The Virgin Mary, gravid with child, was carried on a little donkey many miles to the stable where Jesus was born. I was beginning to realise just how the donkey felt as I headed for the station loaded up with presents for relatives which I was taking up to the hallowed city seeing as I was going there anyway. It was an earlier start than usual in order to get to Sutton Coldfield where my elderly Aunt and spinster cousin live and get back to town in time to make the match although it is questionable as to whether the latter event was going to prove to be worthwhile!
I was up at 06.30 pretty much as usual and watched to dawn break on a bright clear sky and the lawn, in my back garden, bespangled with frost from the frozen night. My security light kept coming on and I looked about for a hedgehog, cat or squirrel as the cause. None were forthcoming so after the third time I stepped outside and gave the sensor a wipe assuming it to be an insect or spider as the perpetrator. This action seemed to do the trick anyway and after completing breakfast, sunrise was fully resplendent. My brief sojourn outside had made me realise just how cold it was and I resolved to don another garment layer before setting off on my journey. Mrs Bazza gave me the various bags containing gifts for their recipients and checked to see that I was wrapped up warm, had everything I needed and gave me my final orders.
Last week’s defeat at Fulham had been a particularly hard one to take, not because our hosts didn’t deserve to win, they did, but having stayed in the game until the last quarter of an hour and to be given a golden opportunity to salvage a point with the penalty only to see that opportunity squandered by carelessness was dispiriting in the extreme. I made the point that we hadn’t scored a goal in seemingly eons and the last time I saw Blues score live was September 16th when we got beat by Preston at home so missing last week’s penalty only served to reinforce what a painful watch our beloved team is at the minute. I now crave a goal; just score a bloody goal Blues please; put me out of my misery. I no doubt speak for many others out there.
The trains ran on time and I arrived at Butlers Lane at about 11.30. I dropped off the gifts I was carrying and eventually made it to St Andrews for about 14.00 and met up with Chris having grabbed a quick pint first in the Happy Abode. Chris had four friends of his from France over for the weekend to attend the Wasps v La Rochelle rugby game in Coventry on Sunday. It was already 14.30 so it was straight into the ground for turkey baps all round washed down with another pint. The food looked great with lots of tasty stuffing and cranberry sauce to go with the meat but watching the bloke they had carving was a painful process. Some customers gave up waiting since by the time they would have got served it would have been half time! The catering, food wise, has vastly improved over the last few seasons but those serving are nowhere near well enough trained or skilled and the club would do well to address this as they are losing valuable revenue because of unacceptably slow provision. It was particularly bad today.
The game itself was turning into a carbon copy of the Fulham game last week; not enough pressing or tempo and the obligatory goal for the opponents who themselves were no great world beaters duly arrived just after the quarter hour when a free kick that should never have been awarded was chipped into the box for Jack Robinson to head across Stockdale as easy as you like. Gift wrapping with tinsel and a pretty bow were the only things missing and once again we were chasing a game against a side who were pretty poor themselves and to be honest they looked comfortable. As so often this season there was no convincing evidence that we could get back into the game and Alex Smithies did not have a single save to make all half. Boos greeted the half time whistle.
The second half didn’t start too much better but a solid crunching tackle by Kieftenbeld seemed to spark Blues into life and lifted the crowd. Birmingham started to get into the ascendency and pinned QPR back and corners, free kicks and pressure followed. Suddenly, Kieftenbeld had a shooting opportunity from 25 yards which Smithies saved but spilled. Sam Gallagher was following up and made no mistake poking the ball past the keeper from close in. St Andrews erupted; a red letter day, a goal, that rare and precious thing that we have seen so rarely this season. Blues did everything they could to press the advantage home and right up into the last ten minutes looked the most likely team to score the winner that is until seven minutes from time, against the run of play Jack Robinson tried his luck from 20 yards. (Two goals from a bloke who has never scored before!) The strike was perfect and Stockdale could only watch as the ball whistled just inside his left hand upright for an undeserved winner for the visitors. I’m not sure if the shot took a deflection but it doesn’t matter. It’s the sort of thing that happens when you are bottom of the league. To score one goal is a rarity, for us to score two goals in a game is unheard of and its like has not been seen since August for the one and only occasion this season so the game was up; another defeat to a similarly poor side at that; it really does look like League 1 next year since I can’t see us escaping.
The Good: We scored a goal!!!!!!
The Bad: There are a number. Apart from the obvious that we are now bottom of the table and officially the worst team in the Championship, the refereeing (more of that later) and the defending for QPR’s first goal, this week’s accolade for badness has to go to the slow service received at the Cookhouse. The turkey bap with stuffing was good quality when we got it but the guy carving and serving the food did not have the necessary training and knife skills to meet demand. The catering at St Andrews from the service standpoint, not the product, remains abysmal. Management, take note and sort it out!
The Ugly: The prospect that the second half of the season is going to be like the first. Will said something on the phone after the game which was that what we could do with is some hope. “We haven’t got any hope at the the moment!” he lamented. Sadly, he is not alone with this belief.
Birmingham City: David Stockdale 6, Maxime Colin 6, Harlee Dean 6, Michael Morrison 6, Jonathan Grounds 7, Jota 6 (Lukas Jutkiewicz 87, N/A) David Davis 5 (Jacques Maghoma 75, 6) Craig Gardner 7, Jeremie Boga 5, Mikael Kieftenbeld 6, Sam Gallagher 7
Subs not used: Emilio Nsue, Conor Trueman, Cheick Ndoye, Stephen Gleeson, Cohen Bramall
Goals: Gallagher 57.
Yellow cards: Gallagher 67.
Queens Park Rangers: Alex Smithies 6, Alex Baptiste 6, Nedum Onuoha 6, Jack Robinson 8, Pawel Wszolek 6, Josh Scowen 6, Massimo Luongo 6, Luke Freeman 6 (Grant Hall 88, N/A) Jake Bidwell 6, Conor Washington 5 (Bright Samuel 84, N/A) Matt Smith 5 (Idrissa Sylla 75, 6)
Subs not used: David Wheeler, Jordan Cousins, Illias Chair, Joe Lumley.
Goals: Robinson 17, 83.
Yellow cards: Scowen 45 + 1, Smith 68.
Referee: Mike Jones: 3; This refereeing performance was the worst I’ve witnessed since we played Portsmouth at Fratton Park a few years ago. A Mr Malone officiated that night and was truly awful. I did not think anyone could surpass that effort but Mr Jones came pretty close. His interpretation of what constitutes a foul was bizarre at times and this was for both sides. Arguably, Jota should have been awarded a penalty in the second half. He had cleverly sneaked round the defender and along the byline. He was being fouled all the way and his ultimate attempt to pull the ball back to a colleague was affected.
As a postscript, I met a new friend called Tim at the end of my journey on the train from Reading back to Blackwater. He, like me, is a long distant traveller bluenose and lives not far from me. He had also been to the game and we commiserated together. He goes for the same reason I do and that is to share the football experience with mates. Welcome to Joys and Sorrows Tim.