I was catching an earlier train from Blackwater this time around for two reasons; firstly I was meeting up with Tim who was catching the same train from Guildford and he had contacted me last week suggesting it would be good to have some company on the way up and I needed to go visit my disabled cousin in Sutton Coldfield which meant an earlier start if I was to get up and back to New Street in plenty of time. It was a pleasant clear day after a filthy wet night rain and hope as ever sprung eternal.
The result against Derby last weekend was disappointing although not totally unexpected. I reckon they will feature in the end of season bun fight in one way or another and our final finish won’t be influenced greatly by how we do against teams like that away from home but against the sides we should beat, especially at home and I mean no disrespect but Hull City, I include in that group. It’s an old cliche that it’s not so much the defeat that matters but the way you respond that’s important and I was hoping for a solid win to get us back on track particularly with the international break next week and the derby against Vile to follow.
Standing on the platform waiting for the 09.28, I was starting to feel a little apprehensive as it was delayed by ten minutes when I got there then eleven, then twelve and I began to think it was not going to be my day. I hate the gradual lengthening of delays to trains which has on occasions led to its ultimate cancellation and a totally screwed up plan. However, provided there was no more slippage, Tim and I would still be in time for our connection to New Street.
Fortunately, the train did appear at the revised time and I met up with Tim and enjoyed a most convivial conversation with him to Reading where we were still in plenty of time for our connection. Tim is like me a long-suffering follower of the Blues and for longer! (That’s dedication for you!) He is a retired journalist and was very kind in his comments about my amateur efforts which I take as a great compliment given that Tim was night editor at the Times for 35 years. He also tells me that when I mentioned that I was the son of a Birmingham bus driver that he has a huge collection of midland bus models. His other area of interest is that he is a member of the 92 club having visited every single league ground for a match.
The train was absolutely heaving and it was just as well that I’d reserved a seat otherwise it would have been standing room only all the way to the Midlands. Given that the great British public pays some of the highest fares anywhere in Europe, it galls me that there are never enough seats for people. If there is one thing I would request our representatives do during their terms of office is sort out the transport infrastructure in this country. Make public transport reliable and affordable and folk will use it; failure to do so results in our roads constantly gridlocked.
Speaking of car travel, Will was coming up by road after little Will’s football cup game. He had offered to pick me up but I detected that it might be a later than desirable getaway from Guildford and the M25 is bad at the best of times; Saturday morning between 11.00 and 12.00 was certainly no exception. The need to go up to Sutton Coldfield and the arrangement to meet Tim meant I had to decline. I intended to catch a bus or walk down from town to St Andrews when I got back from my cousin’s place. My visit went without a hitch and I arrived at New Street just before 2 pm. The weather had turned chilly and rain had started to fall and so I thought I would catch the bus down to the ground. After a short wait I eventually got on a 17 bus which normally drops me just outside the ground on the Coventry Road. Unfortunately, of course, the Coventry Road gets closed on match days around 2.30 and the route is diverted along the bypass to Golden Hillock Road and from there it doubles back along the Coventry Road as far as Green Lane where it turns down right. It took eternity and I met Will, little Will and Chris in the queue outside the ground just before kick off. There was no time for a drink or any food and it was straight in to observe the two minute’s silence of remembrance for the fallen.
As for the game itself, the first half was scrappy and a bit stop start. Tommy Elphick of Hull City got himself booked early for an atrocious tackle on Jutkiewicz in midfield and was rightly cautioned for it when there was a suitable break in play. After 21 minutes he made a right mess of a pass back to Marshall in the Hull goal and Che Adams seized on the chance to round the keeper and tap in from close range. In his exuberant celebration he kicked the corner flag on the Kop side and fractured it. He was lucky not to be cautioned for this and there was a delay whilst a new pole was found as replacement; the corner post is actually part of the pitch and therefore essential. Four minutes of time was added on at the end of the half for this and another loose pass by the Hull defence, this time by Jordy de Wijs, was once again pounced upon by Che Adams who ran forward from thirty yards out whilst the defenders backed off. No challenge was forthcoming so the young striker stroked the ball past Marshall for his second and a 2-0 lead; cruise control (not, as it turned out!)
Hull City were out for the second half early, no doubt with with some choice invective from their manager, Nigel Adkins, ringing in their ears; they had been truly poor in the first period! Chris Martin had been sent on for Daniel Batty and they matched up our 4-4-2 and were a completely different side compared to the first half. Within five minutes they were back in the game. Polish international, Kamil Grosicki ripped us apart as Blues failed to heed the warnings of the first half when any threat they did have came down his left flank. Maxime Colin found himself isolated time and again and sadly was receiving inadequate support from Conor Mahoney. Grosicki squared the full back up and played an exquisite ball through Colin’s legs with the outside of the foot along the deck which swerved into the path of Frazier Campbell who could not miss from the edge of the six yard box. This was the best goal scored all afternoon; sometimes, you just have to sit back, admire the skill and say; ‘take a bow son!’
In contrast, the equaliser, also scored by Campbell was a mess. There was a failure to properly clear a set piece from Grosicki again, Soloman-Otabor got turned too easily and didn’t block the shot coming back in from Jarrod Bowen, Camp then parried out in front of him and after some six-yard box ping-pong, a tap in. From a seemingly unassailable position, it was all square and Blues were on the back foot in a game they were cruising. However, Blues were close to retaking the lead when Viv Soloman-Otabor forced a corner having burrowed into the box to get a shot off. The resulting corner came to Jutkiewicz and Marshall was relieved to claw the ball onto the inside of the post and off the line to safety. The game became too open and Blues were losing the midfield. Charlie Lakin was simply not coping with Hull City’s more experienced and physical presence and Mikael Kieftenbeld was unable to compensate and the wide men at this stage Mahoney and Solomon-Otabor were having a mare, the latter especially.
Gary Monk decided on 64 minutes that it was time for action and poor Viv was given the hook in favour of Wes Harding which pushed Pedersen forward into wide midfield and Charlie Lakin was replaced by Craig Gardner who will surely be needed for our next match against the Vile. Things however, got worse for Blues when they conceded a needless free kick just over 25 yards out. I had a premonition with Grosicki over the ball that it was only going to end up in one place and that was the top corner which of course it did. 73 minutes gone and the three points that seemed a formality just thirty minutes before were now lost. Blues did regain some control of the match belatedly with the changes made earlier and were rewarded when with six minutes gone a goal mouth scrabble led to a mistake by the Hull defence and the ball ricocheted to Che Adams whose shanked shot into the ground found the corner of the net for 3-3. St Andrews erupted and raucous voices belting out “Keep Right On!” and “We fight to the end!” urged Blues on for the win but it was not to be as Hull held on and over the whole piece, it was a fair result.
Hull are in a false position in my opinion; they have good players and are a far better team than their form suggests. In fairness they caught Blues at a time when we we were lacking a number of our first choice midfielders such as Gary Gardner, Jacques Maghoma, David Davis and at the same time we lost the highly creative Jota early on making our plight worse. Nevertheless, you still have to exploit the weakness and Hull did to great effect in the second half which explains why Blues lost the midfield for half an hour and went more direct as a result which tended to play into the strengths of Hull City’s big defenders. The away side scored two cracking goals; the best of the afternoon.
The Good: The fight back from adversity when 2-3 down from a cruise control position. Last year Blues would have lost this match. Che Adam’s hat trick, the excellence of Grosicki in the second half. The company of Tim, Chris, Will and little Will.
The Bad: My decision to board a no 17 bus!
The Ugly: Elphick’s challenge on Jutkiewicz in the first half for which he was rightly booked.
Birmingham City: Lee Camp 5, Maxime Colin 6, Michael Morrison 6, Harlee Dean 6, Kristian Pedersen 7, Charlie Lakin 5 (Craig Gardner 64, 6) Mikael Kieftenbeld 7, Jota 6 (Viv Soloman-Otabor 23, 4 (Wes Harding 64, 6)) Conor Mahoney 5, Lukas Jutkiewicz 8, Che Adams 9.
Subs not used: Connal Trueman, Marc Roberts, Beryly Lubala, Omar Bogle.
Goals: Adams 21, 45+4, 84.
Yellow cards: Morrison 90+ 2.
Hull City: David Marshall 6, Eric Lichaj 6, Jordy de Wijs 5, Reece Burke 5, Tommy Elphick 5, Kamil Grosicki 9 (Todd Kane 81, N/A) Jackson Irvine 6, Daniel Batty 6 (Chris Martin HT, 6) Jarrod Bowen 7, Markus Henriksen 7, Fraizer Campbell 8 (Will Keane 78, 6)
Subs not used: Ondrej Mazuch, Kevin Stewart, Robbie McKenzie, George Long.
Goals: Campbell 50, 61, Grosicki 73.
Yellow cards: Elphick 12, Irvine 36, Lichaj 81.
Referee: Gavin Ward: 8; Mr Ward produced the best refereeing performance at St Andrews all season. He and his assistants were spot on all afternoon. He was firm, fair, decisive and stood for no nonsense whilst exhibiting common sense. He could easily have sent Tommy Elphick off for a second challenge on Jutkiewicz but chose to give him the benefit of the doubt, correctly I feel and Che Adams can consider himself lucky to not be booked for kicking and breaking the corner flag pole. He didn’t mean it which is just as well that that was the view that Mr Ward took.
Attendance: 21,468 (654 away fans)