Noon kick-offs on a Sunday remain for me wrong on so many levels but society dictates that these sorts of anomalies have to be and so it was that Chris, Little Jack and me made our way to St Andrews barely having time to get in to the ground before kick off. I had been staying in Baginton where for the last two days twelve of us had been playing a golf match on Friday and Saturday. It’s an annual event among a group of friends, the sort of thing that makes life worthwhile. Chris and his wife, Gayle were gracious and generous hosts as always and I know I speak for all involved by extending my thanks to them for a most fantastic weekend. The fact that the event had coincided with the game at home to Cardiff was a bonus but noon on a Sunday is still not a proper time to stage football but given the history between these two clubs the police and security services have their way and that’s that.
These sides have together now played exactly 100 games this season; this being number 52 for Blues and it showed in a first half devoid in the main of any quality or excitement. Blues were up against it with four centre-halves strung out across their back four. Pablo Ibanez had to pretend he was a right back whilst Peter Ramage once again had to play out of position on the left. Davies and Caldwell continued as the central pairing. The midfield was a make do and mend as well to be honest with Erik Huseklepp playing wide left alongside N’Daw, Mutch and Chris Burke. Wade Elliott tucked in just behind King in a 4-4-1-1 formation sometimes interchanging with Huseklepp. It was probably the best of an unenviable job for Chris Hughton from the point of view of selection and when up against a good technical side like Cardiff City, the task ahead was concerning. A dire first half passed off with very little of note to report although Ben Turner had an attempt to curl the ball around Boaz Myhill after 15 minutes and the keeper was relieved to see the ball go inches wide. Mason had the best chance of the game on 33 minutes and I like everyone else from my vantage point could not believe he shot wide from 16 yards with a big patch of net at the far post to aim at. Blues were very lucky to escape that one. Blues had a couple of efforts most notably, N’Daw shot fiercely from 25 yards with the crowd baying him to do so but his volley was straight at Marshall. Cardiff enjoyed plenty of the ball, dominating possession but played much of their neat and tidy stuff in front of a Blues rearguard that remained resolute and defiant but it didn’t make for a great spectacle.
The second half was better. A glorious chance to break the deadlock came just before the hour when Chris Burke played the ball through to Jordon Mutch who was felled in the area by Cowie for a stone wall penalty. King, normally so reliable from the spot stepped up to take it but a combination of changing his mind and not making adequate contact saw Marshall save well down to his right pushing the ball to safety. To their credit, Birmingham did not feel sorry for themselves and nearly made amends when in their next attack Huseklepp forced Marshall to save well with his legs. Blues had the bit between their teeth now and the game was beginning to liven up. The opening goal finally came when a brilliant run by Burke from his own half saw the winger outpace McNaughton to burrow into the area where King and Huseklepp waited. Cardiff were caught out short at the back and a composed square pass to the Norwegian was gleefully slammed past Marshall from close range. Birmingham looked set secure three points as they brought off Ibanez, switched Ramage to the right put N’Daw back to left back and replaced the latter with Gomis. Blues’ patched up back line looked to be rock solid until a lapse in concentration saw Cardiff snatch an equaliser out of nothing. Whittingham’s clever diagonal cross fell to defender Mark Hudson, who volleyed the ball into the bottom corner for a superb finish; excellent technique to keep the ball low and on target from where he was with the ball dropping across his body and to be fair it was just reward for the Bluebirds who save for a short spell in the second half were the better side over the whole piece.
Birmingham so nearly won the game just after however when only a great but fortuitous save from Marshall denied Burke as his shot on the turn looked destined for the top corner. The ball smashed into the face of the keeper leading to a hold up in play and he clearly knew little about it but it earned his team a valuable point. Cardiff responded as Rudy Gestede’s right-foot volley from the edge of the box was straight at Myhill. A bizarre moment could have settled the match when Chris Burke almost embarrassed Marshall with a shot that hit a bobble on the pitch just in front of the keeper but fortunately for him looped up into his hands rather than past him. The Bluebirds almost stole the points at the death as Gestede came close with a header but to be fair a draw was the right result as neither side did quite enough to win the game although both had their opportunities to do so.
On balance, this was a game that Blues should have secured having taken the lead because they defended really well considering the makeshift forced changes to the defensive line. Blues defended well for the whole game apart from two occasions; one in which they got a let off through a poor finish in the first half and of course their goal where they weren’t so fortunate. After the equaliser it was vital that Blues didn’t lose the game and so this was a good draw which is an unusual thing to say when you are playing at home. It moves Blues up into sixth but they have to string a couple of wins together and soon if they are to stay in the play off mix. Fortunately for Birmingham, it seems our rivals don’t want to secure a place for themselves either and that may be the deciding factor on the run in as to who goes through to the play off lottery and who goes off to the beach.
The Good: The fact that Blues with a weakened line up didn’t lose the game.
The Bad: The penalty miss. Slack defending for their equaliser.
The Ugly: The Cardiff City away kit; who designs these?
Birmingham City: Boaz Myhill 7; Peter Ramage 7, Steven Caldwell 7, Curtis Davies 7, Pablo Ibanez 6 (Morgaro Gomis 72, 6); Chris Burke 8, Jordon Mutch 6, Guirane N’Daw 7, Wade Elliott 6; Erik Huseklepp 7 (Andros Townsend 69, 6), Marlon King 6.
Subs (unused): Colin Doyle, Nikola Zigic, Nathan Redmond.
Goal: Huseklepp (68)
Cardiff City: David Marshall 8; Kevin McNaughton 6, Ben Turner 7, Mark Hudson 7, Andrew Taylor 7; Peter Whittingham 6, Stephen McPhail 7, Don Cowie 7 (Rudy Gestede 72, 6), Liam Lawrence 7; Aron Gunnarsson 7, Joe Mason 6.
Subs (unused): Tom Heaton, Kenny Miller, Robert Earnshaw, Darcy Blake.
Goal: Hudson (78)
Referee: Andy D’Urso 8: It is so nice to watch a referee in complete control of the game, prepared to leave his cards in his pocket and happy to let the game flow. A quiet word here and there kept the players honest. An accomplished performance which meant you didn’t notice him. The penalty call was absolutely correct though it has to be said it has to be one of the easiest ones to give.
Attendance: 17,704 (1,277 away fans) Lunchtime kick-offs dampen the atmosphere and being Sunday some will have stayed away because of family time. I’ve said my piece about Sunday football before but noon is just too early and does nothing for the fans or the players normally used to Saturday afternoons or night games. Football is not just about the match; going for a drink with mates, soaking up the atmosphere beforehand and the whole thing about it being a social occasion is lost with early starts like this. Our next one is Doncaster away on Friday night; hate that as a start for a football match as well; spoils the whole weekend for me.