The day broke to glorious sunshine, an azure blue sky and the fact that it was finally here; the start of the season. I took my Welsh Terrier, Dilys out for her walk early on and my wife to the train station as she was going up to London. I got on a train myself just after 10.30 to Reading and from there to New Street. I caught glimpses of Reading and Stoke fans coming in for their game at the Madjeski and Reading tends to be a hub for the followers of other teams as diverse as Arsenal, Portsmouth and Bristol Rovers among others. I even see the odd Dingle and people who deludedly follow the Sky Blues from time to time. Never yet seen a Viler though; perhaps that is because they have an address tag tied round their necks saying “if lost please return to B6 …………….”
I was travelling by train and was a bit of a Billy No Mates as Will was away in France, Chris was on his way there and Andy was at a wedding in Scotland. I asked another Bluenose mate of mine if he wanted to come to the first game of the season but he was on a dirty weekend with his missus and after the performance of the team I suspect his was probably better! 😀 I reached New Street just before 1 pm and walked through the Bull Ring Market past the Cathedral and into Moat Lane and then Digbeth. The beautiful weather had been replaced by grey clouds and the temperature had dropped appreciably. However, it was still muggy but still pleasant enough for the walk down to the ground. I met Mark and Lewis, two fans up from London who were naturally looking forward to the new season. They didn’t sound too hopeful about Charlton’s prospects but over the full season their expectation was a mid-table place.
I left them at the Away entrance and walked round to the Royal George for a couple of pints and to watch some of the Leeds-Wolves game being shown on the screen. I also enjoy the scenery behind the bar 🙂 On 83 minutes with the score 1-0 to Leeds a warning message came on the screen; ‘your set is about to go into hibernation mode, press any key to cancel.’ Whether the bloke in charge couldn’t be arsed or whether he wanted to take pity on us and spare us the rest of what was a pretty dire game, said key did not get pressed and the telly went off. It was time to sup up and get in the ground anyway. After another pint and a pie I took my usual seat. Roger, Ian and Vicki who normally sit behind me appear to have moved up the posh seats higher up in the Kop and dissociate themselves with the hoi-polloi. Ian sent a text to say the seats were more comfy and the Guinness was better!
Well what about the match? A bit of a curate’s egg this one I’m afraid. Blues did not play well against a well drilled Charlton back line who dealt with our attacks easily. The tempo wasn’t high enough and this reflected the hot, humid conditions as the sun finally came out and raised the ambient temperature. Blues simply did not move the ball or themselves quick enough to trouble the League 1 Champions and to make matters worse Blues allowed the visitors to win far too many of the headers in our box from set pieces and this was to prove our undoing as the problem was not addressed despite numerous warnings. Will Packwood continued at right back in place of the injured Carr and he struggled against the pace and movement of Jackson and the impressive left back for Charlton, Rhoys Wiggins down his flank. He was to be replaced by Jonathan Spector just after the hour despite sticking to his task well.
Blues started brightly enough but became languid as the conditions got to them. Whether they felt they needed to conserve energy for later or whether it was just early season rust, it was Charlton who threatened first with Butland, at last making his league debut for Blues rushing out to block a close range shot by Bradley Wright-Phillips after barely five minutes. Caldwell was being given a torrid time by the Charlton striker and just about got a vital toe-end back to Butland as Wright-Phillips threatened to latch on to a long ball. Charlton should have been in front on 13 minutes when a terrific in-swinging cross from the left by Johnnie Jackson was met by Yann Kermorgant but it struck him on the shin and thankfully sailed over the bar from only six yards. For the rest of the half Blues were largely in control but did little to cause a resolute Charlton defence problems. I lost count of the times throughout the game that when in good positions our players delivered the ball in without pace and the venom required to trouble a tall set of defenders and a goalkeeper who must be at least 6 feet 4 inches in height! The crosses were hung up time after time and Hamer the goalkeeper caught everything easily. Peter Lovenkrands went near a couple of times and Morrison drilled a 20-yarder wide. Charlton had the better chances of the half with Jackson also heading just over from a ball by Rhoys Wiggins in another threatening incident just before the break.
Blues didn’t really liven up after the half time cuppa although they did enjoy plenty of the ball. A lovely volleyed pass by Ravel Morrison put King in down the inside right channel but Michael Morrison’s last ditch block saved the day for Charlton. Packwood went off Spector came on and at the same time Nathan Redmond replaced of Ravel Morrison who had had a relatively quiet day. Darren Ambrose moved into the middle of the park but Blues continued to get no change out of Charlton’s defence. The longer the game progressed, the more confident the visitors became and the more frustrated Blues were. Blues were in control but Charlton still threatened especially from set pieces where Caldwell and Davies looked anything but secure. Butland had to save quickly at his near post from Jackson in the 76th minute as Charlton fancied their chances of a winner; their game plan was working out beautifully. They had good reason to dream when on 82 minutes the inevitable happened when Blues failed to clear their lines from Jackson’s corner. Charlton were allowed to play head tennis in our penalty area. Substitute Jordan Cook was unmarked at the far post to head the ball back into the heart of the penalty area, Kermorgant nodded it down and Cort came flying in to beat a helpless Butland from close range. It was a truly awful goal due to dreadful defending and although neither team actually deserved to win what had been a pretty dire game it looked as if Charlton were going to and frankly had they done so few could have begrudged them. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t particularly great either but the onus has to be on the home team to take the game to the visitors and Birmingham simply didn’t do it and they got what they deserved for not going after their opponents.
I couldn’t see an equaliser coming and as four minutes of time added on was announced I made my way to the back of the stand to make a quick getaway for the walk back to New Street. Big Nikola Zigic had been brought on for the disappointing Peter Lovenkrands on 85 minutes in a desperate attempt to salvage something from this apology of a game of football. Less than fifteen seconds remained when Chris Burke, who had been Blues most lively player in the second half nudged the ball on about 25 yards out towards the edge of the area where Charlton’s packed defence awaited. Zigic took the pass on the burst, got the ball out of his feet well and slotted it clinically into the bottom corner with his left foot; it was a lovely finish and the best moment of this game by far in terms of skill and class; qualities that had been distinctly lacking throughout. 0-0 was what this game had stamped all over it; 1-1 would have to suffice.
The Good: The reappearance of Jonathan Spector from injury. Ziggy’s lovely goal. Charlton’s defending and solid play, dull though it was. They are not the ones there to entertain. They will reflect on a point well earned once they have got over the disappointment of the late equaliser.
The Bad: Our defending from set pieces, lack of tempo in general play and no enterprise.
The Ugly: The match; this has to be one of the poorest games I’ve seen at St Andrews for a long time. Hopefully, this can be written off as a lacklustre dress rehearsal. In fairness Cardiff were shocking and won fortuitously against a better Huddersfield team and the Leeds and Wolves hardly pulled up trees so perhaps it is not just us.
Blues (4-4-2): Butland 6, Packwood 5 (Spector 63, 6), Murphy 6, Davies 6, Caldwell 5, Burke 7, Mullins 6, Morrison 5 (Redmond 63, 6), Ambrose 6, Lovenkrands 5 (Zigic 85, 6), King 6. Not used: Doyle, Pablo, Elliott, Rooney.
Charlton (4-4-2: Hamer 7, Solly 6, Wiggins 7, Morrison 7, Cort 7, Pritchard 6, Hollands 6, Stephens 5, Wright-Phillips 7 (Cook 77, 6), Kermorgant 7, Jackson 6 (Taylor 89). Not used: Sullivan, Green, Kerkar, Wilson, Smith.
Referee: Garry Sutton 7; The referee had a fairly easy game since to be fair the game still had a pre-season feel to it. None of the players were moving quick enough to cause contention to be honest. There was one incident in the second half when Murphy appeared to get clattered and the Tilton were baying for a penalty. I couldn’t see what happened clearly from where I was so I can’t comment.
Attendance 18,210 (1,637 away)