It was going to be an epic day whatever happened with the World Cup semi-final, the mighty lads playing the Hatters and an old school reunion in the evening. I had been agonising about how to play things all week. I could have stayed and watched the semi at home and then set off up north but I had visions of the plan getting scuppered by traffic especially in the wet weather. Chris had arranged a buffet breakfast at the Oak at Baginton for customers who wanted to take in the game on the big projector screen but with a 09.00 kick off that meant an early start. In the end, given that I was awake at 05.30 needing a pee, I got up, showered and shaved, grabbed an overnight bag and was in the car at 06.00. There was hardly a soul on the road at that time and by 08.00 I was in the Oak getting outside a fat lad’s breakfast!
You don’t need me to tell you that after a wonderful performance, England find themselves in the Rugby Union World Cup Final after a deserved 19-7 victory and I decided that whatever happened after that it was going to be a great day. There was time to reflect on the match and let the euphoria settle and enjoy the ‘sublime’ before Chris, little Jack and I set off for St Andrews for the ‘oh Gor blimey!’ bit of the sporting extravaganza.
Blues had had a bit of a mixed week with the defeat at Leeds last week following a misplaced pass by young Jude Bellingham which allowed the home side in for the only goal of the game. It is questionable whether Lee Camp should have kept the shot out but a point evaporated nevertheless and our fifth away defeat beckoned. The contrast was an excellent win at home to Blackburn on Tuesday. The margin, in truth should have been much more but like many, I was happy with the simple win courtesy of a well worked team goal converted by Maxime Colin.
On to the present, a free scoring Luton were the visitors but their lower half position suggested a tendency to concede at the other end so it looked on paper the sort of game Blues would target as a win particularly at home. Clearly, a win following on so closely after our national rugby team’s exploits would be grand but whether it would materialise remained to be seen. At the last minute, Chris said that he might not make it to the game because of staff shortages and suggested I go on ahead with little Jack and Jack’s mate, Raf who was taking in his first game. Chris said he would try up to the last minute to get cover which unfortunately, never materialised. Reduced as we were to a trio, we arrived at St Andrews in time to make it for a visit to the George (essential for superstitious reasons) before grabbing lunch in the form of a lovely hot cottage pie at the Cookhouse in the ground.
Pep Clotet had made one change to the side that defeated Blackburn on Tuesday. Ivan Sunjic came back into the midfield for David Davis who dropped back down to the bench. Unusually Blues found themselves attacking the Tilton first half and the Partizan support behind the goal nearly had a wonderful goal to cheer as early as the second minute when a pinpoint delivery from the corner of the box was powerfully headed goalwards by the diving Jutkiewicz only for James Shea in the Luton goal to save at point blank range. Dan Crowley nearly scored a minute later with a low shot from the edge of the box but he was narrowly wide. Shea was called upon again following a challenge from Maxime Colin on Luton defender, Dan Potts which looped up and nearly over the keeper but he just managed to tip over for another corner. Luton nearly took the lead themselves immediately after this flurry with a shot from Pelly Mpanzu whose 20 yarder was finding the bottom corner until Lee Camp intervened with an excellent stop of his own to push wide for a corner.
Jutkiewicz was proving a handful for the Luton rearguard and he nearly turned provider for Kerim Mrabti but the big striker’s pullback from the left just evaded him. Shea rescued Luton again when Jutkiewicz outmuscled his marker in midfield and after a driving run to the edge of the box unleashed a fierce shot that took a deflection off a defender’s foot to loop the ball up only for Shea to save superbly for the third time to deny Jutkiewicz. Luton attacked down the right on 35 minutes and crossed into the box where the ball was cleared by Roberts. The referee interrupted play at this point for a stricken Luton player who was lying motionless on the ground near the halfway line. When play resumed the referee restarted the game with an uncontested dropped ball in a dangerous position out on the right wing. Now Blues had already defended this position and so this was highly questionable. The ball was rapidly whipped into the box and Luton nearly scored. Pep Clotet was incensed and promptly received a booking for his pains but I felt our manager had a valid point.
Blues were still having the better of the exchanges and appeared to have taken the lead following a flowing move to the excellent Dan Crowley whose superb low cross was finished by Lukas Jutkiewicz at the far post. The assistant’s flag stifled the celebrations however although I now understand that after further analysis the goal should have stood. Blues continued to press and a similar move nearly led to a goal but on this occasion Jutkiewicz was unable to connect with another lovely Crowley delivery. Fran Villaba should perhaps gave done better with a volley from ten yards immediately after and it looked despite all the pressure that Luton were going to hold out for a 0-0 half time score. However deep into first half added time the superb Dan Crowly flicked a ball over the Luton back line to Maxime Colin who chested down and dinked it across the helpless Shea for Krystian Pedersen to head in from a yard or so out. Blues had a thoroughly deserved half time lead.
Blues started the second half looking to kill the game off and a smart snap shot from Mrabti was well saved by Shea for the keeper to add to his burgeoning collection. Blues were denied a golden chance to double the lead this time by the referee who despite being well positioned failed to give a penalty for a clear foul on Crowley with the half only two minutes old. Villalba evaded his marker and provided an excellent cross for Mrabti but the luckless Swede was denied one again when his header was blocked. The striker kept plugging away however and chasing a lost cause held off his defender and just about salvaged the ball on the by line with a slide to pull the ball across nutmegging the keeper in the process. The ball trickled across the goal two yards out but Jutkiewicz just couldn’t get enough contact on it and it trickled on by as the home support held their heads in their hands. I started to worry that these missed chances were going to come back to haunt us.
Luton made a couple of changes to personnel and their set up. An ominous warning came when substitute James Collins was allowed to get a curling shot off from 25 yards and the early roar from the noisy Luton contingent was stifled by a fantastic save by Camp diving to his left to push the goal bound shot onto the post and away to safety. Blues failed to heed the warning and following a counter by the visitors, the previously excellent Pedersen sliced a clearance into the path of another substitute, Cornick who wasted no time burrowing into the box before unleashing a smart vicious shot off the underside of the crossbar giving Camp no chance. Roberts tried to restore Blues lead from a corner but his header looked like it had come off a head shaped like a 50 pence piece as it flew high over the bar into the crowd of delighted Hatters fans. Luton could easily have snatched the lead but fortunately, Collins could not direct a volley at the far post on target. Blues remained the better side and showed no signs of being disheartened by the set back. Further efforts from crosses into the box came to naught but with eight minutes left Blues forced a corner in the family stand corner taken by Fran Villalba to the far post which was headed back across goal by Harlee Dean to the lurking Lukas Jutkiewicz who at last out muscled his defender to nod in from close range for a richly deserved goal and win for Blues. A greater margin of victory would not have been out of place and Fran Villalba, another in a blue shirt who had an excellent game was unlucky to see his curling shot headed off the line in time added on.
I dropped little Jack and Raf back at the Oak, said goodbye to Chris and set straight off for my old school reunion being held in Maidenhead where an old classmate owns The Thames Hotel where we all stayed. My thanks go to old school chums Cliff, Ian, Andy, Graham, Nigel, Martin, Alan and Adrian plus a few wives and partners who made up a most convivial group which made for a most enjoyable evening.
The Good: what a great day! The company of old and some new friends, England in the Rugby World Cup Final, excellent game at the Blues with a terrific win, the Vile lost and I got to have a few beers with some old mates; what is there not to love?
The Bad: The fact that Chris wasn’t able to make the game in the end.
The Ugly: The weather, wet, miserable and cold but not bad enough to dampen the spirits! 😀
Birmingham City: Lee Camp 7, Maxime Colin 7, Harlee Dean 7, Mark Roberts 7, Krystian Pedersen 7, Dan Crowley 9 (Jacques Maghoma 87, N/A) Fran Villalba 8 Ivan Sunjic 8, Jude Bellingham 7 (David Davis 87, N/A) Lukas Jutkiewicz 8, Kerim Mrabti 7 (Alvaro Gimenez 77, 6)
Subs not used: Conor Trueman, Odin Bailey, Jake Clarke-Salter, Wes Harding.
Goals: Pedersen 45 + 3, Jutkiewicz 82.
Yellow cards: Roberts 11, Clotet 35.
Luton Town: James Shea 9, Martin Creanie 7, Dan Potts 7, Ryan Tunnicliffe 6 (Harry Cornick 66, 7) Sonny Bradley 7, Matthew Pearson 7, Callum McMannaman 7 (James Collins 60, 7) Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu 8, Luke Bolton 7, (Jacob Butterfield 87, N/A) Isaiah Brown 8, Kazenga LuaLua 8.
Subs not used: Simon Sluga, Andrew Shinnie, James Bree, Lloyd Jones.
Goals: Cornick 67.
Yellow cards: Lua Lua 45 + 2, Collins 70, Crainie 90 + 1.
Referee: Dean Whitestone 7: Many will be surprised by a relatively high rating for this official but let me try and explain. Mr Whitestone refereed this match in an old fashioned way reminiscent of games that took place on the heavy muddy quagmires of the 1960s. He let nearly everything go so that soft decisions simply didn’t happen such as going to ground at the slightest contact, buying free kicks for a sou and time wasting antics. It made bizarrely for an open entertaining match on a wet slick surface and there was a high level of physical contact making this a contest between 22 men. It was a proper man’s game. The down side was that just occasionally, infringements occurred that should have been given but play on was the decision. Luton’s manager Graheme Jones was complaining that Jukewitcz’s equaliser should have been chalked off for a foul and some officials may well have done so but those same officials would surely have awarded Blues a clear penalty early in the second half for a stone wall foul on Crowley. What I’m trying to say is that Mr Whitestone let virtually everything go but he did it for both sides with no bias or favour. He was therefore consistent, fair to both sides and I for one have no problem with that.
Attendance: 21,799 (2,676 away)