I fully accept my lot in life that as a Blues supporter living in Surrey that it means long round trips to watch my team but it doesn’t make early kick-offs easy to bear especially on a Sunday morning! So it was that I had arranged to meet Will at 08.30 in Guildford for our trip to Birmingham picking up Little Jack in Baginton on the way. Will was late and he blamed this on his missus, the unchivalrous scoundrel that he is, claiming that he had agreed to get his toddler daughter and baby son up, changed, dressed and breakfasted to allow herself an extra half hour in bed with a nice cup of tea. He says that things didn’t quite work out that way and when he wanted to jump in the shower he couldn’t as it had been claimed by his nearest and dearest. The vagaries of womenfolk are well known to me as I have been married to one woman or another a total of 34 years and they say you don’t even get that for murder! In all that time I’ve learned that regardless of circumstances aforementioned it is always the bloke’s fault and that is the judgement I took ; “you’re late Will and it is your fault!” 😀
Fortunately, Will’s tardiness did not mean we were done out of a bacon and cheese muffin and latte for breakfast on the way and appropriately fortified it helped to make the journey seem shorter than usual. Little Jack was collected from the Royal Oak at Baginton and we proceeded towards St Andrews via the M6 past Fort Dunlop, Four Sheds and Trinity Church Aston. It was getting on towards kick off by the time we had arrived and our ease of parking suggested that the crowd wasn’t going to be a sell out; time for a pie and a pint. One of the other problems with early kick offs is that the catering is all out of kilter. It was clear that the pies had been placed in the ovens early doors since when I attempted to eat mine the pastry was the consistency of Bakelite and the filling was dried out and volcanically hot. Needless to say it wasn’t a pleasant culinary experience but I ate it anyway as I was hungry. A clay pigeon would have tasted similar I suspect; alternatively the caterers at Blues could always go into a side line in bathroom design; after all you could have tiled the floor with the pastry base. Enough about the pies, on with the game:
Myhill started in goal with Carr, Davies, Caldwell and Ridgewell, thankfully restored to the left back berth in defence rather than at centre-half. Burke, Gomis, Spector and Beausejour made up the midfield with Rooney and Wood up front. It was good to see that the bench contained the long awaited King and the newly acquired Wade Elliott with Murphy, Redmond and Doyle occupying the other places. At least there appeared to be options to change the game if necessary there which has been lacking for quite a while so things are looking up. With Zigic, Valles and N’Daw still to come in I reckon life isn’t that bad all things considered certainly from the point of view of the football. The off the field stuff we can’t do anything about and all that needs to play itself out in my view. What we can do is get behind the team which is what all but a 1000 of the 17,901 souls who attended the game did for the most part.
What was this? A shot on target after only ten seconds of the match kicked off by Blues towards the Tilton Road End. We had clearly lost the toss and Millwall had obviously decided to play towards their fans in the first half, a break with the usual choice of most visitors to St Andrews. The lively start was not to last long however and the game became scrappy and disjointed punctuated by numerous irritating free kicks. There was a dreadful challenge by Feeney on Burke with barely ten minutes gone. A flying haymaker of a tackle painfully clipping the Achilles area of the Blues winger’s left ankle which produced a yellow card from Mike Dean the referee. It was an awful challenge and the Millwall man is very lucky that Mr Dean decided to take such a lenient view; I know there are a number of Premier League officials who would not have done so. The visitors actually started to get on top as the half progressed using their greater physical size and presence to bully our midfielders. They certainly won most challenges in the air, defensively and offensively and it was of concern that they were threatening us from set pieces. Myhill had to be on his mettle to save a fierce free kick from the edge of the box and another cracking drive from Feeney brought another fine save from Myhill who pushed the shot onto the post and safety. Millwall’s game plan was working and they disrupted the flow of the home side whilst making inroads themselves.
Then with 28 minutes gone a beautiful pass by Gomis inside the full back to Beausejour was ushered on to Wood whose right footed effort, via a deflection that took the ball over David Forde in the Millwall goal, registered the lead for Blues. Whilst not exactly against the run of play, it was perhaps a little harsh on the visitors. The play improved a little after the goal from Blues but there was still a lack of tempo.
In the second half, Blues began to correct some of the lethargic play of the first half and there was more quality and snap in their play. Millwall were suddenly not having things all their own way and began to look ragged. A clever throw in over a group of defenders drawn towards the ball found Rooney in the box with his back to goal. The Irishman’s chest down to his partner, Wood was gratefully slammed into the bottom corner for 2-0. Curtis Davies hit the underside of the crossbar with a header from a corner not long after and Ridgewell was unlucky to see his header from another corner destined for the top corner brilliantly saved by Forde. Marlon King came on for his debut for the tiring Adam Rooney and added an extra spark that the Millwall rearguard were finding difficult to deal with. His first touch was excellent compared to what we’ve been used to and his sublime lay-off to Chris Burke started a swift counter attack that enabled Wood to leap and glance in the hat-trick goal from the winger’s pinpoint cross. That it occurred in the 90th minute added to the celebration.
Wood’s contribution cannot be denied and he rightfully received the man of the match award for his trio of goals but the outstanding player on the pitch was undoubtedly Jean Beausejour who was superb all afternoon and will be far too much for most teams in this division. King was excellent when he came on and Spector did a lot of unsung, unselfish work in breaking up Millwall’s play when they threatened to dominate. Burke worked tirelessly down the flank and Gomis worked hard but he is coming back from injury and looked as if he was chasing shadows in the first half. He picked up another knock and was replaced in the second half by Wade Elliott who looked impressive for the short period he was on the field. The defence was solid enough most of the time but I still have misgivings. It is impossible to prevent the opposition from creating chances but before we all get carried away, Millwall did have two outstanding opportunities in the second half, the most notable being Liam Trotter in the 83rd minutes when the visitors carved us open far too easily. Only a top class, reflex save from Myhill saved the day when a goal seemed certain. Myhill in total contrast to the last game at Watford was outstanding all afternoon. Better sides than Millwall, Watford and Derby are yet to come in this campaign and more attention to detail in basic tracking and marking will be required in the coming weeks; a point no doubt made by Steve Carr on occasions throughout the match. This criticism apart, in the end Blues deserved the three points and three goals and a clean sheet are not to be sniffed at even if we were fortunate not to concede at least once.
The side is improving with every game and as other players come back into contention and who knows another loanee or two we could be challenging a little higher up the league than I have been expecting this season. There is more than a little room for optimism if the goalkeeper can play like this, the defence can tighten up a little bit and we continue to show the sort of threat going forward that we did in this game; hope springs eternal.
On the way back, our progress along the M40 was halted by an accident that involved numerous emergency vehicles. This deep joy was compounded by the fact that we were only three cars from the front of the queue when the police closed the motorway. We waited just over an hour before we were allowed onwards. Our hopes for a speedy recovery to those injured (one person seriously I understand) go without saying. Football is put into perspective with events like this; it’s only a game after all.
The Good: Chris Wood’s hat trick, the moves leading to the goals and Jean Beausejour’s performance which allied with the overall team showing made for an excellent day.
The Bad: The Bakelite pie, lack of soap in the dispensers in the toilets and the hold up on the M40.
The Ugly: Feeney’s challenge on Burke. The morons who caused trouble after the game.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Myhill 8; Carr 7, Davies 7, Caldwell 7, Ridgewell 7; Burke 8, Spector 7, Gomis 6 (Elliot, 79, N/A), Beausejour 9; Rooney 7 (King, 63, 8), Wood 9.
Subs: Doyle (g), Murphy, Redmond.
Millwall (4-4-2): Forde 7; Dunne 7, Robinson 8, Ward 7, Craig 7; Feeney 8 (N’Guessan, 61, 6), Mkandawire 7, Trotter 7, Bouazza 6 (Henry, 61, 6); Simpson 7 (Marquis, 72, 6), Henderson 7.
Subs: Mildenhall (g), Abdou.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral) 6; It was a bit of a mixed bag for Mike Dean whom I happen to think was a good choice for such a match that could potentially have got out of hand. I thought he was lenient with Feeney who was lucky not to get a red card and yet was it really necessary to book Jean Beausejour for taking a free kick too early? A really silly decision when it was the referee’s fussing about that caused the misdemeanour in the first place. In his defence, Mr Dean’s assistants particularly the one on the Kop side were poor. The one on the Kop corner got far too many offside decisions wrong for both sides and has a problem with the difference between a goal kick and a corner. There were a number of throw ins called the wrong way in addition – dreadful performance making Mr Dean’s job so much more difficult.
The competition to win Mick ‘Baz’ Rathbone’s book is still open. Details here.