Mrs Bazza had an early start this Saturday morning. She was taking part in a national flower arranging competition. It was only her second time at this level and the first where she was doing a piece solo. She was nervous but nevertheless apprehensive and I reflected that it was the type of nervous anticipation that most avid sports fans get before an important game. She had left the house before I descended down to the kitchen for breakfast.
I looked out on a bright morning into the garden spangled with highly reflective frost making for a beautiful but chilly looking sight. The temperature on my phone registered zero degrees but I had the feeling that it was probably a degree or two less than that.
I ventured out down to Blackwater Post Office to get a birthday card off to my eldest daughter in Vancouver, picked up the newspapers and renewed the lottery. It became obvious that for the journey to the Midlands, discretion was going to be the better part of valour and I decided to wrap up warm with a thermal and thick jumper. I was wearing a shirt of the faithful because I’m superstitious like that but it was beneath warmer layers. I also grabbed my thick winter coat out of the under stairs cupboard and donned a scarf (of the faithful!) hat and gloves and I was all set.
Cold though it was, faint heart never won fair lady so it was once more into the breech for my second journey down to Blackwater, this time bound for the station. I had managed to get hold of Chris to confirm arrangements for pick up at Coventry as usual. He, like me, was pleased with the point gained at Hillsborough on Wednesday and combined with another hard fought draw in Yorkshire at Huddersfield it had all in all been a good week.
I have no idea what Gary Monk was thinking when he gave that inflammatory press conference before the game and took several barbed pot shots at Pep Clotet. I don’t know exactly what went on between these two erstwhile colleagues but I felt Gary Monk was unwise commenting the way he did. I’ve just read the classic 1930s book, How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie and everything about Gary Monk’s behaviour is just the way to not do it. I’ve always liked him as a manager and as a man but I’m afraid my judgement has been somewhat coloured by this latest episode.
No good could possibly come out of it, it alienates the person attacked and it skews the opinions of objective observers. It also serves to rile opponents or those that have an issue with you anyway as nearly happened when Blues took the lead and only conceded an equaliser late on. Indeed, in the second half Blues could and should have put the game to bed but for want of a better final ball. Never mind, they were both creditable results. Chris drove back to Baginton to pick up little Jack and his mate Oscar and from there we proceeded down the A45 to St Andrews.
I had also been in touch with our own Kev Ball who was able to take in a game all the way from Devon. His son was driving him up to St Andrews and I hoped to hook up with him at the ground as we were both going to be in the Kop.
Blues were pitched against a team managed by the second ex-Blues boss of the week, namely, Gary Rowett. There could be no doubt that Millwall would come to St Andrews well prepared, organised and strong. I was expecting a tough encounter and Birmingham would have to be at their best to prevail. As it turned out Millwall were compact, well-drilled and relied upon counterattacks which they threatened Blues back line with on several occasions throughout the half. The visitors worked hard, pressed high and denied Daniel Crowley and Fran Villalba space. Jude Bellingham had an effective game I felt but I thought he played too deep to be really threatening and spent much of his time along with the classy Sunjic getting the ball back when intricate midfield passing had broken down.
The result was a frustrating watch which despite Blues having nearly 60% of the possession over the match they failed to do a lot with and were constantly forced backwards into playing far too many balls across the pitch in our half. I understand that you have to switch play back and forth to create openings but it has to be done quickly if it is to draw opponents out of position and all afternoon Blues build up play was too slow and too ponderous which meant that Millwall were able to defend easily and maintain their shape.
Early on Jude Bellingham had to be on his guard with a timely tackle to stop Jiri Skalek who was bursting through on the edge of the box and for Blues part they had a shout for a penalty when the 16 year old was felled by Murray Wallace. It looked soft to me and besides, referee, Mr Woolmer was having none of it. The game became attritional for the most part with both teams guilty of coughing up possession. Blues did trouble Bialkowski in the Millwall goal when a fierce shot from Sunjic was well saved and from the follow up cross Jutkiewicz was unable to generate enough power to disturb the keeper.
Midway through the half, Marc Roberts went down painfully on his ankle landing awkwardly following an aerial duel with Matt Smith. After a long stoppage he was worryingly stretchered off to be replaced by Harlee Dean, back from a three game suspension.
There wasn’t much between the sides on a bitterly cold afternoon but despite Birmingham’s possessional advantage, Millwall created the better chances in the half and would have taken a deserved lead on 37 minutes when Jed Wallace robbed Dan Crowley of possession on the left wing. He delivered a superb cross to Matt Smith who met it perfectly and fiercely powered the ball downwards. A brilliant save by Connal Trueman thwarted him as the young keeper somehow got down to his right and diverted the ball to safety. If De Gea or Allison or Schmeichel or Ederson had pulled off a save like that in the Premier League, SKYSPORTS would be proclaiming it as a worldy and showing it ad infinitum on the news. It has to be the save of the season at St Andrews so far this season and Blues had every reason to thank their young custodian a few minutes later when he stopped Ben Thomson’s volley flying into the top left corner. There were a couple more easier efforts that required his attention as the half drew to a close with six minutes extra played because of the injury to Roberts.<
I caught up with Kev, his sons and Russ and Mike from Joys and Sorrows at half time and they felt that Millwall could easily have been ahead had it not been for Trueman. Whilst the teams were evenly matched, Millwall had created the two really clear cut chances. It was a pleasure to see them all but it was soon time to return to our seats for the resumption.
Kev addition. It was great to meet up, actually there was a double purpose – it also enabled us to get our frozen limbs working again – it was bloomin freezing! A good few degrees colder than Devon.
Blues appeared to buck their ideas up at the beginning of the second period and Gimenez pursued a promising ball into the box for what would have been a clear chance. He clearly had his shirt tugged by Jake Cooper but inexplicably the referee waved away Birmingham protests and the incensed home crowd. I have to say that I’m baffled that a penalty wasn’t given. It was a clear offence that our party could see from the other end of the pitch! I can accept that the referee may be unsighted but the assistant is side on and has to be able to see the incident if he isn’t asleep!
Kev addition. I missed the incident, just happened to look the wrong way, but the highlights on Quest confirmed it was an absolute stonewall penalty. I have no idea why it wasn’t given. I know it doesn’t relate to that incident, but we should be winning more set pieces with the way Juke gets pushed and pulled around. I don’t know about no one liking Millwall, I reckon it’s us the officials don’t like!
Moments later a beautiful through ball to Lukas Jutkiewicz sent the big man clean through. He opened his body for the left foot shot across the keeper but missed by a country mile; the ball went out for a throw in! Gimenez was the next to fluff his lines when he sliced another presentable chance from a similar position this time with his right foot wide of the mark. As always seems to be the case with football, missed chances cost dear and against the run of play, Pedersen gets robbed on the left wing. Millwall break quickly into the space vacated by the full back, the rest of the Blues rearguard is now out of position and Jed Wallace lays the ball inside to the onrushing Shaun Williams 30 yards out. The midfielder decided to shoot first time and with a perfect connection gave Connal Trueman no chance as the ball flew into the top right corner. It was a truly cracking strike and a beautiful goal.
It was clear that life was about to get even more difficult for Blues to break down the resolute, well organised Millwall defence. Pep Clotet had already introduced Jeremie Bela for the out of sorts Villalba and added Jefferson Montero to the mix in place of Alvaro Gimenez. The wide men made a difference and Blues began to get on the front foot. Millwall stood firm despite mounting pressure but were eventually undone by a set piece. A corner from the left by Dan Crowley was headed down and into the net by Jake Clarke-Salter for a deserved equaliser.
Moments later an unlikely turnaround was so nearly complete when Jude Bellingham fired across Bialkowski and took the paint off the far post. In a frantic finish, Blues huffed and puffed but came against the same problem they have had all season; scoring a second goal in a match! Santa, we need a striker for Christmas! This was certainly the view of Tim whom I joined on the train on the way back home. He was extremely grumpy about our finishing and I’m bound to agree with him, it was abject.
Kev additional. This last paragraph is our season in a nutshell. If we still had Che, I think we’d be in the play-offs. We are playing some really nice football and look composed on the ball. We do give it away sometimes, as we did for their goal, but these are young players and I’m convinced they’ll learn. My concern is, unless we get a couple of players who score 15-20 goals per season, we’ll do nothing. (Actually one player scoring 15-20 would be nice!)
The Good: The shepherd’s pie and minty mush peas at the Cookhouse. Most welcome on a freezing cold day! Kev additional. A couple of extra goods. I thought it was a nice touch giving the minute’s applause for Jeremy’s mom who sadly passed away. Jeremy is a great character and often feature’s on Davo’s video diaries. (Oh, and the J&S half time meet up of course!)
The Bad: The passing out of midfield and the finishing of Jutkiewicz and Gimenez.
The Ugly: Marc Roberts injury; let’s hope it’s not as serious as it looks. Get better soon chap! Absolutely!
Birmingham City: Connal Trueman 8, Maxime Colin 5, Jake Clarke-Salter 7, Marc Roberts 6 (Harlee Dean 26, 6) Krystian Pedersen 6, Dan Crowley 6 (Alvaro Gimenez 62, 5) Fran Villalba 5 (Jeremie Bela 55, 6) Ivan Sunjic 6 Jude Bellingham 6, Lukas Jutkiewicz 5, Alvaro Gimenez 5 (Jefferson Montero 66, 7)
Subs not used: Lee Camp, David Davis, Jacque Maghoma, Josh McEachran.
Goals: Clarke-Salter 79.
Yellow cards: None
Millwall: Bartosz Bialkowski 6, Murray Wallace 6, Jake Cooper 6, Alex Pearce 6, Mahlon Romeo 5, Ben Thomson (Aiden O’Brien 89, N/A) Shaun Williams 7, Jayson Molumby 6, Jiri Skalak (Jon Dadi Bodvarsson 85, N/A) Jed Wallace 6, Mathieu Smith 6 (Tom Bradshaw 85, N/A)
Subs not used: Billy Mitchell, Connor Mahoney, James Brown, Luke Steele.
Goals: Williams 61.
Yellow cards: None
Referee: Andy Woolmer 6: Overall, I thought Mr Woolmer had a good game. The only important decision he missed was the penalty claim in the second half. That was a definite shirt tug which stopped the striker getting onto the ball. Mind you, Gimenez would probably have missed the chance; it was one of those days! In the end the result was fair.
Kev additional. I think you’re being generous Baz. I’d give the ref a 5. I agree he wasn’t the worse, and he did try and let the game flow, however he hardly gave anything for the continual man handling of Juke through the game. Then proceeded to give Millwall a number of free kicks for what appeared to be the same type of foul. I completely agree a draw was the right result though.
We had a funny few minutes in the second half, where for some reason Russ was encouraging Dean to use the ball – except it was Maxime Colin! It caused some amusement with my boys who kept asking Russ if Dean had the ball – whoever had it, and it resulted in a brief chant of – two Harlee Deans, there’s only two Harlee Deans! Well it made us chuckle!
Anyway, your next report will be left without my additions! Great to catch up again.