And Bazza is back!
Here we are finally on the day of our first home game of the new season. I am not in any way full of hope but nor am I gloomy either. It has been an eventful summer with the sacking of the most popular and best manager that Blues have had in years and there was the inevitable gnashing of teeth over it from our fan base but things appear for the moment at least to have settled down under the new regime of Pep Clotet who has quietly gone about his business and achieved something that past managers have not for years; win the first game of the season! Mind you, for the life of me, I cannot work out how in heaven’s name we contrived to win with only a single attempt (what an attempt though) versus 16 for Brentford and we only had a quarter of the possession. The Bees battered us in truth, hitting the woodwork three times. We were very lucky to escape a comprehensive defeat so I’m under no illusions. Still, a win is a win and it’s three points that we don’t have to scrabble for later on. I didn’t go to Brentford as I wasn’t able to get a ticket but I did go to Portsmouth for the Cup game. An unrecognisable Blues side containing much of our U23 and academy youngsters gave a decent account of themselves but were never going to be a match for arguably the best League 1 outfit who fielded their strongest eleven. Our lads were outmuscled and Pompey were simply quicker, stronger and more experienced. After the first 25 minutes when I thought our youngsters had the better of it, they came back into it and Pompey scored on half an hour. From then on, the home side took complete control and never looked like relinquishing it.
On the subject of Gary Monk, whilst I can fully understand the frustration of fellow fans and the parallels with Gary Rowett, I resisted the temptation to post any articles about it and add my voice to the white noise since I wasn’t convinced I knew any of the salient facts. In regard to Rowett, he was clearly speaking to other clubs regarding a change in his employment which would appear to be in breach of contract if he had not sought permission to do so. It was also clear he didn’t want to be at Blues and although what then followed was pretty catastrophic and nearly resulted in us getting relegated, the decision to dismiss him was probably forced.
In Monk’s case, the circumstances appear to be different and if I understand this correctly, involved the use of a single agent for transfers and representation of our young players. There seemed to be a clear conflict of interest issue which Garry Monk was not prepared to give way on. If this is the true way of it then the board once again had little choice but to part company with the manager. The stuff about a more attractive type of football and different approach and philosophy was probably a side issue in my opinion. All owners, in the final analysis, prefer a winning team to a losing one so the playing style is a smokescreen. There is undoubtedly more to both stories which we are not party to but what I do know is there is no point in getting all bent out of shape over any of it and we have to concentrate on the here and now. There you have it then; one man’s opinion.
The squad has had a bit of an overhaul over the summer with the acquisition of several new players. We inevitably said goodbye to Che Adams and I wish him well at Southampton. I reckon he will be successful there. Overall, I don’t know much about some of our replacements but we’ll just have to wait and see and give them a chance. I do have misgivings about the lack of another out and out striker since it would appear we only have two which means our midfielders will have to step up and contribute; January looks a long way off right now.
I was meant to meet up with my mate Tim on the train out of Blackwater but the 09.02 was cancelled and the best laid plans of mice and men were up in smoke. I caught the 09.28 but he didn’t appear to be on that on that so it was a case of ‘O sole mio!’ My travel intentions were to look in on my disabled cousin in Sutton Coldfield before getting the train back to New Street and meeting Will and little Will at the ground. Chris and little Jack were sunning themselves in France; I told them that the season had started but it cut no ice. Whilst I got to and fro to Sutton Coldfield, the loss of time meant a flying visit which was disappointing but that’s life I guess. As fate would have it, I caught up with Tim at Reading and we were able to travel on together after that. His take on things is a little more pessimistic than mine but I understand his concerns. We’ll know soon enough!
Our opponents, Bristol City, rather surprisingly came unstuck at home last week and would therefore be keen to repair the damage. Summer seems to have deserted us for the moment and it promised to be a blustery day. Nothing spoils a good game of football like the wind and it was to be hoped that Blues adapted to the conditions better than their opponents. I got to St Andrews at about 2.30 and there was time for steak and ale pie and sauté potatoes at the Cookhouse and eventually a pint (see comments under ‘The Bad’ below).
The team had a new look to it. There were of course some familiar faces starting with Lee Camp in goal and a back four of Colin, Roberts, Dean and Pedersen. The midfield comprised of Davis and new signing Sunjic in front of the defence and a trio of Gary Gardner, Fran Villaba and Dan Crowley behind Lukas Jutkiewicz.
Blues started brightly and looked to have a nice balance. Quick one touch passing developing little triangles associated with good movement made for a pleasing spectacle on what was a blustery day with the prevailing wind against Blues in the first half. Daniel Bentley in the Bristol goal did well to save a fierce shot at the expense of a corner from new boy, Fran Villaba in the sixth minute. The big Bristol rearguard were having to defend stoutly but stood firm despite the pressure they were being put under. However, they did have their moments and created the best chance of the half midway through when the impressive Kasey Palmer, easily Bristol’s best player on the day, fed an exquisite pass through to Benik Afobe (remember him? The one we missed out on on deadline day?) who clean through one on one with Lee Camp should have scored. His goal bound effort was brilliantly saved by the keeper to the relief of the home crowd. They caused another scare not long after when a fizzing cross from the right was headed for a corner with the Bristol striker poised to head in. Gardner missed an excellent chance with a free header from a corner when he overdid the ‘head it down’ bit; the ball thudded into the ground and over the bar! From another cross, Lukas Jutkiewicz was clearly fouled as he jumped to meet it when in excellent position to score. Mr Langford, the referee waved away Blues’ protests for a penalty.
The visitors started the second half on the front foot and forced an early fee kick in a dangerous position just outside the box which fortunately came to nought then just after there was a frantic goalmouth scramble which the Blues defence managed to block before conceding a corner. At the other end Jutkiewicz tested Bentley with a rasping shot that the keeper managed to just save with his fingertips but as the half went Blues were able to apply increasing pressure with the wind at their backs. Marc Roberts, still in the final third from a set piece found himself on the right wing from where he dinked a delightful cross to Jutkiewicz at the far post who headed in for a deserved lead. Gardner had two chances to double the advantage; one when he was put in by Wes Harding in the inside right position. The shot fizzed past the near post and into the side netting, the second was a left footed effort that Bentley saved but the ball looped up and agonisingly dropped just in front of the far post. Bristol City were shade fortunate to get away with that one. These misses were to prove costly as the 1-0 lead was proving increasingly precarious. Kasey Palmer produced another superb ball to put Afobe in again one on one with Camp who again thwarted the striker with another brilliant save aided by clear up work by Roberts. They had another opportunity not long after when following a lucky ricochet a Bristol midfielder found himself with a free effort from 15 yards which Camp once again saved.
Blues failed to heed the warnings and my concern about Wes Harding who had come on for Dan Crowley after only 66 minutes was well founded. I didn’t understand this change as it made us more passive as I saw it. Blues went to a back three with the change and Bristol exploited the space down the flanks. Wes had been caught ball watching a couple of times and was sleeping when that man, Kasey Palmer threaded a fabulous ball through to Tommy Rowe whose first time shot gave the heroic Lee Camp no chance on this occasion. 83 minutes gone plus four added on resulted in no further goals despite the fact that the game remained fairly open. Whilst it was a pity Blues couldn’t hold out for the win, Bristol City played their part in an entertaining game and thoroughly deserved to take something from the game. In truth, they had the better chances and could easily have won but over the whole match 1-1 was a fair result. I see Bristol City having another good season. Once Benik Afobe settles in they will present a potent attacking force especially with Kasey Palmer providing the ammunition. The latter was arguably the best player on show.
A positive start to the season Blues; well done!
The Good: At half time a little boy called Bobby Humphries proudly wearing a full Blues kit was introduced to the crowd on the Kop side at the Gil Merrick end. This little boy has just finished gruelling chemotherapy treatment for a brain tumour and both sets of supporters joined their hands in unison to applaud the little lad’s courage. It is so heartening to see tribal rivalries put aside for things that really matter.
The Bad: CATERING!!!!!! The Cookhouse served an excellent steak and ale pie with sauté potatoes. First of all, I was told I would have to join another queue for drinks but they relented but then we were told the beer taps weren’t working! For heaven’s sake, if you know there are thousands of people coming to your establishment surely you need to know your equipment is fit for purpose and your staff are trained sufficiently to meet demand. I shudder to think how much lost revenue in takings are being lost by the shambolic service that every week I complain about. Every year the same problems; better process, better training of staff and better management. Sort this out Blues, it is in your commercial interests.
The Ugly: The tackle on Villalba by Jack Hunt which should have been punished with a red card but wasn’t.
Birmingham City: Lee Camp 8, Krystian Pedersen 7, Harlee Dean 7, Marc Roberts 8, Maxime Colin 7, Dan Crowley 6 (Wes Harding 66, 5) Ivan Sunjic 8, David Davis 8, Gary Gardner 7, Francisco Villalba 8 (Agustin Medina 89, N/A) Lukas Jutkiewicz 9.
Subs not used: Jake Clarke-Salter, Craig Gardner, David Stockdale, Alvaro Gimenez, Odin Bailey.
Goals: Jutkiewicz 64.
Yellow cards: Sunjic 33, Davis 81.
Bristol City: Daniel Bentley 8, Tomas Kalas 7, Bailey Wright 7 (Niclas Eliasson 72, 7) Nathan Baker 7, Adam Nagy 7, Pedro Pereira 6 (Jack Hunt 51, 7) Tommy Rowe 8, Josh Brownhill 7, Benik Afobe 7, Kasey Palmer 9, Andreas Weimann 7 (Famara Diedhiou 72, 6)
Subs not used: Antoine Semenyo, Sammie Szmodics, Han-Noah Massengo, Rene Gilmartin.
Goals: Rowe 83.
Yellow cards: Palmer 58, Baker 63, Hunt 63.
Referee: Oliver Langford 5: Over the whole piece, the referee and his assistants had a reasonable game but Mr Langford bottled the two major contentious incidents in my view. The first, a minute before half time, a blatant push on Lukas Jutkiewicz from a cross from the right as the big striker jumped to head the ball. This was a clear penalty and could have changed the destiny of this game at such a crucial point. The second incident involved two fouls in a matter of a few seconds just after the hour. The first he waved play on advantage, the second was a shocking tackle on Villalba by Jack Hunt. The first foul by Nathan Baker was rightly given a yellow card but Hunt’ challenge was X-certificate yet he received the same sanction. The two tackles could not have been more contrasting. Substitute, Jack Hunt had to be shown red by rights and once again this could easily have changed the game.