A very wet and difficult journey confronted Will and me as we left Guildford at about 15.45 journeying north via the M25 and M40. It was difficult for another reason besides the massive amounts of spray off the road surface and that was the fact that Will was even more talkative than ever. If there was a medal for yacking and talking b*****ks in the forthcoming Olympics, Will would be a shoe-in for the gold! 😀 I also had a running commentary on his fortunes as Bury manager on Football Manager 2012 on Will’s laptop. Apparently, he has already been sacked by Birmingham and now had charge of the North-West League 2 outfit and from what I could make out he was rubbish at Bury too as his side lost at home to the mighty Gillingham 1-0 and then proceeded to lose the next away game before the battery of the laptop finally gave out and Will then turned his attention to taking the p**s out of me for the rest of the journey! 😛 We had to pick up Will’s Uncle Frank and Auntie Joan on the way through and we arrived at the ground early so that the elderly relatives could get in unhindered by the large crowd that was expected. We were hungry, so having left Uncle Frank and Auntie Joan at the gate we peeled off in the direction of the Royal George for a much needed pint and picked up a nasty looking cheeseburger on the way. The rain was tipping it down and the weather reminded me of Wembley last year when my beer glass was filling up faster than I was supping it. Whilst at the bar, we could not help but notice a particularly comely young lady pushing past us with drinks in hand. The look on Will’s face said it all and we both agreed that she would be able to transport four pints; one in each hand and two…….. well, let’s not go there but suffice as to say that it was a vision that brightened up and otherwise dank, grey and miserable evening. 😀 It was soon time to meet up with Chris, Gayle, Little Jack, Rob and Lucky Heather at the gate as I had everyone’s tickets. We settled into our seats in the Kop near the halfway line and St Andrews was filling fast and a noisy atmosphere built.
A packed St Andrews was a cacophony of noise and there was nearly a dream start as Burke’s shot after only ten seconds was blocked. Blues had the better of the early exchanges and King crashed a far post David Murphy cross onto the face of the crossbar in the thirteenth minute, his third encounter with the woodwork in the tie to add to the two in the first leg. Tom Ince was looking dangerous for the visitors on the break and Murphy was having problems with the youngster’s pace He might have had a penalty in the seventh minute as Murphy tussled for a long diagonal ball, but to his credit the Blackpool player stayed on his feet and got his shot off which was well saved by Doyle with his legs. It would have been a soft award to be fair and I think the referee got this about right as both players were ‘at it.’ A stronger appeal followed for Blues however from a corner when Alex Baptiste’s attempted clearance header struck Gary Taylor-Fletcher on the forearm. The forward was lucky to get away with that one but he did so the game continued end to end apace.
The rain poured down unabated making the pitch slick and slippery. The game looked to be heading for a goalless first period when Blackpool were awarded a corner in the Kop corner. It was at this moment that a hobbling Jonathan Spector was replaced by N’Daw. The set piece came over and Curtis Davies headed clear and then blocked an attempted overhead kick by Baptiste at the far post. The ball bounced back off his upper chest and arm straight to Stephen Dobbie on the angle of the six-yard box. His weak first-time shot squirmed past Colin Doyle at the near post. The whole of St Andrews was stunned and even the travelling faithful took a split second to appreciate that their team had taken the lead. It was a dreadful goal to concede; totally avoidable and without doubt it should have been stopped by Doyle. It was also in my view the pivotal moment of the game. It was at this point that the tie was lost. Dobbie and the Blackpool players clearly thought so too judging by their celebrations. 2-0 up in the tie and Wembley looked a distant dream.
However, it could be argued that we had to score two goals at the start of the night and that had not changed although it would only now restore parity. The problem was that things got even worse immediately after the break. Matt Phillips made a diagonal run across the defence and controlled the chipped pass beautifully. Despite the close attentions of Pablo Ibanez he managed to get a weak effort off across Doyle from an acute angle. The ball bobbled past Doyle’s outstretched hand and then hit the far post – and went in!!!! How many times did Blues strike the woodwork over the two legs? My late father always said that if the ball doesn’t run for you, you won’t win and this single incident demonstrated this wisdom aptly. Blues were 2-0 down on the night, 3-0 on aggregate and any spark of belief we all felt that the Arch of Wembley still beckoned was extinguished.
Blues are nothing if they are not resilient though and Redmond was substituted for Andros Townsend who had become less effective as the game progressed. Suddenly there was a small spark of hope when following excellent hold up play from the hard working King, Burke supplied a sublime pass through Blackpool’s rearguard to Zigic who for once wasn’t called offside by the clueless linesman on the Kop side. The big Serb finished in a composed manner and immediately picked the ball out of the net himself and ran back to the centre circle with it.
The crowd was up now that they had something to shout about and the St Andrews roar became deafening. Guriane N’Daw had a scuffed shot blocked in a melee as Blackpool came under increasing pressure. Blues were for the first time in the match pressing the visitors high up the pitch and hemming them in so stopping them playing their neat passing game. Blackpool were rattled now and looked far less assured as the pressure began to tell. Redmond set up King after a mesmerizing run and cross to the Blues’ top scorer and only a fabulous reflex save from Matt Gilks who stuck out his foot prevented the equaliser from six yards. The equaliser did come in the 73rd minute from a corner headed powerfully home by Curtis Davies who rose higher than anyone to give Gilks no chance. St Andrews willed the team on to score another and produce extra time. The stadium was a cauldron as wave after wave of Blues attacks rained towards the Tilton Road goal defended by Blackpool. Ian Holloway reacted by substituting Keith Southern for the impressive Thomas Ince and just about held out for the draw that meant that Blues just came up short.
At the final whistle, the home faithful rose in a standing ovation for the team that had given everything not only in this match but throughout the whole season finally ending at the 62nd game. Not one single ounce of energy was left out on that pitch last night and I like the vast majority of the 28,483 souls who were there last night was immensely proud of the team I love and support. Over the two games, Blackpool deserve their place at Wembley against West Ham. They had more energy, pace and movement than we did and much of that was down to the fact that Blues have simply been running on empty for several weeks now. We have unfortunately run out of steam at the last following too many games and too many injuries to key players in the squad. Courage and effort were never lacking but that little bit of fortune when it mattered was. I believe that had it not been for long European and FA Cup campaigns the story would have been different but I wouldn’t change a thing!
Congratulations to Blackpool. Thank you to Chris Hughton and the Birmingham City players for a memorable season; I have had more fun, entertainment and wonderful memories to cherish this season than I have had in many a long year. I look forward to more of the same next season. Enjoy your holidays lads, you deserve it.
The Good: The fight back despite chasing a seemingly hopeless cause; it was so close to being completed!
The Bad: Colin Doyle’s failure to save Steve Dobbie’s shot I’m afraid. This was the turning point of the tie and the moment the dream was lost for me.
The Ugly: Objects thrown at Matt Gilks, the Blackpool keeper; there is no justification for this behaviour whatever the provocation.
Birmingham City: Doyle 5. Ramage 6. Murphy 6. Davies 7. Ibanez 7. Burke 7. Spector 6 (N’Daw 44, 6). Mutch 6. Townsend 6 (Redmond 62, 7). King 7. Zigic 7. Not used: Butland, Elliott. Rooney.
Bookings: Zigic (29, foul), Redmond (90+2, foul)
Blackpool: Gilks 7, Eardley 6, Baptiste 7, Evatt 7, Crainey 6, Ferguson 7, Martinez 6, Dobbie 7 (Dicko 76, 6), Ince 7 (Southern 69, 6), M Phillips 8 (K Phillips 85, N/A), Taylor-Fletcher 7. Not used: Halstead, Cathcart.
Bookings: Eardley (37, foul), Taylor-Fletcher (89, time-wasting)
Attendance: 28,483 (2,310 away).
Referee: Chris Foy 6: I was disappointed in the referee’s performance frankly. He completely failed to book Gilks for blatant time-wasting repeatedly throughout the second half which provoked some idiots behind the Tilton goal to start throwing things. Given the substitutions to add on only 5 minutes at the end was pathetic. Also, Taylor-Fletcher was backing in continually on Ibanez. Body strength is one thing but you can’t just push the centre-half backwards out of his space that he is entitled to occupy. To Pablo’s credit he stood up to Taylor-Fletcher well. The assistant on the Kop side was abysmal and let Mr Foy down to be fair.