St Andrews from there. This seemed like a very good plan. I was very pleased when it all came together very well and I arrived at Leamington at about 13:10 giving plenty of time to get to the ground, pick up Chris’s tickets for him and Little Jack and grab a couple of pints in the Royal George. Chris suggested that having enough time to do all these things may have had something to do with the fact that Will was not with us and therefore had not delayed us all with his customary tardiness! 😀
As for the match itself, it is not one that will linger long in the memory. The only change to the side that turned out at Southampton was the insertion of Redmond for Gomis. Blues got off to what can only be described as a sluggish start with the visitors enjoying far better of the possession and the football being played. There were just too many stray passes, poor touches and overall lack of a plan in the play from Blues that we actually contrived to make Barnsley look good. I have no wish to be disrespectful to the Yorkshire side as they are hardly world beaters, but frankly they totally outplayed Birmingham this afternoon. Barnsley are what they are; a hard-working, well organised, physical and competent Championship side but in reality they are unlikely to be challenging at the top of the league come the end of the season.
Barnsley closed down our wingers virtually the moment they received the ball, they stifled any attempt of innovative play from our central midfielders and cut off all supply to the frustrated figures of King and Wood up front. The fact that it took 25 minutes for the first attempt on target by the Barnsley midfielder, Matty Done speaks volumes about how tedious this game was. Blues’ problems were compounded by the fact that – after only nine minutes – Curtis Davies hobbled off following a painful challenge with what appears to be a serious knee injury. This meant a reshuffle of the back line with Liam Ridgewell coming in at centre half and David Murphy coming on as Davies’s replacement into the left back berth.
Barnsley continued to provide what little threat either side could muster on the opposing goal and Boaz Myhill had to push Jacob Butterfield’s shot from 25 yards around the post. I’ve been concerned for a little while now that we concede far too many goals from this type of distance and the opening goal by Butterfield came as no surprise on the balance of play. Despite the fact, that Barnsley thoroughly deserved their lead, Butterfield’s goal should not have stood since Perkins should have been penalised for a two footed lunge on Murphy and it is only because the Birmingham player had the good sense to take evasive action and not sustain a serious injury that play was inexplicably allowed to continue for Butterfield to let fly with a lovely strike from 30 yards into the bottom corner. Regardless of whether contact is made with the player, the laws state that dangerous play of this type should be penalised with a free kick.
Blues did wake up for a couple minutes and there were one or two forays into the Barnsley penalty area including a corner which Liam Ridgewell headed over the bar when he should perhaps have hit the target. The first half fizzled away to its conclusion and ended with the obvious displeasure of the home crowd. Any hope that Blues would improve after the break was quickly dispelled as play continued very much as it had in the first half. Chris Hughton made two changes on 69 minutes bringing on Wade Elliott and Nikola Zigic in place of Spector and Wood respectively. This did appear to improve matters a little bit for Birmingham but Barnsley still remained the better side. However, at least one or two chances started to be created which included King heading straight at Luke Steele and Wade Elliott’s goal bound effort was deflected for a corner by Jim McNulty. Unfortunately nothing came of the set piece. For Barnsley, Daniel Drinkwater crashed another long-range shot off the top of the crossbar giving Blues a lucky reprieve since 2-0 at that stage would surely have been curtains. Just at the point when it appeared it was going to be one of those days, Chris Burke’s shot from the edge of the area found the bottom corner of the net following a slight deflection for a totally undeserved equaliser with less than four minutes left. This can only be described as robbery from Barnsley’s perspective and had the one moment of quality from Blues in the form of King’s shot that cannoned off the foot of the post to safety actually registered as the winner it would have been daylight robbery.
Blues were very fortunate today to get a point from this game as they deserved nothing. There were too many people in blue shirts that were simply not at the races. The whole of the midfield misfired. Jean Beausejour was named Blues man of the match but only because he was marginally better than the others. Redmond had a poor game today; he was guilty of attempting to do too much and choosing the wrong option on a number of occasions. Barnsley had obviously done their homework and snuffed out the threat from our wide players very early before they had chance to get into threatening positions. Redmond, to be fair had at least three players around him every time the ball was played to him and dealing with such heavy scrutiny from opposition players is part of his learning development. This boy is a super player but he’s only 17 years of age and we all have to realise that there are going to be times like this.
Burke had little joy down his flank either but did occasionally threaten in the second half. Spector was wholly ineffectual and his substitution should have taken place much earlier in my opinion. I thought King did quite well with what little service he was given and his touch is a revelation compared to what we have been used to from our front players over the last three years! Zigic added another dimension when he came on and certainly gave the Barnsley backline something to think about having been comfortable for most of the match to that point.
The defence played okay and it is true, despite Barnsley’s dominance, that all their attempts were from range with no truly clear-cut chances created by the visitors so you would have to say that they performed adequately. Boaz Myhill stood no chance with the goal and dealt with everything else that came his way competently. There was one heart stopping moment at the beginning of the second half when he took his eye off the ball following a back pass and we nearly had another Enkelman moment. Fortunately, there was not enough pace on the ball and Myhill was able to comfortably retrieve and clear. There were also one or two other back passes that were zipped back more fiercely than the keeper might have liked and it is to be thanked that Myhill had his wits about him and his touch was sure. Back passes should by rights be placed wide of the goal just in case; disasters have occurred before!
This performance only serves to reinforce for me that the team is unlikely to be good enough to merit a promotion challenge this season. Birmingham were outplayed by a fairly ordinary team today and we have to be grateful that we managed to scramble away from this fixture with a point. If we are going to struggle to beat teams like this at home a top six place is a pipedream.
Birmingham City: Boaz Myhill 7; Stephen Carr 6, Liam Ridgewell 6, Steven Caldwell 6, Curtis Davies N/A (David Murphy 9, 7); Chris Burke 7, Jonathan Spector 5 (Wade Elliott 56, 7), Jean Beausejour 7, Nathan Redmond 5; Chris Wood 5 (Nikola Zigic 65, 6), Marlon King 7.
Unused subs: Colin Doyle, Morgaro Gomis.
Goal: Burke (86)
Bookings: Davies (7), Murphy (78)
Barnsley: Luke Steele 7, Bobby Hassell 7, Jay McEveley 7, Stephen Foster 7, Jim O’Brien 7, Matty Done 7 (Jordan Clark 30, 6 (Miles Addison 73, 6)), David Perkins 8, Jimmy McNulty 7, Jacob Butterfield 7, Danny Drinkwater 7, Andy Gray 5.
Unused subs: David Preece, Scott Wiseman, Danny Rose.
Goal: Butterfield (33)
Booking: Gray (81)
The Good: The journey on the train; I got to speak to Dave, a Gooner, on his way to Arsenal’s game against Bolton and to Michelle and Bob, two Reading fans on their way to Coventry. It sure beat driving all the way up there.
The Bad: Blues’ performance. Apart from the last five minutes, we were second best.
The Ugly: All the empty spaces in the stands.
Referee: David Phillips (West Sussex) 4: The performance of the referee this afternoon was simply abysmal. I knew that we were in for a bad day when as early as the first minute he insisted on the retaking of a free kick because the blade of grass it had originally been taken from happened to be a few blades of grass along from where he perceived the offence had taken place. This fussy, finicky, irritating behaviour continued all afternoon and did nothing for the flow of the game that was already not a great watch. There were simply too many minor decisions given the wrong way and the one key decision, namely the overaggressive challenge by Perkins (who incidentally was the best player on the pitch) went unpunished and led to Barnsley’s goal.
Attendance: 17,836 (796 away fans)