Being semi-retired, I have Mondays and Tuesdays free and I decided that I would make the effort to go up to St Andrews for the replay despite the fact that it means getting back after midnight and I have work on Wednesday morning. Mrs Bazza thinks I’m absolutely mad but she thinks that about dutifully traveling all the way up to Brum at the best of times to follow the team. She cannot understand why I don’t go to Reading which is the closest League club to us. I just sigh and shrug my shoulders at this since I have tried to explain in the past but my darling wife simply doesn’t understand football culture, its passion and what it means to be a lifelong fan. She repeats that I must be mad and I’m bound to say she probably has a point there.
Mrs Bazza had set off early to visit her Dad who is 94 and getting frail which he’s entitled to be at that age. He’s a gooner and like all gooners complained about Arsene Wenger when the trophies dried up despite being their most successful manager of all time. Like many others of his tribe they are witnessing Arsenal’s steady decline and still blaming it on whichever manager is in post at the time. This brings me on to our own situation given that a lot of people I speak to express dissatisfaction with Pep Clotet and many want him gone. I confess to being in the minority according to a recent poll and hope that Pep is not sacked, at least at the moment. I do not see what good sacking the manager is going to do in our present circumstances. Teams that engage in the managerial merry-go-round tend to carry on getting worse in my experience and it is the exception rather than the rule that frequent manager changes works for a club. We have had a fair amount of such turmoil since our relegation from the Premier League and I feel stability rather than further turmoil is needed. As for Ren Dong, that is a different matter but even if our masters in Hong Kong were to award him the Grand Order of the Golden Welly, I doubt they would appoint a British CEO who understands our culture and what makes our fanbase tick. They would undoubtedly stick with what they know and we may end up in a worse position with someone who doesn’t understand the sort of club and people we are. What I’m trying to say is that the fundamental problem is one of culture rather than competence. I may be wrong but there you have it; one man’s opinion.
It was a chilly blustery day down in Blackwater but faint heart ne’er won fair lady and I decided to tackle some jobs out in the garden which I’d been putting off and were not going to wait much longer. The recent mild weather had resulted in the grass growing so the first thing I did was cut it. The compost bin was full so I emptied one that I’d left to rot down and the resulting rich sticky stuff the consistency of Aston Villa (i.e. Shite!!!!!! 😀 ) was dug in to my cut flower bed ready for the sweet peas which are coming on nicely in the greenhouse. I finished what I wanted to do and feeling very self-righteous, I grabbed something to eat for lunch.
It was soon time to set off for the journey north. I’d arranged to meet Chris and little Jack and Sam, one of Chris’s managers at Baginton early enough so that we could take in a curry at the Jilabi Indian Restaurant on the Coventry Road just past the Wheatsheaf. We wanted to get in there about six o’clock and be in plenty of time to get to the ground. We were then meeting up with Rob, a regular part of our group so I could give him his ticket. The plan went the way of the pear when we realised that the A45 was chocka and the time we had banked setting off early evaporated in the traffic jam that stretched all the way from before Bickenhill to the Wheatsheaf and beyond. We pulled off the Coventry road and doubled backed down the M42 onto the M6 and came in the opposite way but we still had to go via the the houses via Camp Hill before alighting in Bolton Road. We had missed our curry and consoled ourselves with getting some food at the Cookhouse. We decided to grab a pint in the George before going into the ground for food. The pint went down well enough but when we got in the ground there was no Cookhouse and queues a mile long because only a couple of the Kop catering areas were open. We had to make do with a steak pie and another pint which we consumed just before kick off. The sustenance was meagre to say the least but it would have to do.
I did wonder whether my wife’s verdict on my sanity had substance when I reflected on how bad the game was between our tenants and us, ten days ago. I suppose I was hoping against hope that it would be better especially coming off the excellent win against a very good Nottingham Forest side on Saturday and I couldn’t believe that we could be any worse than we were in the second half in the first tie. Besides, I had everybody’s tickets! It was good to see youngster Jack Concannon in the starting line up for Blues. Wes Harding came in for Maxime Colin at right back and Josh McEachran, Jacques Maghoma and Jefferson Montero also earned starting berths.
The Lower tier of the Gil Merrick end was full with a noisy contingent of Coventry fans and the Kop was full of home supporters. The Tilton stood empty! Rung! Totally Rung in my opinion but for all that the limited crowd of just over 11,000 generated a lively atmosphere. The first half was pretty non-descript and followed the temper of the first game in being turgid, dull rubbish. Coventry, in their sky blue kit did get off to a fast start and looked to take an early advantage. For the first fifteen minutes they threatened early on when Bakayoko seized on a route one pass but was challenged by Lee Camp. The Coventry man conjured a turn and weak shot which got past Camp but could not evade Krystian Pedersen who easily cleared the danger. Zain Westbrooke fired a shot well wide of Camp’s goal a couple of minutes later but Maghoma for Blues could do little better with a shot from distance fired well over into the jeering Coventry fans. There was a lengthy stoppage on 15 minutes when Josh McEachran went down injured and required a stretcher for his retrieval. This meant the introduction of Caolan Boyd-Munce for his debut. The interruption seemed to spur Blues who started to take a little more control of the game after a shaky start. Jack Concannon was presented with a chance midway through the half when Coventry only half cleared a ball across the box. The young debutant snatched at the ball, bouncing up invitingly in front of him and lacked the composure to keep his shot down and it flew high over the bar. Montero forced a good save out of Marko Marosi, in goal for Coventry, when he received a lovely ball from Maghoma. The wide man cut inside and unleashed a powerful shot which Marosi saved for a corner. That was it for the first half which was made even more tedious by the lengthy amount of time added on of six minutes.
Blues started the second period the better and seemed to be showing some intent to get the tie over and done with given that it had already gone on too long! Boyd-Munce tried a curling shot early on but was wide of the mark. The early promise from Blues was severely checked when a swift breakaway found Zain Westbrooke in midfield. A good ball into Bakayoko inside the area presented the best chance of the game and despite Lee Camp getting a decent block on the shot, the ball looped upwards and bounced into the empty net. The Coventry fans were ecstatic. Frankly Coventry could and should have killed the tie with two quickfire chances from Bakayoko again from a free kick but his attempt was fired just wide and Biamou missed an easy chance from ten yards out when given the opportunity from Fantaky Dabo’s excellent curling cross. The visitors were all over Blues at this stage, the early goal had rattled the home side and the tie only looked to be heading in one direction.
Pep Clotet reacted by putting on Jeremie Bela and Lukas Jutkiewicz for Jack Concannon and Jude Bellingham respectively. However, Coventry wasted another opportunity when Biamou shot wide when well placed. The misses were nearly punished when a fabulous through ball from Sunjic found Bela clean through with only Marosi to beat but the keeper made an excellent save. This was the stimulus for Blues to rally and it was kitchen sink time with long throw-ins from Roberts from one of which nearly resulted in a goal for Montero at the far post. The Ecuadorian’s header was weak however and easily claimed by Marosi. As things became desperate, Lukas Jutkiewicz shot high and wide when Jacques Maghoma was in the clear and in a far better position. We were resigned to defeat and besides I had a long way to go to get home and didn’t really fancy extra time anyway. With a minute to go, wouldn’t you just know it Wes Harding who had toiled endlessly all evening charged down the right flank avoiding several Coventry defenders. The young full back flicked the ball off to Maghoma out wide whose cross found the unmarked Harlee Dean in the middle. The Blues captain made no mistake heading past Marosi into the bottom corner! “No! No! No!” yelled Chris. “Offside, foul, anything! I’m not sure I can endure another half hour of this!” I thought that it was going to be a very late night and with work in the morning, the prospect was not that compelling. Blues could have actually won when Montero found Jutkiewicz with a cross but the big man’s goal bound header took a deflection and skimmed over the bar to safety.
Extra time it was and frankly Coventry were the better looking side and had they taken the opportunities they created they would have deservedly won this tie. Allen nearly scored after only two minutes of extra time but his shot was deflected wide by Roberts.The game was very open at this stage but the visitors looked more likely although Blues did have a chance when Montero burrowed into the box but shot over when the whites of the keeper’s eyes appeared. Allen missed with another shot over the bar but the goal that had seemed likely came on 114 minutes when a well worked move and low cross by Callum O’Hare found Biamou 15 yards out. The Coventry man made no mistake slotting past Camp who had no chance. Finally, it seemed, the game was up. Godden squandered a great chance to rub salt into the wounds when his attempted chip over Camp with the Blues defence absent trying to force a second equaliser missed by a margin. In the last minute with seconds on the clock, Jutkiewicz sprayed the ball out to Jeremie Bela out on the right wing and headed for the area in the hope of getting on the end of the cross. The cross when it came to the far post looked to be over hit and the floating ball too far ahead of anyone in a royal blue shirt. The ball continued its flight over Marosi to strike the far post and in for 2-2! It was a fluke but there you go; as Sir Alex Ferguson once said, “Football! Bloody hell!”
The final whistle sounded, penalties it was. The empty Tilton started to partially fill from Kop corner when the realisation dawned that the kicks were to be taken at that end. Lee Camp saved two of the three spot kicks aimed at his goal making four of the last five he has faced in all competitions. Man of the match without doubt! Blues buried all four of theirs. Birmingham City had prevailed; heaven knows how!
The Good: It turned out alright in the end though we didn’t really deserve it!
The Bad: Not getting to the curry house and no Cookhouse!!!!! Minimal facilities for the crowd causing queues and overcrowding when the gate was only 11,000.
The Ugly: The traffic on the A45.
Birmingham City: Lee Camp 8, Wes Harding 6, Harlee Dean 7, Marc Roberts 7, Krystian Pedersen 7, Josh McEachran 5 (Caolan Boyd-Munce 18, 6) Ivan Sunjic 6, Jacques Maghoma 6 (Gary Gardner 103, 6) Jefferson Montero 6, Jack Concannon 6 (Jeremie Bela 57, 7) Jude Bellingham 6 (Lukas Jutkiewicz 69, 7)
Subs not used: Jake Clarke-Salter, Connal Trueman, Cheick Keita.
Bookings: Concannon 26, Harding 109.
Goals: Dean 90 + 2, Bela 120.
Coventry City: Marko Marosi 7, Dom Hyam 6, Josh Pask 6, Kyle McFadzean 7, Brandon Mason 7, Fankaty Dabo 6, Liam Kelly 6 (Liam Walsh 105, 6) Jordan Shipley 6 (Jamie Allen 72, 6) Zain Westbrooke 6 (Callum O’Hare 72, 6) Max Biamou 6, Amadou Bakayoko 7 (Matt Godden 82, 6)
Subs not used: Ben Wilson, Morgan Williams, Jodi Jones.
Bookings: Pask 36, Bakayoko 41.
Goals: Bakayoko 50, Biamou 114.
Referee: Darren Bond; 6: I thought the officials got most important things right. It was a long night for them as it was for us.
Jutkiewicz – Blues 1-0 Coventry
Godden – Blues 1-1 Coventry
Bela – Blues 2-1 Coventry
Walsh SAVED! Blues 2-1 Coventry
Gardner – Blues 3-1 Coventry
Allen SAVED! Blues 3-1 Coventry
Dean – Blues 4-1 Coventry