It was a lovely bright sunny morning in Surrey as Saturday dawned and there was a little Cairn Terrier to walk, newspaper to collect and lottery ticket to renew before setting off to the station to catch the train to Guildford to meet up with Will who had elected to drive the rest of the way to south London. Chris and little Jack were meeting us at Charlton at about 13.15 and from there we were going to find a watering hole prior to the game; the best laid plans of mice and men and all that. There had been a break in league hostilities because of the international matches where England had excelled in Germany but had come unstuck against an efficient rather than the usual classy Dutch side aided and abetted by an appalling refereeing decision. I don’t think I was the only one who felt that Jagielka was barged in the back prior to Holland’s winner and by the look on the scorer’s face, he thought so too but there again it was only a friendly and let’s hope we have better officiating in the Euros but somehow I’m sceptical we will.
As for Blues we have been able to take stock of the situation we find ourselves with regard to the playoffs and we have faded away a bit of late and are now dependent on others slipping up. As I think I’ve said in my previous reports, I don’t think we’re quite good enough to get into the top six but I still acknowledge that we have a chance albeit a slim one but I reckon we have to win a minimum of six games out of nine left starting with the game at Charlton and frankly I think it’s a tall order but strange things happen in football and that is why we all love it. We arrived eventually at the Antigallican, a pub opposite Charlton train station and got there just in time to see Vile go 2-0 down against Chelsea at home from a penalty and the faithful were in good voice as further goals by the away side dispatched those from across the expressway 4-0. Washed down with a couple of scoops the atmosphere was good.
What about our match? It began with a protest by the home fans when hundreds of little football stress balls were thrown onto the pitch delaying the game by six minutes. It was probably the most entertaining episode in the match in truth! It was clear to all concerned that this was a must win game if we were to make the playoffs and indeed Blues looked the dominant side when they took the lead through Toral from an excellent, well-worked move on 32 minutes. Paul Caddis overlapped down the right past Cotterill who fed the full back in. A lovely cross was too inviting for Toral to pass up and his sliding finish sent the 3,100 away fans into raptures. Birmingham could easily have been behind however just before the opener when Robinson fluffed his lines and allowed Vetokele in but Morrison saved the day with a timely tackle to prevent the Charlton man opening the scoring for the Addicks. I felt that with correct application that this had the potential to be a five or six goal game. I’m sorry to have to report that Blues proceeded to throw the match away against a club struggling at the lower reaches of the Championship. Blues have the uncanny capacity to allow sides to get back into games and in this case, win. Blues got what they deserved; nothing. We weren’t good enough to score a second, third and fourth against a team there for the taking and allowed the home side enough chances that even they, poor though they were, were capable of taking for a mugging just before the end.
Blues looked to be in complete control when out of nowhere the Addicks equalised with a cracking strike by Gudmundson from 25 yards that might have taken a slight deflection on the way but was a fine finish for all that. The move started with a ball over the top of Grounds which the goal scorer brought down well. He popped it off Harriott who slipped and the chance seemed to have gone but the ball broke back to Gudmundson whose snap shot rifled in just inside Kuzczak’s far post. Thirty-nine minutes gone and it was all square and with it Blues’ ascendancy as they lost momentum and control not helped by Toral’s early exit to be replaced by Maghoma.
The second half lacked quality and Blues never looked like scoring despite getting into good field positions. Gary Rowett replaced the ineffectual Fabbrini and Cotterill with Donaldson and Soloman-Otabor respectively midway through the second half and went 4-4-2 in an attempt to force the issue but against the league’s most porous defence we lacked the guile to break through and we ultimately paid the price by getting done at a set piece. Blues had more than enough opportunities to kill this game off but failed to provide the final pass. Charlton’s winner was a free header at the far post with less than a minute left from a corner. Sadly, I felt it was coming despite our better field position on so many occasions. Indeed Diarra had missed a sitter from another free header earlier in the half from a free kick so Blues cannot complain they hadn’t been warned. For our part, did we work their keeper? No! Cotterill’s sliced volley from eight yards which Pope nonchalantly caught was the worst of Birmingham’s profligacy. In the end Charlton wanted the result more than we did and though they lack quality they showed heart, fight and spirit and therefore on balance they deserved their win. As for Birmingham, when you consider some of the excellent away performances this season, this was poor.
Finally I can say without apprehension, the season is over. The playoffs are a pipe dream; our squad is nowhere near good enough. They say that a league campaign is a marathon not a sprint but Blues look like a runner limping painfully through the last couple of miles as fitter runners with more energy go past. There will be no sprint finish from this Blues machine. We have dropped too many points against too many sides near the bottom of the league. My younger brother who incidentally turned 60 on 27 March, has always said, “If you want to achieve anything in sport, you have to beat the teams you should beat.” Charlton Athletic are a team Birmingham should beat and the fact they have lost twice to them tells you everything you need to know about this present Blues set up; nice try, better luck next year.
The Good: The company of Chris, Will and little Jack, the atmosphere at the Antigallican watching Vile get thumped again! 😀
The Bad: Seeing a famous old ground like the Valley half empty.
The Ugly: The toilets at the pub! Phewy! 🙁
Charlton Athletic: Nick Pope 6, Marco Motta 7 (Simon Makienok 90 + 2, N/A) Morgan Fox 6, Jorge Teixeira 7, Rod Fanni 6, Johan Berg Gudmundson 7 (Johnnie Jackson 84, N/A) Yun Suk-Young 6 (Ademola Lookman 45, 6) Alou Diarra 6, Jordan Cousins 6, Callum Harriott 6, Igor Vetokele 7
Goals: Gudmundson, Teixeira.
Subs not used: Zakarya Bergdich, Chris Solly, Harry Lennon, Stephen Henderson.
Yellow cards: Diarra, Gudmundson.
Birmingham City: Thomas Kuzczak 7, Paul Caddis 8, Michael Morrison 6, Paul Robinson 6, Jonathan Grounds 6, Diego Fabbrini 5, (Clayton Donaldson 67, 5) Stephen Gleeson 6, David Davis 7, David Cotterill 5 (Viv Soloman-Otabor 74, 6) Jon Toral 7 (Jacques Maghoma 45 + 5, 6) James Vaughan 6.
Subs not used: Adam Legzdins, Ryan Shotton, Will Buckley, Maikel Kieftenbeld.
Yellow cards: Grounds.
Referee: Poor throughout. There was a decision in the second half when a tackle on Vaughan was either a free kick to us or a throw in to Blues if it was perceived that the defender had played the ball cleanly. He gave a throw in to Charlton which mystified everybody around me and most other people in the ground I suspect. That decision summed up the officials performance I’m afraid but once again, the officials bear no responsibility for why we lost; we lost because we weren’t good enough.
Attendance: 15,742 (3,100 noses)