Saturday dawned to that rare and precious thing; a bright, sunny, warm, spring day! There were more of us going to this game than usual. It just shows that for a team that has had as woeful a season as Birmingham City have had, the level of support we still enjoy. Just imagine what it would be like if we were actually successful! The win at Bolton on Tuesday was a crucial step towards safety and despite the stupidity of Che Adams getting himself sent off with a long twenty minutes plus five added, Blues held on for vital three points. It was equally vital however, that the situation was consolidated with three more against Burton, a team that we have never taken a point from in the five league meetings we had had against them. We managed a scratchy Cup win earlier in the season which was hardly convincing but all that had to be put aside today. My brother, Trevor who lives in Texas has always said that winning championships and avoiding relegation has the same requirement; you have to beat the teams you should beat and that sums up why we are in the trouble we find ourselves in. Therefore, no excuses today, this game was another must win.
We were a bit late getting away from Guildford where Will picked Jonny, my son and yours truly up. This was because Chris had called to say that Emma, his daughter was getting off earlier than usual from work and was able to get to the game. He said; ” I’ll get her a ticket on the gate.” To this Will replied; “Er, I don’t think so! There are no tickets to be had in our block.” We decided to get her a ticket on line using the phone which after the usual frustrations of slow internet speed we managed, albeit in a seat right at the front. This meant slow progress on the M25 and Will driving like the clappers to make up time. My other son, Ben had caught the train from Oxford to Coventry where Chris was going to pick him up and take him back to the Baginton Oak where we were hoping to meet up with them. On the way, whilst delayed in traffic, Jonny read out the twenty nose jokes from Steve Martin’s film Roxanne. If you haven’t heard these either watch the movie or look them up; they are really funny and passed the time to the M40 when Will started to make up time.
We made it up to Baginton by about 13.15 and there was time for a pint with Chris, Emma, Ben and little Jack before we all piled into Chris’ people carrier along the A45 to St Andrews. We listened to the Vile getting beat and it looked at one stage that Sheffield United were going to do us a favour by beating Barnsley but from a winning position, they surrendered their lead to lose 3-2 putting the tykes to within two points of us. It was important we took care of our own business and a win would go a long way towards that. The Cookhouse had braised beef and potatoes two weeks running which was a little unusual but it went down OK with another drink and it was finally time for the game. Boga was in for the suspended Che Adams and Blues started brightly and were all over their opponents like a rash. A punt out of hand by Stockdale was nodded down to Jota who unceremoniously felled on the edge of the area by two Burton defenders. The ball broke to Boga following up who rounded Bywater to slot the ball home to the raptures of the packed St Andrews faithful only for the ball to be brought back for the free kick on the grounds that Boga was ruled offside! It is difficult to understand the decision when the referee had waved play on. Jota was on the ground and in no position to take advantage so he must have believed Boga to be in play.
I have since watched the footage at least a dozen times and the only touch from Jota is his initial control to get the ball out in front of him when Boga is clearly onside because full back, John Brayford is deep to Boga at this point. There is no doubt in my mind that the goal was incorrectly chalked off. The lead after six minutes would have undoubtedly lead to a Blues win in my view but Bywater saved the resulting free kick from Boga and the chance was gone. Additionally, it struck me that at least one of the two defenders who slid in should have been sent off as they were the last men and neither were in a position to stop Jota had he squeezed between them. Both would have been on the ground and Jota clean through on the keeper.
Blues battered Burton throughout the first half and even now I cannot understand how we did not score at least three if not four in the first half. A combination of Bywater in goal, last ditch defending and poor finishing ensured that the visitors kept a clean sheet by half time. A great move between Maghoma and Jota led to the latter testing Bywater from six yards which the keeper saved with his feet. Just after Boga chipped a cross to Davis whose shot was blocked the ricochet falling to Jota who was denied again by Bywater from close range but spun again to shoot and beat the keeper this time only for Kyle McFadzean to clear off the line with Maghoma unable to get to that rebound. The game was a good one with excellent football played which meant the first 45 minutes flew by.
Of course the inevitable happened when barely two minutes after the restart against the run of play, Burton scored their customary goal through Lloyd Dyer who found himself with too much space in the inside left position when following a quick counter we failed to cut out the switch ball. Marvin Sordell fed the ball inside to Hope Akpan, 25 yards out who in turn shifted it on. The ball unluckily deflected off the inside of Wes Harding’s heel to run perfectly for Dyer who delighted in smashing the ball high into the net and despite Stockdale’s efforts to get a solid enough hand to the ball. Thoroughly undeserved, Burton now had something to cling on to and through appropriate substitutions, reverted to a back five, four man midfield and a single striker come extra midfielder from seventy minutes on. This resulted in a totally dominant but frustrating watch as the time evaporated and Burton clung on for the win.
Blues over the piece had 56% possession, 25 attempts at goal with 13 on target to Burton’s 2 with 1 on target, so one sided was this game. I thought it wasn’t going to be our day when Jota cannoned he ball off the post and Davis later hit the bar. Further chances from David Davis and Jacques Maghoma were both well saved by the imperious Stephen Bywater, Burton’s man of the match by a country mile. When Jutkiewicz thumped a header across Bywater only for the keeper to save inside the last ten minutes, I thought it wasn’t going to be our day and our bogey side Burton and nemesis Dyer were going to mug us again. However the pressure was building on the packed Burton defence when Boga received the ball from Davis for the umpteenth time, his cross for Jutkiewicz was perfect for the big man to head home a richly deserved equaliser into the top corner with three minutes left. Despite the five added minutes at the end of the game, Blues were unable to convert the score into the win Blues performance merited. We had to settle for a single point and two dropped but it could have been worse I guess.
The Good: The performance; Blues played really well today and only a combination of excellent goalkeeping, lack of clinical finishing and sheer bad luck prevented a deserved win.
The Bad: The goal we conceded; yes there was a degree of fortune about the way the ball came to Dyer but his finish was emphatic. He should have never been allowed so much space.
The Ugly: The defensive tactics employed by Burton in the final quarter of the game. I don’t necessarily blame them but it makes the beautiful game ugly and I for one am glad they were punished for it, albeit only partially.
Birmingham City: David Stockdale 7, Wes Harding 7, Maxime Colin 7 (Cheick N’Doye 84, N/A) Michael Morrison 7, Harlee Dean 7, David Davis 7, Mikael Kieftenbeld 7, Jota 9, Jacques Maghoma 8, Jeremie Boga 8, Lukas Jutkiewicz 8.
Subs not used: Tomas Kuszczak, Marc Roberts, Josh Dacres-Cogley, Beryly Lubula, Jonathan Grounds, Jason Lowe.
Goal: Jutkiewicz 87 min.
Yellow cards: Kieftenbeld 56, Davis 58.
Burton Albion: Stephen Bywater 9, John Brayford 7, Kyle McFadzean 7, Tom Naylor 7, Damien McGrory 6 (Lucas Atkins 22, 6) Hope Akpan 6, Marvin Sordell 6, Lloyd Dyer 6, Jacob Davenport 6 (Luke Murphy 84, N/A) Liam Boyce 6, Darren Bent 6 (Ben Turner 64, 6)
Subs not used: Jake Buxton, Martin Samuelsen, Jamie Allen, Harry Campbell.
Goal: Dyer 48 min.
Yellow cards: Naylor 50, Bent 60.
Referee: Darren Bond 4: The officials got nearly all the bread and butter calls right but the big one which was Boga’s disallowed goal was a shambles. Mr Bond waved play on when Jota was fouled just outside the box but apart from Jota’s initial touch thirty yards out to get the ball out in front of him he doesn’t touch it again. The defenders clatter him and the ball rolls on, no one having touched it, to the onrushing Boga who was clearly onside at the start of the move. Moreover, there was no card for either of the defenders; arguably the main perpetrator should have gone or at least book one or both of them. The violent challenge prevented a goal scoring opportunity for Jota himself should he be unimpeded. Shocking decision by the assistant and ultimately the referee. It is also arguable that Blues should have been awarded a penalty when Jacques Maghoma was attempting to get to the rebound when McFadzean cleared off the line. In fairness there were no obvious protests by the Blues players.