White rabbits! There I’ve said it, it’s the first of the month which means a pinch and a punch and a poke in the eye for being so sly. January has come and gone and thank the Lord for that although I’m not in the habit of wishing time away. Two events happened yesterday at 11 pm of course; Brexit and the close of the January transfer window. Both events share a common theme; they are a load of old tosh! The only saving grace that Brexit has over the January transfer window is that at least it’s a one off! It has however, been extremely lengthy but hopefully it will haunt us no more.
Unfortunately, we cannot say the same about the transfer window. I read a piece the other day that suggested that the January window should be reduced to a week or even less given that bugger all seems to happen until the last day or so when there is a frantic dash to get deals ‘over the line.’ The tedious, endless garbage talked by an equally endless string of so called football pundits speculating about players that may or may not be moving to Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge or the Etihad ad nauseum. We could all be spared this if the whole circus was reduced or approaches could be made outside the window but moves still restricted to specific times in the season. There is little or no meaningful coverage of the rest of the football pyramid in comparison and the stories go round in an ever mind numbing loop until the next speculative sound bite concerning one of the big clubs comes along and the process is repeated. I rarely tune in and if I do, I have usually switched off and gone off to do something far more useful with my time within the first five minutes.
With regard to Blues, I largely ignore all stories about transfers in or out and as far as I’m concerned they ain’t happening until the player concerned is standing on the Tilton with a Blues shirt and pearly whites on display. The same goes for outgoings; until they are announced on the Blues web site, they are hot air. Some will feel that it has been a disappointing window for Birmingham City but it was no more than I expected. At least we have acquired a striker in the form of Scott Hogan who is proven at this level.
We have trimmed the squad by six which is no bad thing in my view. I was slightly disappointed to see Fran Villalba go out on loan back to Spain but he has appeared lightweight at times and was clearly having problems adapting to the physical demands of the Championship. Nevertheless, I hope it isn’t the last we see of him because I see considerable potential in that boy and who knows he may come back stronger. As for Alvaro Gimenez, he has never quite fitted in and I’m not surprised he went back to Spain. The label ‘not good enough’ applies to him I’m afraid.
David Davis has gone to Charlton Athletic on loan and again it comes as no surprise. I think we have all detected a wane in form over the last few months and I suspect that is the final chapter of his Blues career. He has been a fine servant of our club and we should all be grateful for his contribution. Finally I’m sure that there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the fact we failed at the last minute to land Bright Enobakhare from Wolves. I read somewhere yesterday that there are attitude problems with this particular individual and if there are we may have had a fortunate escape. It does make you wonder when an agreement is set, the medical passed and the deal fails because personal terms cannot be agreed. Either the kid was on big wages at Wolves which I doubt for a young fringe player or he’s asking too much before he’s proved himself. Whichever it is, it was clearly not to be. As for the other lad from Wolves, Dadashov, that one smacked of last minute desperation. I accept that we are still very light on strikers and we look vulnerable to injury or suspension but so be it, we simply have to go with what we have.
On to the job in hand, namely Nottingham Forest. I spoke to Chris on the phone whilst waiting at Blackwater for the train to Reading and like me he wasn’t feeling optimistic. The Tricky Trees are burning up the league at the moment and threaten to be in the automatic promotion places should they beat us and results go their way. It was clearly going to be a tough ask but as Will said a little later; “Scott Hogan will either score or he won’t and that will decide our destiny this season.” There is little to argue with there. I arrived at Coventry as usual at 12.30 and went back to the Oak and enjoyed a pint while Chris finished off some chores.
The train was full and several people were clearly under the weather coughing and spluttering. I hope that they don’t have the lurgy from Wuhan but whatever, I dare say I’ll probably be down with something next week! We got to the ground just after 2 pm having picked up little Jack in Leamington. (He had been staying with one of his mates). We grabbed another pint in the Royal George before food from the Cookhouse in the form of Rendang beef and up to our seats.
The game turned out to be a good one unlike the dross I reported on against Coventry. You can see why Forest are riding high in the Championship; they look a very good, well-balanced side with quick movement and slick passing. Whilst the early exchanges were pretty even I felt the visitors had that ill-defined edge and sense of danger about them. They won the toss and elected to attack the Gil Merrick end in the first half. They are a big tall side and were causing trouble to our more diminutive back four and Maxime Colin particularly was struggling to cope with the size and trickery of Sammy Ameobi down the flank but he stuck to his task for all that. Somehow, the little deflections, ricochets and fifty-fifties all seem to be falling the way of the visitors and there was no doubt in my mind that they were in the ascendancy.
Despite this they nearly shot themselves in the foot early on when Brice Samba in goal for Forest dropped a routine ball right in front of Lukas Jutkiewicz standing in the D. The big man took a couple of touch to fashion a quick shot but wasn’t able to apply enough power in the end and surrounded by three defenders, one of them was able to clear before the ball reached the line.
The sides exchanged attempts when first Joe Lolley struck a shot just wide from twenty yards and debutant, Scott Hogan headed just wide from a cross by Josh McEachran. The visitors were quick on the counter and following an unfortunate deflection in midfield Joe Lolley’s headed pass found Tiago Silva in space with grass to run into. He moved with pace in the inside left position and burrowed into the area. The Blues defenders tried valiantly to get goal side but Silva took a touch, turned inside, wrong footing three defenders, to rifle a fine shot into the roof of the net from 15 yards giving Lee Camp no chance. The raucous, noisy Forest fans were in raptures and their happy cock-surety was matched by their team on the pitch who were playing with high confidence, swagger and poise. Forest seemed to be in cruise control but to Blues’ credit, they did not allow their heads to drop and responded well with Jude Bellingham demonstrating the sort of skills that have top clubs in Europe drooling and Scott Hogan was causing the Forest rearguard concerns with his lively movement in their box.
The game turned in a crazy two minute spell just before half time. In a slick move just to the left of the area, Joe Lolley put a lovely little pass in behind us and Silva nipped to the byline and crossed towards the waiting Ryan Yates about three yards out. Josh McEahran seemed to intercept with his chest and prevented the ball going over the line with a timely clearance. As the ball came down from height, Lee Camp punched it to prevent Ryan Yates from heading. Amazingly, Jeremy Simpson, the referee pointed to the spot. At first I thought it might have been against Camp for a foul on Yates but having watched the footage, it does look as if McEachran plays the ball with his arm in his attempt to block the cross. Either way, the decision looked harsh but penalty it was. Lewis Grabban stepped up and with a stuttering run tried to get the keeper to commit but the custodian remained firm on his line. Grabban drove the ball to Camp’s left and the Blues keeper sprang after it and parried it strongly to the delighted roar of the home crowd.
You could sense the huge lift this gave the team and from the breakaway Jude Bellingham raced through midfield only to be felled in the centre circle. Mr Simpson waved play on and the ball was channeled to Jeremie Bela out on the right flank who crossed to the far post where Lukas Jutkiewicz was waiting. The big man headed back across goal where Scott Hogan was on hand to tap past Samba from six yards for the equaliser. St Andrews erupted. Within a minute a potentially disastrous 0-2 score line had become 1-1.
I’m glad to say that Blues started the second period the way that they had finished the first. Blues in their first foray forward should have been awarded a penalty when Matty Cash clearly handled Scott Hogan’s cross. I had a clear view of this and there was no doubt in my mind but Blues appeals were waved away however by the man in the middle. From the corner which was scant consolation, Gary Gardner who had an excellent game volleyed just over.
Blues nearly went behind to an inexplicable decision when a ball deflected through to Lewis Grabban standing at least a yard offside. The assistant was having a kip because there was no flag but the Forest striker fired his effort against the bar and over. This was fortunate because Grabban should have put the ball on the net from barely four yards out and due to incompetent officiating, it would have counted! The chance seemed to spur Forest who nearly took the lead from a corner when a close range effort by Grabban was cleared off the line by Harlee Dean.
The game was becoming very open and end to end which whilst exciting, I felt might play into the visitors’ hands. However, from a Blues counter Lukas Jutkiewicz found himself on the left flank and delivered a superb ball across the box to Jeremie Bela whose first time shot was battered away for a corner by Samba. There were attempts at both ends for Grabban and Diaby for Forest and Sunjic and Jutkiewicz for Blues before from another attack Blues won a corner. The Forest defence had dealt with these set pieces without fuss so far but got themselves in a mess from the inswinging delivery in the 74th minute. There was a scramble as Krystian Pedersen bundled the ball over the line. Mr Simpson signaled the goal but was called over to speak to his assistant on the far side. The celebration became muted as we wondered whether the goal would be chalked off. It appeared that Forest boss, had run down towards the assistant and had clearly done more that passed the time of day; he received a booking for his efforts and a loud roar greeted the confirmatory signal of a goal.
The last twenty minutes seemed to take eternity but despite Forest chucking the kitchen sink at it, Blues remained resolute and saw the game out for a welcome three points. To be honest, it was the sort of game when a draw would probably gave been a fair result but it was nice for once for us to be on the right side of the sneaked win. You could have said that about the games against Albion and Leeds! We rode our luck at times but Blues have had precious little in recent times so I for one will take it. As a final note everybody played well but the man of the match was Scott Hogan on his debut. I met my mate Tim on the way back on the train and he made the observation that it was good to see a striker get in the box between the sticks and move about; succinctly put and I totally agree. Well done Blues, you beat a very good side today.
The Good: The madness of the two minutes just before the break when with the ball on the spot and Blues about to go 0-2 down and Nottingham Forest in cruise control it was suddenly 1-1. Brilliant save, lifted crowd and players culminating in a well worked equaliser. Such drama is why we all love this game so much!
The Bad: The awful bit of officiating when the assistant referee on the Kop side missed the clear offside call that nearly resulted in Blues going behind again. The fact that the Forest player missed the chance and hit the bar and over is immaterial.
The Ugly: The mood of our brethren across the Expressway on their way back from the south coast! 😀
Birmingham City: Lee Camp 8, Maxime Colin 7, Harlee Dean 7, Jake Clarke-Salter 7, Krystian Pedersen 7, Jeremie Bela 7, Gary Gardner 8, Josh McEachran 7 (Ivan Sunjic 61, 7) Jude Bellingham 8 (Jacques Maghoma 79, 6) Lukas Jutkiewicz 8, Scott Hogan 9 (Marc Roberts 84, N/A)
Subs not used: Jefferson Montero, Connal Trueman, Jack Concannon, Wes Harding.
Goals: Hogan 42, Pedersen 74.
Bookings: Sunjic 88.
Nottingham Forest: Brice Samba 7, Matty Cash 7, Tobias Figueiredo 7, Joe Worrall 7, Yuri Ribeiro 7, Ben Watson 7, Ryan Yates 7 (Alfa Semedo Esteves 70, 7) Sammy Ameobi 8 (Adama Diakhaby 61, 7) Tiago Silva 8 (Tyler Walker 76, 6) Joe Lolley 8, Lewis Grabban 7
Subs not used: Carl Jenkinson, Jordan Smith, Joao Carvalho, Michael Dawson.
Goals: Silva 18.
Bookings: Ribeiro 88.
Referee: Jeremy Simpson: 6; I thought overall that the referee had a decent game but he was let down by his assistants at times especially the one on the Kop side. That decision I alluded to in the second half was lamentable and this season we have enough problems defensively without officials adding to them by not doing their job! The only issue I have with the referee was his failure to award us our penalty at the start of the second half. If you are going to give the one against McEachran, you have to give the one against Matty Cash which was far more clear cut in my view.
Attendance: 20,837 (2,746 away fans)