Saturday morning broke with the sun against a glorious blue sky. It was much warmer than of late and my little Welsh Terrier, Dilys looked up at me as I ate breakfast imploringly begging for her walk which I wasn’t going to get out of easily not that I wanted to. I’d taken the car in early for new front tyres and it was my intention to take the train via Reading to Coventry where Emma, little Jack’s Mum, would pick me up and take us all along the A45 to the game. We were able to park right outside the ground as Chris had been invited to the Trevor Francis Suite for the three course meal, pre-match drinks and rubbing shoulders with the great and the good. Emma, little Jack and me headed for the Royal George for a pre-match drink and I met and said hello to former Blues player, Michael Johnson who was standing near the door and like us all hoping for a Blues victory. Nevertheless, I was feeling uneasy about this game not helped by various Blackpool supporters, on their way to Bristol City, that I met on the journey up at Reading who were convinced we had a easy win ahead of us and Simon, a Coventry fan from Southampton who asked me to give the Blues a cheer and do his team a favour by beating Forest.
Football being what it is, it often doesn’t work out in the way we expect and this match was to prove that rule in spades. Just prior to the game I ordered a steak and kidney pie that had the consistency of an object normally found at a clay pigeon shoot. It was utterly disgusting and once again the catering has to be roundly criticized. The standard is just unacceptable and for any of the club officials reading this report, PLEASE do something about it. I spoke to ‘bumpyfunk’ a regular reader of this blog who sympathised and wished me an enjoyable game. I was hoping he was right but I had a strange feeling about this one as I said.
Now we come to the match itself and my early premonitions were proved correct and any misgivings I had were amplified to levels way above my worst nightmare. Blues had the same back five that has done so well for us in recent times and a defence that to date had only conceded six goals at home all season. The midfield of four comprised of Chris Burke, Keith Fahey, Jordon Mutch and new boy, Andros Townsend. Zigic was back from his injury to accompany King up front. On paper this looked a strong team and given my experience of watching Forest at their place earlier this season and their exploits since you would have thought it was a Blues side too strong for them. This theory presupposes that the team plays to its potential which it didn’t. Forest are where they are because they are not very good. However, they were made to look so yesterday by a Blues team that was slow in movement, poor of pass, dull of thought and downright lazy and complacent and frankly they got out of this game what they put into it which was nothing.
After a bright first ten minutes, the Forest central midfielders were allowed to stroll around the park as if they owned it. Fahey and Mutch were slow in closing down their opposite numbers and when Mutch got it in particular, he either gave it away or played the ball behind his intended target player. Keith Fahey was a little better and frustrated by playing a couple of glorious long diagonal balls to Burke, one of which lead to our goal only to then show total inability to complete a simple five yard pass. Andros Townsend looked very good going forward and has quick, clever feet which will be an asset in the weeks to come but he shows little inclination to track back and help his full back and he will be of limited use to us in the run in if this idle streak continues. He left Murphy who was one of the few players to come out of this game with any credit totally exposed too often and it was a two on one situation with the young Spurs loanee nowhere to be seen that lead to Forest’s deserved opener on the half hour. Murphy was powerless to stop the right wing ball into the near post for Blackstock to score. Whilst on the subject of Dexter Blackstock he should have been sent off as early as the first quarter of an hour. He crashed his forearm into Caldwell’s face not once, not twice but THREE times in the first half. What on earth were the referee and his assistants doing? If we in block 26 can see these atrocities from twenty-five yards away why can’t the referee from less than ten? It is shocking, disgraceful and appalling to have to witness such ineptitude. Blackstock wasn’t even spoken to on any of the three occasions and he was to prove the match winner with his two well taken goals.
The first half passed off with little to describe from a positive perspective from Blues as frankly we didn’t threaten our opponents. Hopeful hoofs up to Zigic more often than not failed to find their target and King spent his whole time with his back to goal and creditably showed excellent touch in bring others into play only for them to let him down more often than not. A bollocking at half time no doubt and Blues were out early and at least it resulted in an increase in tempo and after 55 minutes Blues were level with Burke’s tenth goal of the season. A fabulous ball from Fahey, a rare pearl in a sea of mediocrity to the winger saw the Scot turn inside and curl a wonderful shot into the top corner from twenty yards. I thought we would go on and win the game at this point. In the reverse fixture at the City Ground, an equaliser by Burke lead to Forest’s capitulation but they were made of sterner stuff yesterday aided and abetted by another gift of a goal, almost a carbon copy of their first.
Once again a cross from the right that should have been prevented to Blackstock, identically placed to net for the second time. It knocked the stuffing out of Blues and the attacks became more desperate and frenetic achieving less and less as the minutes evaporated. Belatedly Redmond came on for Townsend and Huseklepp for Zigic, substitutions I felt could and should have been made at least twenty minutes earlier. Rubbish though we were all afternoon, Blues had enough chances in the last four minutes of time added on to have won the game comfortably; a thirty yard drive from Redmond was an inch or two wide, Fahey hit the angle of post and bar and from the rebound Curtis Davies missed the far post by a whisker with Camp in the Forest goal well beaten and finally a glorious cross from Burke flashed across the goal three yards out and Huseklepp, King and Redmond were all unable to apply the touch that would surely have robbed our dogged opponents of the victory they richly deserved.
Our wonderful run of form had to come to an end. It is a pity it had to end with a whimper rather than another team straining every sinew to beat us and being out on their feet at the finish. This was not the case yesterday; true Forest deserved to win and they are to be congratulated as being the first team to win in the league at St Andrews and the first to defeat Blues in 2012. However, creditable though their achievement was, their victory was more to do with how badly we played rather than how well they did. They didn’t really have to work hard to beat us and that is the fact that disappoints me the most. We lost because we didn’t work hard enough, we didn’t keep the ball well enough, we didn’t defend properly and we were simply not at it. There are going to be times throughout any season when the team has an off day but sides vying for promotion have to find a way of grinding out a result despite it. We could and should have scored at least one more in time added on but it would have been a travesty had we done so. It may be a blessing in disguise to have lost our unbeaten record and give us the sort of reality check needed at just the right time.
We have fourteen games left and to gain automatic promotion I think we will need 83-84 points; that is 30 more from where we are. That means at least nine wins which right now looks a tall order but what it also means is that we cannot afford another day like this one against anybody however good or bad they are perceived to be. Forest are looked upon as a below average team for this division and their league placing would suggest that but if you play against any team the way we did yesterday you will get beaten. Forest came with a simple game plan to stifle our wide players and prevent us getting behind them and overall they succeeded. They were better than us for large sections of the match and Blues can have no complaints. Whilst they will be delighted with their win, they will not play many teams for the rest of their campaign that will play as badly as we did yesterday so their triumph has to be looked at with some cool analysis rather than a new bright dawn; their flaws were still evident during this game it was just we were too useless to capitalise.
On a positive note, I thought Huseklepp looked useful when he came on and looks a player with a different dimension to him than what we have presently. He looks the type that will benefit from cute little balls into channels between defenders rather than hopeful crosses from deep and no doubt his qualities will be worked out in training. Townsend, as I’ve said looks quick and clever going forward but I question his work rate in back tracking where he was non-existent yesterday. He may be better in a five man midfield which will exploit his out and out winger qualities; we shall see but he should be cautioned about what the faithful at St Andrews expects; hard work is a given! King was for me our best player rather than the voted for Burke. He worked tirelessly all afternoon with little support around him. Murphy did well considering he was left isolated far too often and Davies covered well for the out of sorts Caldwell. As for Spector, well oh dear; simply terrible and for him a match to forget and quickly. Boaz Myhill stood no chance with either of the Forest goals and otherwise had little to do apart from fielding tame shots of which there were too many in the first half especially for my liking. Zigic was not as bad as some around me were suggesting; the service up to him was lamentable and the guy is just back from injury. We kept hoofing it up to him from steepling heights and defenders always have the advantage in that situation regardless of how tall you are. Our play was too one dimensional and predictable and Forest coped with it easily; bad day at the office, move on.
The Good: The hospitality package that Chris enjoyed in the Trevor Francis suite.
The Bad: The bakelite consistency pie I didn’t enjoy just before the game.
The Ugly: Everything about this Blues performance; by far the worst seen at St Andrews all season.
Birmingham City: Boaz Myhill 6, David Murphy 6, Steven Caldwell4, Curtis Davies 6, Jonathan Spector 3, Andros Townsend 4 (Nathan Redmond, 81, N/A), Keith Fahey 4, Jordon Mutch 3, Marlon King 7, Nikola Zigic 5 (Erik Huseklepp, 68, 6).
Subs not used: Colin Doyle, Pablo Ibanez, Morgaro Gomis.
Goals: Burke (55).
Nottingham Forest: Lee Camp 6, Luke Chambers 6, Danny Higginbotham 6 (Joel Lynch, 22, 6), Andy Reid 6, (Scott Wooton, 90+1, N/A) Garath McCleary 7 (Paul Anderson, 85, N/A), Chris Gunter 6, Guy Moussi 6, Marcus Tudgay 6, Adlene Guedioura 6, Dexter Blackstock 7, George Elokobi 7.
Subs not used: Paul Smith, Scott Wootton, Paul Anderson, Lewis McGugan.
Bookings: Luke Chambers (87).
Goals: Blackstock (29, 63)
Attendance: 19, 166 (1,414 away fans)
Referee: Roger East (Wiltshire) 3 Absolutely abysmal performance from this official. How he failed to dismiss Blackstock is beyond me. He must have seen at least one of the incidents described. I’m all for allowing the game to flow but blatant fouls have to be punished especially when the offending team emerges with the ball! I would add however Blues lost because of their own shortcomings not because of poor refereeing; Had Blackstock not been on the pitch he clearly couldn’t have scored his goals and given a man of the match performance but I suspect Blues wouldn’t have been any better against ten men; whether they would have lost is pure conjecture.