Yet another trip in midweek to the sacred fortress that is St Andrews; Will picked me up from work at about half past three and we were soon at the Oak in Baginton trying to win some money on the quiz machine. Assembled back in the car for the trip down the A45 to the ground, Will was feeling a bit pessimistic for this one on the grounds that our great run had to come to an end, Hull had not conceded a goal in an age and we had no fit strikers (he doesn’t count Adam Rooney’s existence) The team news revealed that Steven Carr was back in the team with Spector moved forward into midfield presumably to keep a close eye on Koren who clearly makes Hull tick. Keith Fahey was in central midfield alongside Spector with Burke out right and Jordan Mutch on the left to fill this troublesome area; it didn’t work but more of that later. Wade Elliott played behind King, to my mind, still limited by his recent groin strain. I suspect it was an injection for him and ‘get out there Marlon!’
Whilst Will went to collect his ticket, Chris, Little Jack and I went for a quick pint in the George. My feeling prior to the game was that it was going to be very tight, attritional with a single goal – if any – winning it so it was odds on a 0-0 draw or a 1-0 victory either way. I have to say I shared Will’s apprehension but not perhaps his pessimism. On balance I felt we could win with the right approach.
It was a windy, chilly night come kick off time and this is going to be one of my shorter reports for the very reason that not a lot happened. Defences were dominant throughout and it was clear why Hull have the meanest rearguard in the division. They are a solid, competent side; well organised with a no-nonsense efficiency about them. The tactic that did work for Blues was putting Spector in the middle to nullify Robert Koren who hardly got a sniff all night. It took until the 89th minute before he managed a shot that endangered the corner flag more than it did the goal. Neither keeper had a save of note to make all night for what it’s worth, making the game a sterile, dull affair that made dishwater look positively effervescent! The tactic that most certainly didn’t work was putting Mutch on the left. The team was completely unbalanced in the first half and this problem simply must be addressed in the loan window or there will be no promotion this season; plain and simple.
Things were a lot better in the second half when Wade Elliott moved out left, Jordan Mutch into the middle behind King who for me had a poor game simply because he wasn’t fit. He pulled up 15 minutes from the end but still wasn’t replaced. Our only substitution was Nathan Redmond for Elliott ten minutes or so from time which was too late for the youngster to make an impact but I suspect the score would still be 0-0 if the teams were playing now. The closest that either side came to scoring in the first half was when Mutch headed a looping header from James Chester off the line in the 20th minute but frankly that was a good as it got.
The second half saw Blues finally put the visitors under a sustained spell of pressure and Wade Elliott was so close to breaking the deadlock as he tried to get on to a cross from Carr who had burrowed into the box from the right. Personally, I felt he could have taken the shot on himself; as it was, excellent defending from the Hull central defenders cleared this scary moment for them. A succession of corners lifted the crowd of 18,300 and several headers from Curtis Davies and Steven Caldwell flew harmlessly over the bar or hit defenders, especially one from Davies that struck his marker and bounced limply into the arms of Vito Mannone in the Hull goal. One header from Caldwell back across goal for King on the far post was intercepted by a defender’s hand and despite entreaties by the Blues players, no penalty was given. I am afraid the referee missed several infringements as did his linesman, Mr Lee Betts, on the Kop side who was caught ball watching far too often and completely failed to spot clear fouls against Burke who out of frustration started looking for free kicks around the box which the officials rightly waved away.
It wasn’t a great match and 0-0 was the correct and fair result. Hull are a good side and deserved their share of the spoils. Whilst it is true they offered very little going forward, they were comfortable at the back and Blues simply didn’t do enough to merit the win and lacked the craft and guile to break down a resolute, uncompromising defence. A fit Zigic alongside a fit King coupled with a proper left sided wide player and N’Daw in midfield may have made the difference but the problem of running a threadbare small squad was plain for all to see last night. Overall, given the circumstances we have to be happy with a point against one of the better sides in the Championship; it was a match that could easily have gone against us albeit unjustly and for the fact that it didn’t we should be grateful. We remain in the mix with a chance of the top two places still up for grabs. Problems with the team’s balance have to be addressed however, and soon.
The Good: The fact that with a team weakened by injuries we kept our unbeaten run going. A point wasn’t a bad return all things considered.
The Bad: The catering service at half-time; it is simply atrocious and so much could be done to improve this very important part of the experience of going to a game. People are sitting in the freezing cold and need hot food and drinks delivered promptly and efficiently; if the staff the club hire can’t do it, get some that can.
The Ugly: The game as a spectacle; one of the most drab all season but that does not decry the huff and puff and sinew straining endeavour of the players of both sides. They tried to play football but the cold, windy conditions and the dreadful pitch did not help.
Birmingham City: Boaz Myhill 7, Steven Carr 6, David Murphy 7, Steven Caldwell 6, Curtis Davies 6, Chris Burke 6, Jonathan Spector 6, Keith Fahey 7, Wade Elliott 7 (Nathan Redmond, 78, 6). Marlon King 6, Jordon Mutch 7.
Subs not used: Colin Doyle, Pablo Ibanez , Magaro Gomis, Adam Rooney.
Booking: Caldwell 69 minutes
Hull City: Vito Mannone 7, Liam Rosenior 7, Andy Dawson , James Chester 7 , Jack Hobbs 7, Paul McKenna 6, Corry Evans 6, Robert Koren 7, Aaron McLean 7, Matty Fryatt 6, Robert Brady 6 (Cameron Stewart, 64, 6).
Subs not used: Trevor Carson, Joe Dudgeon, Joshua King, Seyi Olofinjana.
Referee: Fred Graham (Essex) 5: Too inconsistent all night. He booked Caldwell correctly for a cynical block on a Hull attacker who frankly would have been through on goal in the second half but failed to apply the same sanction against one of the Hull defenders for exactly the same thing when King threatened to break away. Burke was wronged several times as alluded to earlier and he failed to apply advantage with Blues in good position in the first half. Mr Betts on the Kop line was dreadful. The assistant on the other side, Mr Mattocks I can’t really comment about but his performance seemed reasonable based on crowd reaction.
Attendance: 18,300 (690 away fans)