It seems ages since I went to a game. Blues have been hogging the TV limelight for what that is worth in recent weeks and for mainly logistic reasons, I’ve had to content myself with watching our beloved team on the box however much I hate it and consider it a curse. We had managed to scrape a 3-2 win against Middlesbrough despite being largely outplayed for much of the game only to be done by Derby by the same score and an unlucky 0-1 defeat to Wolves who scarcely deserved the three points they took from us but there you go. I wasn’t feeing particularly optimistic about our prospects against high flying Crystal Palace to be honest, a fact I passed on to Clive, a Palace fan that I met at New Street Station on Saturday lunchtime. We walked down from town via the market, Digbeth and up the Coventry Road to the ground where Clive and I parted company at the away fans’ entrance. I thought we would lose this encounter on the grounds that we have been indifferent, form wise at home and Palace have had an excellent run of results and have quietly built a side that is competitive at this level. I felt they would have enough about them to exploit our porous, pedestrian defence and if we went behind again I doubted our resilience to recover yet again from a deficit.
I went off to the Royal George where I was delighted to see that the hog roast was back on! A generous helping of pork with stuffing in a bap was just what the doctor ordered and fortified by this and a couple of pints whilst I watched the end of the Newcastle-Manchester City game it was time to take my seat in the ground. Will wasn’t on this trip as he had recently had an operation on his knee and Chris and Little Jack were at a club tour which included a meal and an after match interview with the man of the match from the game. At this juncture, I think the unsung heroes behind the scenes at the club need a mention as this is one of a number of initiatives that Blues are running to try and get people to come to games and bring the kids at this very difficult time for us all. There is much speculative negativity about the place at the moment but the unseen staff at St Andrews are doing their utmost to keep the club going in very difficult circumstances and their efforts need to be acknowledged and remembered. I thought I was Billy No Mates for the afternoon when Chris and Little Jack joined me in the Kop and it was great to see them. The seats next to me weren’t occupied so it was business as usual. The turkey dinner with all the trimmings was excellent by all accounts so we were all happy. 😀
Palace started brightly and Blues were fortunate not to concede early on when Yannick Bolasie, Palace’s right winger caught out a static Steven Cauldwell and fashioned a clear shot that was brilliantly saved by Jack Butland. The sort of nervous start that we have been used to occurred again as Birmingham were all over the place in the first few minutes. It was interesting to see young Callum Reilly and Papa Bouba Diop in for Ravel Morrison and the suspended Hayden Mullins (there is an occasional silver lining!) respectively. I thought the youngster acquitted himself well and Diop is an imposing player in the middle of the park and someone I would prefer to see as first choice to shore up our leaky back four anyway. Peter Lovenkrands and Marlon King formed the strike force with Chris Burke and Wade Elliott filling the wide berths. After a shaky start, Blues took control of the game and I felt were the better side for much of the first period. Chris Burke tested Speroni in the Palace goal from 18 yards and Robinson was only just too high with his effort with the keeper beaten. Lovenkrands brought an excellent save out of Speroni when put though just before the break but his left footed strike which was going just inside the post was pushed wide by Speroni at full stretch. Unfortunately, it was against the run of play that Palace grabbed the lead on 39 minutes through the in-form Murray. Bolasie got round the back of us far too easily and delivered a telling ball to the near post. Murray got in ahead of Curtis Davies and Butland and following what appeared to be a rat-a-tat ricochet in favour of the attacker, the ball was in the Tilton Road net for 1-0; here we go again!
Blues had played reasonably well in the first half and went after their opponents from the off in the second period. Once again Blues appeared to be on the front foot but after failure to get tight enough to Parr this time on the left flank a fierce driven cross was turned into the net on the hour once again by Murray from barely two yards. This was a sloppy piece of defending and all of the good work Birmingham had done to that point was undone. Blues responded well and a good through ball from King to release Lovenkrands saw the Dane felled in the box. The referee appeared to give the penalty and it looked clear enough from where we were. He reached for his pocket and I was saying to Chris that the challenged didn’t warrant a red card for Ramage as Lovenkrands was going wide and had a lot to do to score from where he was. Then to our astonishment, he booked Lovenkrands for diving. I have no idea what happened here; either the signal was for a goal kick or he was told by his assistant or fourth official that the incident was a dive. The assistant was on the wrong side of the pitch to see a dive clearly in my view as I was on the same side of the pitch and it looked a clear penalty kick. The referee was behind the incident and he may have seen things differently but he did appear to give the kick to start with. If anyone can clear this one up I would be most interested to hear.
Things were looking gloomy to say the least at this stage even though the way things were panning out it was no more that I had expected. Chris had put a £5 bet at 28/1 for a Blues win 3-2 and he commented when Murray’s second goal went in, “Well, that’s their two!” He certainly wasn’t about to rip up his betting slip however when within thirty seconds of Nikola Zigic coming on for Chris Burke who had been anonymous in the second half, Blues had a goal back. Blues were applying pressure and Crystal Palace failed to clear their lines leaving King with a chance to cross the ball back in following a cross from the other flank. A beautiful ball onto the big Serb’s head in an identical position to the one he missed against Ipswich was this time guided past Speroni into the far corner of the net for 2-1. St Andrews was lifted and Blues seemed to have more zip, vim and vigour with the earlier additions of Hall for Elliott and Mitch Hancox for the unfortunately injured Caddis. Blues were pressing higher up the pitch and increasing their tempo and the equaliser came from a corner taken by Hall for the powerful Papa Bouba Diop to head past the assembled Palace rearguard for a deserved leveller. Chris was hopeful and the £145 seemed tantalisingly close with eight minutes plus added time left. Both teams had a go to win the match but 2-2 was a fair result, a view shared by Clive when I met him back at New Street after the game.
I heard from a contact working at the club that news of the much vaunted takeover of the club will move forward significantly on Monday; I’ll believe it when I see it. Blues clearly need some investment as the squad, although on paper is reasonably solid, is simply not good enough to provide the consistency required to climb away from the lower reaches of the division. As I have already commented, this season is a write off and the only thing that matters is survival to go again next year. In the circumstances this was a good point gained but it seems such a pity that Blues wait until they are two or three goals down before they play their best football. Nevertheless, this was another fine fight back from 2-0 behind but how about taking the lead in a game for once lads eh?
The Good: Very solid first start for Callum Reilly, great fight back from a gloomy position and I thought the other youngsters Hall and Hancox were excellent when they came on. There is room for optimism regarding the younger players coming through.
The Bad: The defending; our lack of pace is being exploited in every game we play and is the main reason why this season is a write off.
The Ugly: I can’t think of anything that falls into this category and at this time of the year it’s nice to say that.
Birmingham City: Jack Butland 7; Paul Caddis 7 (Mitch Hancox 58, 7), Steven Caldwell 6, Curtis Davies 6, Paul Robinson 7; Chris Burke 6 (Nikola Zigic 65, 7), Papa Bouba Diop 7, Callum Reilly 7, Wade Elliott 6 (Rob Hall 56, 7); Peter Lovenkrands 7; Marlon King 6.
Subs (not used): Colin Doyle, Pablo Ibanez, Ravel Morrison, Nathan Redmond.
Bookings: Burke, Lovenkrands
Goals: Zigic (66), Diop (82)
Crystal Palace: Julian Speroni 7; Joel Ward 6, Damien Delaney 7, Peter Ramage 7, Jonathan Parr 7; Kagisho Dikgacoi 7, Owen Garvan 6, Andre Moritz 7 (Danny Gabbidon 77, 6); Wilfried Zaha 6, Glenn Murray 8 (Aaron Wilbraham 82, N/A), Yannick Bolasie 7.
Subs (not used); Lewis Price, Jermaine Easter, Dean Moxey, Stuart O’Keefe, Kwesi Appiah.
Goals: Murray (39, 60),
Bookings: Garvan, Parr
Attendance: 17,158 (1,699 away fans)
Referee: Scott Mathieson (Cheshire): 7 Overall, I thought the referee had a good game. He allowed the match to flow, wasn’t over fussy and applied the laws firmly but fairly. The only controversial incident was Peter Ramage’s challenge on Lovenkrands which as I alluded to earlier did look a penalty from where I was and he did appear to give it. In the referee’s defence, Shabba did go down theatrically but a foul is a foul regardless. However, professional players do not help themselves when they add simulation even though they have been genuinely clipped. A referee can easily interpret this as unsporting behaviour. I think Palace got away with this one but that’s what happens when you’re top of the league!
Bazza KRO SOTV