I have woken up on Sunday morning feeling like we lost the game yesterday. Blues played the best first half of football that I have seen all season against a team whose defence is every bit as bad as the statistics would suggest. This was a golden opportunity not only to win the game but to markedly improve the goal difference column but criminal profligacy in the chance taking department has led to the costly loss of two points.
I caught the train to Leamington Spa from my home in Blackwater and was picked up by Chris. We went from there to pick up Little Jack, Chris’ seven year old grandson who was having a golf lesson. He was hitting a few balls on the range when we got there and I don’t know whether he got nervous because we were watching or whether he was just trying too hard to impress but all the common faults that I have long associated with my own rubbish game were there. We were giving words of encouragement to the little fella but the harder he tried the worse things seem to get with topping it, hooking it, loads of air shots etc. Finally I said, “Slow down your swing and look at the back of the ball and imagine it has a face on it of someone you don’t like.” Little Jack said, “Like Alex McLeish, Uncle Baz?” Chris and I laughed and said in unison, “Yes, Alex McLeish will do fine.” Well, Little Jack placed a ball on the tee, lined up his driver, concentrated hard, swung back the club and thwack! He hit the best shot of the morning as the ball went dead straight and well over 120 yards which for a little lad was a fine effort. Chris and I dissolved in mirth 😀 “There you are Jack,” I said struggling to stifle our laughter, “Alex McLeish is the key to success!”
It was time to get on the road and we arrived in time for a couple in the Royal George. We were half way down our second when Chris decided to give Will, who had remained at home in West Sussex, a call and ask if he knew any team news. “Hi Will, Heard any team news? Yes we’re in the George having a nice pint!” said Chris into his mobile, smirking as he drained his glass. It was good to see Murphy in for Ridgewell at left back; a popular choice by all accounts judging by the comments of the various streams throughout the week. Davies, Caldwell and Carr were in their usual positions. Burke, Spector, Fahey and Beausejour made up a four man midfield with King and Wood up front. Boaz Myhill was in goal. Blues started off with high tempo and frankly were all over their opponents and created enough chances to have been well clear by half-time. Birmingham had Peterborough chasing shadows and were lucky to survive early on as Burke and Carr on the right and Beausejour and Murphy on the left repeatedly got in behind the Posh defence that couldn’t cope with the pace and movement of the home side. The trouble was that Blues failed to capitalise on their total domination of the match and only had King’s goal to show for it. It came from a flowing move as Chris Burke worked the ball infield to Beausejour who in turn swept it on for Murphy, who was galloping forward with acres of space to run into down the left. The full back’s low cross to the near post area and King used the pace on the ball to nonchalantly turn it past goalkeeper Paul Jones for a beautiful finish that was simplicity itself. Like many I waited for the floodgates to open; Burke nodded a header just over the crossbar from a Carr cross and the Peterborough defenders looked like rabbits in headlights as Blues continually worked the ball into threatening positions.
Jonathan Spector scuffed a good chance when well placed from another Murphy centre and after another exciting picturesque move involving Burke and Chris Wood, King was sent away down the right, but blasted wide with the two players mentioned screaming for the square ball that would surely have doubled the advantage. Peterborough were stopped dead in their tracks from developing any play of their own as Blues kept the ball and shifted it about the park with aplomb. It was a fantastic 45 minutes from Blues but they were only one goal up at the end of it. Like many I was confident that Blues would go on and secure a comfortable victory in the second half and they should have done. Ten minutes into the second-half Blues should have scored a second goal after brilliant work by Beausejour keeping the ball alive and protected in the Peterborough box after a corner. A pass to Burke produced a perfect cross to man of the match Murphy ghosting in totally unmarked, centre of goal six yards out; a sitter that he failed to attack properly and so glanced it wide of the far post. Heads were in hands and all around me, there were comments along the lines of “I hope that doesn’t prove costly!” Well, it did, as did all the other host of chances that went begging.
Inevitably, Peterborough drew level just past the hour mark. A free kick, that on replay backs up Chris’ contention that it shouldn’t have been given, was superbly dispatched by Posh captain, McCann. On the right-hand edge of Blues’ area, McCann’s fierce curling shot into the near top corner that was simply too perfect and in my view not defendable. Even if Myhill had been a bit nearer the post he wouldn’t have saved it any more than extra men in the wall, men on the post or anything else you can think of. The only way that goal could have been prevented was with a large piece of MDF nailed to the frame of the goal. It was up and over the wall in a trice and swerved and dipped so violently that McCann would have scored against any team in the land. A beautiful goal which made Blues’ profligacy all the harder to bear as it was Peterborough’s only shot in anger all afternoon.
Peterborough were better in the second half and grew in confidence after their goal. They tightened up especially down their right flank by replacing their right back and prevented the threat from Beuasejour and Murphy as a result. Burke as he is wont to do at times drifted out of the game and Fahey who was poor all afternoon failed to provide any innovation or spark alongside the risk-averse Spector in the centre of midfield. Jordan Mutch cannot return soon enough. Why it was left so late to introduce Wade Elliott (84 minutes for Beausejour when he should have replaced Fahey in my view) and why N’Daw wasn’t given a run only Chris Hughton knows. Blues brought on Nikola Zigic for Wood in the 71st minute. A glorious cross near the end from King could and should have been attacked by the Serbian but he was back on his heels; a fabulous chance that was not taken. Blues lost their way towards the end and an afternoon that began so promisingly ended in frustration.
There are nevertheless a lot of positives to take from this game. It is not all doom and gloom by any means. However, from the games against Brighton, Reading and Peterborough we have gained two points when seven would have been disappointing. This is a habit that must stop and stop quickly. We still have three games in hand over most teams in the division but they are only of value if they are profitable. We simply cannot afford to let teams like these off the hook when we have dominated matches. The main problem as I see it is the lack of pace power and innovation in the centre of midfield. At times like yesterday when you need a goal to win a match the midfielders have to play their part in ghosting in and nicking a goal when the strikers are struggling. Neither of the two on show yesterday are that sort of player. The games in hand are one thing but Blues cannot allow the top three or four teams to pull away as they will become irrelevant. The game against Burnley is a must win otherwise the mid-table mediocrity that I thought might be our fate at the start of the season may become a reality. However, I believe Blues are better than that but they have to deliver when opportunity knocks.
The Good: The first half display from Blues was the best 45 minutes I have seen from them this year. Excellent performance and highly watchable football deserving of so much more than it yielded.
The Bad: The missed chances. This was a golden opportunity to improve our position. Dropping two points to this team feels like a defeat.
The Ugly: The slug presently occupying the space above Keith Fahey’s top lip! 😀
Birmingham City: Boaz Myhill 6, Stephen Carr 7, David Murphy 8, Steven Caldwell 8, Chris Burke 7, Marlon King 7, Jean Beausejour 8 (Wade Elliott, 84, N/A), Keith Fahey 5, Jonathan Spector 6, Curtis Davies 8, Chris Wood 6 (Nikola Zigic, 71, 5).
Subs not used: Colin Doyle, Pablo Ibanez, Guirane N’Daw.
Goals: Marlon King (22)
Peterborough United: Paul Jones 6, Mark Little 5 (Tom Kennedy, 52, 6), Ryan Bennett 5, Gabriel Zakuani 5, Lee Tomlin 7, George Boyd , Grant McCann 8 (Ryan Tunnicliffe, 79, N/A), Tommy Rowe 6 (Emile Sinclair, 57, 8), Lee Frecklington 6, Paul Taylor 6, Craig Alcock 6.
Subs not used: Joe Lewis, Daniel Kearns.
Goals: Grant McCann (61)
Attendance: 18, 090 (1,590 Posh fans)
Referee: Colin Webster 6: The referee was OK in the main and at least the Assistants kept up with play and called most things right. There was little by way of contention to be honest.