It was a chilly wet Saturday morning. I was to catch the 08.30 train from Blackwater to Reading in order to get my connection to New Street from Reading. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to walk my faithful Welsh Terrier, Dilys. Her little tail like an exclamation mark when happily being wagged was down and the sad resigned expression on her face emphasised my guilty feelings but it was a case of needs must. The reason for the early start was the fact that I had promised my aged Aunty Ann and my disabled cousin, Janet that I would visit them in Four Oaks. They looked forward to me coming and I was loathe to disappoint them. I had tried to get to see them a few weeks ago but the trains were delayed by signal problems and I had had to abort the visit which I know had upset them even though they had understood. So it was that I caught another connection travelling through enemy territory of Aston to their home just outside Sutton Coldfield. My wife had gathered some things together that Aunty and Janet had requested, a new bedspread amongst other things and I had four large carrier bags full of stuff on my departure. Collectively they weighed a fair bit and my mildly arthritic left elbow objected painfully during the periods when I had to walk to the station and between changes. Nevertheless, I got to my aunt’s just before 11.30 glad to be relieved of the four large bags. I stayed with them for just under an hour and a half before catching my train back to New Street.
Will had decided to take in this match, freed from family duties on this occasion and had travelled up from the South by car. I had arranged for him to pick me up outside the Bull Ring Tavern opposite St Martin’s church at 13.30. We went from there to the George for a pint before going into the ground. The food on offer was braised beef with leek mash; at least one positive to take from the match. Well it had finally come to this. Here we were hovering above the trap door to League 1 one goal difference alone with three games left none of which I was confident of getting anything from. Today’s game was ‘now or never’ whether we liked it or not and you have to say that if we ultimately take the drop we deserve to if you only win two home games in the league out of 23! Lose this game and we were going down in my opinion. Should this happen, at least I wouldn’t have to bear the indignity of witnessing it first hand as I can’t go on Tuesday or to Bolton on the final day.
My major worry was what team Lee Clark was going to put out onto St Andrew’s Field. I have cut Lee Clark a lot of slack given that he has had to work with no money forcing him to scrabble around after loans and free transfers thus producing squads (note the plural) of indifferent quality. Nevertheless, some of the team selections and set ups have been bizarre but I have taken the view that my role as a fan is to support whatever team wears the blue and white and the emblem of our proud club but like many, even I lost patience last Monday with the team that commenced the game against Blackburn. It was ridiculous and playing five players out of position defied credulity. I couldn’t go Easter Monday but I listened with appalled disbelief to the commentary and my text messages to Will to keep him informed cannot be repeated here in the interests of propriety. OK, we are a very poor team but at least put round pegs in round holes; please?
Well the team was announced: Randolph, Caddis, Thorpe, Spector, Hancox, Burke (capt) Hughes, Adeyemi, Reilly, Novak and Zigic. No natural left sided midfielder, not exactly balanced but at least better than Monday. Blues played well first half and Zigic was excellent up front. If we lost the first tackle players were there to pick up the second. The back four looked solid but Matt Smith was winning too many headers in our box although we were first to the knock downs. The same could be said for big Ziggy who was dominating in the air and his touches on the deck weren’t shabby either. He was in that unplayable mood and I sensed a goal had to come if he kept winning his share. The best chance of the half fell to Tom Adeyemi on only 7 minutes who with a clever flick from a pass from Novak that was waist high but he still managed to control that then looked to have hit his hand put him in the clear. He burrowed into the box but blazed the chance over from twelve yards. This was to prove costly. Novak himself so nearly scored with a rasping volley from twenty yards with the returning Jack Butland beaten. Despite enterprising play from Blues and goalmouth scrambles on a couple more occasions somehow the ball just wouldn’t sit down in a place where somebody could get a clear shot off. It wasn’t running for us but there again it hasn’t all season has it? Hope was springing eternal at half time; we had actually kept a clean sheet and looked as if we had a chance of winning the game.
Unfortunately, the second half didn’t start with anywhere near the same tempo or energy and from nothing Leeds scored a simple header by Matt Smith from a routine delivery into the box just before the hour. The striker got ahead of Spector and thumped a header low into the bottom corner. The confidence visibly drained out of the Blues players and within two minutes it was 2-0. Poor marking at the far post allowed Michael Brown to drive a cross shot across Randolph after a couple of headers won in the box by Leeds players with our defenders watching on. Once again having played reasonably well for most of the match to this point it was nevertheless beyond us and another defeat beckoned. We all knew it and so did Leeds and their raucous travelling support. All fight was now gone and when the third arrived from a Paul Caddis own goal that resulted from Ross McCormack’s cross on 78 minutes I did something that I have never done before; I got up and left to get an early train. I didn’t see our goal; I was past caring. It was scored by Macheda on 83 minutes by all accounts but once again it was too little too late. Will made a valid point before the game when he said that everything about this season has been so bad both on and off the pitch that it has sapped any pride, optimism or hope from a body of fans that don’t normally get sapped in this way because we’re used to it! However, rarely has it been as bad as this. I think my desolation at the moment of my departure summed up the general mood of our fan base.
The Good: The braised beef and leek mash produced by Demetri in The Cookhouse before the game. The first half performance which had it been replicated throughout the season we would not be in the mess we are in now. The fact that this is the last game I can get to because of work and family commitments.
The Bad: The second half showing; the way the heart, fight and spirit drained out of the team when they scored. Everything about the season really and the fact that we hold the record the the longest run of failure to win at home in the league at this level. (17 games now)
The Ugly: The future for the club. It looks bleak. I think we have to accept that we are going to be relegated. Unlike our West Midlands neighbours, Wolves, I don’t see us bouncing back in a hurry. As for the ownership saga, let’s not go there.
Birmingham City: Darren Randolph, Paul Caddis, Jonathan Spector, Tom Thorpe (Demarai Gray 90) Mitch Hancox, Chris Burke, Emyr Hughes, Callum Reilly (Federico Macheda 61) Tom Adeyemi, Lee Novak (Scott Allen 69) Nikola Zigic.
Subs not used: Colin Doyle, Aaron Martin, Olly Lee, Andrew Shinnie.
Goals: Macheda 83
Leeds United: Jack Butland, Tom Lees, Jason Pearce, Luke Murphy (Alex Mowatt 57) Rodolph Austin, Danny Pugh (Aidan White 88) Michael Brown, Michael Tonge, Matt Smith (Noel Hunt 79) Scott Wootton, Ross McCormack.
Subs not used: Zac Thompson, Dom Poleon, Cameron Stewart, Alex Cairns.
Goals: Smith 58, Pugh 60, Caddis og 78.
Referee: Geoff Eltringham: it is too easy to lash out at the officials after yet another desperately disappointing afternoon so I’m not going to. Blues weren’t good enough to break down a pretty poor Leeds team. They took their chances when they came along and we didn’t and that was the difference. That is not the referee’s fault is it? He was guilty of allowing the usual frequent manhandling of Zigic and just after Macheda came on the young striker was hauled to the ground by his neck when attempting to latch onto the ball. He may have had to send the defender off had he pulled play up for it. Nevertheless, I doubt it would have made much difference, the game was lost at that stage anyway.
This is the last report I shall give this season. I can’t go to the Wigan game because of work commitments and I have a long standing engagement next Saturday. I’ll hope for a miracle like the rest of us but I can’t see it happening I’m afraid. Have a great summer fellow noses. Let’s hope that 2014-2015 season is better for us eh?
Bazza KRO SOTV