Well, here we are at the beginning of December! T’is the season to be jolly, tra la la la la la LA LA LA and all that! Bah humbug! Christmas Carols are being played on the radio incessantly and there’s still three weeks to go. It’s getting to a busy time of the year for football teams of course and this is often a defining period of the season when it becomes clear whether teams are going to be challenging or struggling at respective ends of their divisions. I am bound to say that I keep waiting for the wheels to come off for Blues but when I look at our record so far and compare it with last year we are doing every bit as well as this time last season and in some ways have been a little steadier by way of consistency. The general feeling is that we have a bit more depth in the squad this term so you never know we might just do a little better than I and a number of others feel we will. The month of December and our activities on and off the field in January will be telling. If all goes well we could perhaps be in with a shout and not fade like last time out when frankly we weren’t good enough to last the pace.
As the year grows old, the weather has turned decidedly colder particularly in the south where I live with several degrees of frost all this week. It amazes me that little plants like the cyclamen and pansies in Mrs Bazza’s flower bowls outside the house,despite turning the consistency of stiff cardboard, still manage to eventually soften, thaw out and flourish. The ground generally is cold and hard and despite under-soil heating for professional pitches, it is still not very pleasant playing football in this weather and making blocks of full bloodied shots of the type made by our defenders on frequent occasions at Brentford last Saturday must smart a bit – especially against bare skin. Still, that is what players are paid for and in the final analysis is what makes the difference between success and failure I suppose. If you base it on such commitment then perhaps Blues deserve to be occupying a play off place!
I caught my usual train from Blackwater to Reading and transferred to the Manchester Piccadilly connection to find it was delayed a few minutes. I always think it doesn’t augur well when three minutes becomes five becomes eight and the the train due immediately after the one you want starts vying for the platform slot. I rang Chris to tell him and fortunately the train did arrive, albeit nine minutes late, and I hoped that I would get to my destination, Coventry at around the correct time of 12.25. It was 12.50 in the end. After a pint in Chris’s pub, the Baginton Oak we collected little Jack and proceeded down the Coventry Road to St Andrews. After a pint in the Happy Abode, the new bar on the Kop side of the ground we made our way in. The food at the Cookhouse this week was shepherd’s pie with mushy peas and pesto sauce and very welcome it was on a still, bright but very cold day.
The team was unchanged from last week’s victory at Brentford. Blues did not start well with too sluggish a tempo and they allowed a Barnsley team that had been ceremoniously thumped at home by Nottingham Forest 5-2 to totally dominate proceedings. Our ability to keep the ball has been found sadly wanting in recent weeks despite the positive results and I think I have mentioned before that we have been riding our luck? Well, the luck finally ran out as we failed to quell Barnsley’s growing confidence borne of the fact that they made excellent use of their extra man in midfield up against our 4-4-2 formation and the fact that we had Tesche and Kieftenbeld in the middle of the park with David Davis out wide on the left with Cotterill on the right. We got overrun; Barnsley won everything in midfield and picked up all the second balls as Barnsley played an excellent pressing game. We kept coughing up possession when we did get it and conceded unnecessary free kicks in our own half and it was inevitable that when a team keeps doing that inviting a physical side like Barnsley to keep lumping the ball into the box that something bad will happen. They deservedly took the lead on 38 minutes when an in-swinging left footed free kick from forty yards out by Conor Hourihane was delivered which everyone missed apart from the slight touch by Marc Roberts and the ball bounced past Kusczcak into the far corner for 1-0. Dreadful defending and the softest of goals.
Despite playing so poorly, Blues produced the two best chances of the half which were squandered. After only eleven minutes, a lovely delivery from the left wing by David Cotterill, given space by Josh Cogley’s incisive pass to give the winger time and space, has Donaldson running onto it four yards out. The keeper saved well but really he should have been given no chance. Davis should also have scored just before half time when put through in the inside left position by a hooked pass from Donaldson. He did everything right in beating the keeper only for his shot to cannon off the post; once again a bad miss.
Normally with Blues you get a good half and a bad half but this was different; the second period was even worse than the first and Tom Bradshaw brought an outstanding save out of Kusczcak after 55 minutes. The writing was on the wall, though Blues did improve temporarily when Gary Rowett made changes and converted to a 4-2-3-1 system after about an hour. These were changes that could and should have been made earlier in my view. Why do we keep leaving our most talented footballers on the bench? Nevertheless, Birmingham failed to break down a clearly porous Barnsley defence who – had we just been able to keep hold of the ball instead of constantly giving it away – were there for the taking. Then hope of a revival was dealt a serious blow when David Davis made a silly lunging challenge out on the far touch line when already on a yellow card and just at the point in the game when we looked as if we might salvage something out of this sorry apology for a performance. After that, despite much huffing and puffing we got picked off conceding two further goals in the last seven minutes chasing the game. Sam Winnall scored the easiest header he will have all season from a straight forward header from a Hourihane corner and another header from a free kick four minutes later which again was as easy as you like!
We got this one all wrong; tactically, personnel-wise, physically, mentally and spiritually. Barnsley were by far the better side throughout and thoroughly deserved all three points. Despite this, were Donaldson and Davis to convert the two gilt-edged chances on offer in the first half then Birmingham probably win this match, rubbish though they were. I said earlier that I was waiting for the wheels to come off. Well, Gary Rowett and the team had better jack up the undercarriage from its position on terra firma before next week since I dread to think what Newcastle United will do to us if we play like this. As for Barnsley, they played very well but only because we allowed them to. Their goals came from basic errors in defending set pieces which combined with missing a couple of sitters adds up to a comprehensive victory for our opponents. They were deserved winners but Blues more than contributed to their own downfall. Getting thumped by this particular opposition at home is becoming a habit. At least it wasn’t 0-5 this time!
The Good: The shepherd’s pie and mushy peas at the Cookhouse. Lifted the spirits no end.
The Bad: The performance from Blues in BOTH halves in this game. The defending from set pieces was particularly poor. All three goals resulted from free kicks and a corner. Too many players simply weren’t at it in this match and they got out of the game what they put into it; nothing!
The Ugly: Two truly terrible challenges; one in the first half by a Barnsley player on Kieftenbeld to which the referee took no action; the second was David Davis’s challenge that resulted in his second yellow card and off. Both challenges deserved higher sanction.
Birmingham City: Thomas Kusczcak 7, Josh Dacres-Cogley 5, Ryan Shotton 4, Michael Morrison 4, Jonathan Grounds 4, Robert Tesche 4, Maikel Kieftenbeld 4 (Greg Stewart 60, 6), David Davis 4, David Cotterill 5 (Reece Brown 71, 6), Clayton Donaldson 4, Lukas Jutkiewicz 5, (Che Adams 60, 6).
Subs not used: Adam Legzdins, Paul Robinson, Stephen Gleeson, Viv Soloman-Otabor.
Yellow cards: Dacres-Cogley, Davis (2), Tesche.
Sent off: Davis 71 min (second bookable offence).
Barnsley: Adam Davies 6, James Bree 6, Marc Roberts 7, Angus MacDonald 7, Andy Yiadom 7, Josh Scowen 6, Sam Morsey 7 (Adam Hammill 89, N/A), Conor Hourihane 8, Ryan Kent 6 (Ryan Williams 85, N/A), Sam Winnall 8 (Saidy Janko 89, N/A), Tom Bradshaw 7.
Subs not used: Nick Townsend, Callum Evans, Cole Kpekawa, Adam Armstrong.
Goals: Roberts 38, Winnall 84, 87.
Yellow cards: Kent, Morsy.
Referee: David Coote 4; This official had a shocker but he is not the reason Blues lost; that was because they were second best all over the pitch from start to finish! Nevertheless, unnecessary yellow cards for both sides and constant stop-starting of the game and not allowing it to flow led to a disrupted rhythm and a poor watch. Fussy officiating is fine as far as it goes as long as you get the decisions right. There were far too many occasions when that simply wasn’t the case. He was distributing cards like confetti early on and then had a problem later on when players on a knife edge were excused sanctionable challenges.
Attendance: 17,072 (1,039 away fans)