It was more like view from the screen. Like many, I had had no chance of a ticket to attend four sheds there only being 2,000 allocated, no doubt at the behest of the police. It is such a pity that the most anticipated away fixture on the calendar gets relegated to 12.00 on a Sunday; somehow it just doesn’t seem right but I suppose you have to view it from a security point of view in this day and age. I do think it is absolutely scandalous that the match wasn’t televised. Surely, matches that are a guaranteed sell out should be? Anyway, the situation is what it is and so it was that I walked down to Blackwater early and apart from a young boy completing his paper round I didn’t see a soul. The air was cool and crisp, the birds were chirping their Spring refrains and even a distant owl hooted his final message before settling down to await twilight once more.
Well it seems that many of the hard core faithful had got their wish and finally encouraged Gianfranco Zola to walk away. The anointing of Harry Redknapp was swift and surprising but he has little time to perform the necessary having freely admitted that he hasn’t a clue about any of our players but I suppose with the week’s training he will be judging things free of any preconceived ideas. Birmingham City are like the man sliding down a razor blade using his balls as a brake so a pretty rapid solution to our plight is needed and it doesn’t come tougher than the Second City derby. However, talking to mates during the week, I have already detected a different atmosphere and much of the toxic negativity has dissipated despite our dire position. Forest achieved an excellent win yesterday. Against an in-form Reading side destined for the playoffs. They raced into a 3-0 lead and although they were pegged back to 3-2 they hung on for three precious points to leave us and Blackburn vying to avoid the unwanted prize in the season’s end game of pass the parcel. We were now hovering a mere two points above the drop zone since Wolves had failed to do us a favour with a goalless draw with Lancashire club at home although with our dire goal deficit it makes scant difference. It has become clear that we cannot rely upon others to falter and it was going to have to be the efforts of our team, our players, our fans that were going to get us out of this self inflicted mess.
After a tedious half hour wait at Reading for the train to Birmingham New Street, I finally arrived at St Andrews after walking down through Digbeth just before kick off. Chris, Will, little Jack and the rest of the gang had been unable to get one of the 2,500 tickets for the beam back to St Andrews which was a shame. I understand the the numbers were limited because of visibility and technical issues although I wondered whether a second screen could have been arranged because there is no doubt that had the number been doubled or even tripled, they would have sold out just the same.
We entered the ground through the away supporters entrance and the Gil Merrick end was full. I managed to get a seat right up at the back with an excellent view of the large screen which was set up in the near six yard box. The optics were superb with excellent picture quality. The first thing to say was that this wasn’t the greatest match in the world and will not be included the the video of football titanic battles of all time but overall it was evenly contested and a review of the game stats reveal a virtually identical pattern. Blues set up 4-2-3-1 with Thomas Kusczcak in goal, a back four of Nsue, Shotton, Robinson and Grounds. Craig Gardner and Mikael Kieftenbeld sat in front of them with Davis, Adams and Maghoma supporting Lukas Jutkiewicz up front. The game was pretty attritional in truth but in the first half I felt Blues edged it as we kept the ball better and passed a little better but any advantage was pretty thin. Neither keeper was extended and chances were few and far between. The game hinged on two moments; in the 38th minute following the best move of the game Maghoma and Davis linked up well down the left and fed in Jutkiewicz whose cross into the box found Che Adams eight yards out, in front, with only Sam Johnstone to beat. Unfortunately, the young striker put the chance over and it remained 0-0 at half time. You could argue it came to him quickly and looked above waist height but by rights the young man has to do better in a game of so few chances. The second moment of note was in the 68th minute when from a corner that Blues up until then had defended solidly got themselves in a mess and following head tennis in our six yard box, failure to clear properly and Kusczcak failing to command his area yet again the ball dropped to the one player we were dreading it would, the ugly gargoyle that is Gaby Ablonlahor. The portly striker made no mistake from close range; after all from six yards he’s deadly!
After that Blues huffed and puffed and finally with five minutes remaining Harry Redknapp brought on Greg Stewart and finally Cheick Keita. It did seem strange that these changes weren’t made earlier? Frankly we never looked like we could score after Villa went ahead and the disappointment in our crowd was tangible. Blues did not deserve to lose this match but they did because we missed the best crafted chance of the game and they scored their only opportunity from a goalmouth scramble. We simply have to win at home next week otherwise I suspect it’s League 1 for us. Regardless of whether we survive or not, this season has become an unmitigated and total disaster that was wholly avoidable. The owners have a lot of soul searching to do. Their so called business decision is not looking too clever now is it?
The Good: The view of the game. Excellent picture quality, reasonable commentary without being too intrusive.
The Bad: The goal; head tennis in the six yard box, Kusczcak failing to command it as usual and the stroke of bad fortune in the way that it fell to the one player who is past his sell by date, hasn’t scored for 13 months and probably won’t again for another long period.
The Ugly: Gaby Agbonlahor
Aston Villa: Sam Johnstone 6, Alan Hutton 6, James Chester 6, Nathan Baker 6, Neil Taylor 6, Henri Lansbury 5, Mile Jedinak 5, Leandro Bacuna 6, Albert Adomah 6 (Gary Gardner 76, 6) Scott Hogan 5, Jack Grealish 5 (Gaby Agbonlahor 59, 6)
Subs not used: James Bree, Tommy Elphick, Mark Bunn, Jordan Amavi.
Goals: Agbonlahor 68
Yellow cards: Agbonlahor 62.
Birmingham City: Tomasz Kusczcak 5, Emilio Nsue 6, Ryan Shotton 6, Paul Robinson 6, Jonathan Grounds 6, Mikael Kieftenbeld 5 (Cheick Keita 89, N/A) Craig Gardner 6, (Kerim Frei 45) David Davis 6, Che Adams 7, Jacques Maghoma 6 (Greg Stewart 85, N/A) Lukas Jutkiewicz 6
Subs not used: Adam Legzdins, Josh Dacres-Cogley, Robert Tesche, Krystian Bielik, Stephen Gleeson.
Goals: None (AGAIN!)
Yellow cards: Shotton 62, Robinson 90 + 3.
Referee: Simon Hooper 6: Kept a lid on what could have been a confrontational occasion. Most of the decisions were fair enough and he dealt with flash points promptly when they occurred. However, I feel he warrants criticism for not booking Jedinak and Hutton for cynical agricultural tackles in the first half. Jedinak’s challenge was in the first few minutes and had he committed the same offence in the 70th minute say, I have no doubt he would have received a caution. Hutton’s challenge was petty as well as violent and resulted from frustration when he got dispossessed.