Waking early on, the first feature I was aware of was the heavy rain playing against the roof, gutterings and windows. The weather looked very uninviting but that didn’t change the fact that Bentley, a little Cairn Terrier that was staying with us for a few days whilst his owner was in hospital, needed his walk. There was nothing for it I would have to wrap up warm and bite the proverbial bullet! That done there was plenty of time to get down to Blackwater for my train to Reading. Tim had said he would join me a few days ago but had contracted a nasty cold and was feeling below par and decided that travelling especially in the sort of weather we were experiencing was a foolish idea. I was therefore Billy No Mates for the journey at least but I would meet up with Chris later at Coventry.
Harold Wilson had once said that a week was a long time in politics and the same could be said for football. I won’t dwell on the disappointing defeat to that lot across the expressway. In fact I haven’t given the game a second thought since switching off the telly at the end of the game last Sunday but the thing to say was how badly we defended against a Villa side that I didn’t think played that well especially in the first half when they were very poor and yet we contrived to gift them the lead having gone ahead ourselves. Che Adams crashing the ball against the post with us 1-0 up was the turning point of the game I felt. After that, we defended like schoolboys; too narrow for the equaliser when they had two players unmarked at the far post and a complete failure to track Grealish for the easiest header he will ever score for the second two minutes later; they had the lead having been second best all half! The less said about the penalty the better but the goal that irked me the most was Hutton’s. We’ve just got back to 3-2 and in the ascendancy then we allow an average player to pick the ball up well inside his own half and run with it for 70 yards totally unchallenged before picking his spot. I was screaming at the telly “TACKLE HIM!” Of course, nobody did and the result was 4-2 and game over. Messi? Maradonna-esque? All these superlatives were coming out the following day; my arse! I could have scored that goal even at my age if the opposition is going to part like the Red Sea and back off putting zero pressure on the player with the ball! Ten goals conceded in three games, a single point and we were lucky to get that! These statistics are becoming worrying.
It was welcome therefore to obtain a win and a clean sheet against a very poor Millwall side blighted by injuries to some of their key players and down to ten men early doors. I felt we made heavy weather of it in a poor game when we seemed to have difficulty stringing more that two or three passes together. In fairness, Millwall never looked like scoring and the only chance they had in the second half their centre half buried into Camp’s midriff giving us a lucky escape. Still a win is a win and the three points most welcome after a bit of a wobble. Interestingly, we are the only side to keep a clean sheet at the Den all season.
Anyway enough of all that, on to the present; Chris picked me up at Coventry as usual at 12.25 and as he had to deliver six barrels of beer to his other pub, the Stag and Pheasant in Rugby, we grabbed a pint in there before setting off for St Andrews picking little Jack up along the way. We were just in time to grab a box of braised beef with diced potatoes and a puff pastry biscuit at the Cookhouse just before kick off.
Jota was still unavailable through injury but is expected back next week. His return cannot come soon enough. His absence and that of Maghoma have been noticeable and have coincided with our indifferent form of late. The team was unchanged from Wednesday and Blues started brightly. Lukas Jutkiewicz should by rights have given Blues the lead after only two minutes when an excellent cross from the left by Pedersen was headed over by the big striker. It was the sort of chance he would normally bury. Five minutes later it was Michael Morrison’s turn to have a header, this time saved by Declan Rudd in the Preston goal. The two aforementioned players were to have another headed chance each in the first 15 minutes and added to the shot by Che Adams that missed narrowly, the visitors were under the cosh but the score remained 0-0. Preston did have sporadic chances from headers by Louis Moult and Paul Huntington and a snap shot by Darnell Fisher but none of them really troubled Lee Camp in goal. Blues continued to press but Preston presented a rugged, physical and stubborn rearguard to Birmingham’s incursions and were content to slow the play, take forever over throw ins and the like and make life as scrappy and difficult for the home team. All power to you if, as the away side, you can get away with it and the referee seemed content to allow physical assault and Greco-Roman wrestling to go without sanction. I certainly felt that Che Adams was fouled in the box but Mr Webb waved Blues appeals away and the half finished goalless; Preston’s game plan was working.
However, the said plan had unraveled after only 25 seconds of the restart. Maikel Kieftenbeld picked up the ball 35 yards out and attempted to find Adams in the box but over hit the pass. The ball bounced harmlessly towards Rudd who stooped to pick the ball up only for it to trickle between his legs and over the line for 1-0. It was one of the most bizarre goals seen at St Andrews for many a year and I haven’t laughed so much since Peter Enckelman let that one in on that famous night against Villa. The Tilton were not slow in coming forward with the chant towards the hapless Rudd; “It’s all your fault! It’s all your fault! It’s all your fault!” Despite attempts to console him from his team mates he held his head in his hands and was clearly desolate. We didn’t care of course, we were 1-0 up. After that, Preston’s plan to come for a draw were in tatters and Jacques Maghoma added to the lead just after the hour. A deft pass into the winger by Maxime Colin was beautifully chested down and the driven across the keeper for a classy finish. A third was added on 77 minutes when man of the match, Maikel Kieftenbeld, stroked a lovely ball over the top to Che Adams still just inside his own half who used his pace to burrow into the box, open up his body and slide a right footed shot across Rudd into the far corner giving the keeper no chance. 3-0 was the least Blues deserved and in truth with more clinical finishing it could easily have been six or seven. Omar Bogle came on for Jutkiewicz with a few minutes left but ironically Rudd saved well from the striker when through in a similar position to Adams earlier deep into time added on. This victory was comprehensive and deserved and against a side that had not lost in nine games.
The Good: The laugh we all had from Declan Rudd’s error! The banter from the Tilton; cruel but fair! 😀
The Bad: The referee; there are not enough negatives in the English language to describe his performance.
The Ugly: The game plan that Preston clearly came with; they set out to get a 0-0 draw but their plan unraveled when Rudd gifted Blues the lead.
Birmingham City: Lee Camp 6, Maxime Colin 7, Michael Morrison 7, Harlee Dean 7, Kristian Pedersen 7, Jacques Maghoma 7 Josh Dacres-Cogley 88, N/A) Mikael Kieftenbeld 8, Gary Gardner 7, Conor Mahoney 7 (Wes Harding 74, 6) Lukas Jutkiewicz 7 (Omar Bogle 83, N/A) Che Adams 7.
Subs not used: Connal Trueman, Marc Roberts, Craig Gardner, Charlie Lakin.
Goals: Kieftenbeld 46, Maghoma 61, Adams 77.
Yellow cards: None
Preston North End: Declan Rudd 4, Darnell Fisher 5, Jordan Storey 6, Paul Huntington 6, Joshua Earl 5 (Andrew Hughes 45, 6) Paul Gallagher 6, Ryan Ledson 6, Brandon Barker 5 (Lukas Nmecha 57, 6) Alan Browne 5 (Graham Burke 79, 5) Tom Barkhuizen 5, Louis Moult 6.
Subs not used: Ben Davies, Jack Baxter, Chris Maxwell, Calum Woods.
Yellow cards: None
Referee: David Webb 3: In total contrast to the excellent performance by Gavin Ward in the last match at St Andrews, I’m afraid Mr Webb had a stinker. The Preston centre-halves manhandled Jutkiewicz all afternoon and numerous challenges, some of which were dangerous, went unpunished. The one positive thing was that he was poor for both sides but as Blues were the better side they came off worst. He denied Blues a clear penalty for a challenge on Adams in the first half and far too many fouls got waved on. Fortunately, Blues won the game; I suspect he would have been lynched had we not! Considering how physical the game was at times there wasn’t a single yellow card!