I was awake at 06.00. Despite the fact it was the weekend I always wake early and the insistent entreaties of my bladder overcame the enticing embrace of the duvet and as there is only one winner in that scenario, I got up. Once risen I see little point in returning to bed so I washed, shaved and dressed and went downstairs for a bowl of muesli, coffee and some quiet time with the crossword. It was still pitch dark outside but the milky morning light soon broke through and it was soon time to head down to the station. I had decided to call in on my elderly, disabled cousin in Sutton Coldfield before going on to the match so it was just as well I’d made an early start. Chris had blagged himself some corporate hospitality at Cardiff so was having a Saturday off from the Blues. When I thought about it; Wales v France, six nations game, hot meal, best seats in the house, free beer or sitting in the Kop in the freezing cold watching the Blues? Hmmmm, tough one! Not really, I reckon Chris had the best of it and whilst I would do most things to follow the lads, sometimes someone makes you an offer you can’t refuse. Will was driving a van up to Birmingham as a favour for Rob and the story is too convoluted but suffice as to say it made the possibility of going up with him difficult especially as Will was staying up in the Midlands on Saturday night meant that it was ‘O Sole Mio!’ on the journey up.
I set off a little earlier than usual and caught the nine o’clock train from Blackwater to Reading to get my connection to New Street before the final leg of the journey to my cousin’s place. I spent an hour or so with her, listened to her news before jumping back on the train to New Street for the walk down to St Andrews where I was meeting up with Will. I got to St Andrews in time to grab a pint in the George and see the end of the lunchtime game before getting some food from the Cookhouse; Shepherd’s Pie and excellent it was. We were given two pints instead of one as Will was driving and didn’t want his so I had to drink it; well somebody had to ! 😀
It’s been awhile since the lads have had a full week to prepare for a game and it could only make for them being relatively rested and able to make a fast start in this game. Sheffield Wednesday, managed by former Blues boss, Garry Monk had a bit more edge to it especially after his comments about Pep Clotet a few months back in November. He obviously feels sore that Pep stepped into his shoes having been dismissed rather than walk away and follow Rowett to his next job. However, there comes a time for most people if they have any ambition at all, to branch out on their own and not want to perpetually be someone else’s number two. Like many Blues fans, I liked Garry Monk as our boss, I liked him a lot but his bitter comments at that press conference and his failure to shake Pep’s hand after the game the last time the sides met only served to make him go down in my estimation somewhat. Pep Clotet appears to have acted with quiet dignity throughout and I know whose side I’m on regardless of what actually went on that we don’t know about.
On to matters of great import; the game itself. This turned out to be a good entertaining spectacle. Blues started on the front foot and rattled the visitors with two quick corners. The second, in the sixth minute, resulted in the opening score. As the ball came in from Jeremie Bela’s cross, Jacob Murphy got it all wrong trying to clear and only succeeded in diverting the ball past Cameron Dawson in the Wednesday goal. Interestingly, Blues attacked the Tilton in the first half; a trait that appears to be becoming the norm in recent times. Blues were undoubtedly on top and threatened a second against a nervous looking Owls side but as has happened far too often this season the visitors scored against the run of play but it was a cracking equaliser. Kieran Lee found Barry Bannan in central midfield. He was allowed far too much freedom and he needed no further invitation to shoot when he got to within 25 yards. A lovely 25 yard daisy cutter was dispatched beyond the despairing dive of Lee Camp for 1-1.
Blues were not downhearted by the setback however and restored their lead ten minutes later when Marc Roberts found Lukas Jutkiewicz just outside the Wednesday penalty area. A deft little one-two with Scott Hogan and the big man continued his run across the area before unleashing a precise left footed shot across Dawson into the bottom corner of the net. Once again Blues inability to keep a lead came back to haunt them when within four minutes, a failure to clear with the ball bobbling around the box, a poor piece of defending by Maxime Colin resulted in him catching Kieran Lee. Fans can complain all they like but it was a silly challenge and a clear penalty. Mind you it always amazes me how referees always seem to see these when it’s against us; it certainly seems that way this season. Despite allowing Wednesday back into the game twice Blues had two excellent chances to retake the lead firstly when Sunjic found himself with a free shot just inside the area bang in front but contrived to side foot three feet wide when he really should have scored and just before the break a cross headed back from Marc Roberts to Pedersen at the far post. The Dane’s header looked for all the world to be in but missed the wrong side of the post by a coat of paint. The game should have been dead and buried but 2-2 it was going into the half time break.
The inevitable happened of course when in the second half Sheffield Wednesday came out the better and took control of the game. The visitors made two changes at the break with Connor Wickham and Morgan Fox coming on in place of Joey Pelupessy and Dominic Iorfa. It was clear that Wednesday fancied their chances and their enterprise increasingly showed as the half wore on. Blues raids were proving few and far between and defending was becoming the order of the day. With three-quarters of the game gone some sloppy defending by the Blues rearguard was punished when the dangerous Forestieri slid a square ball across the edge of the box where Murphy was lurking free as a bird in the inside right position. He made no mistake slamming the ball past the helpless Camp for Wednesday to go ahead for the first time.
Blues responded well but in taking risks were leaving themselves wide open and Murphy was fed a ball behind our threadbare defence. He ran from his own half so was onside and leaving the Blues defenders in his wake we all waited for the ball to hit the net for 4-2. Lee Camp made a brilliant save to thwart him and keep Blues in the game. Lee Camp saved a fierce volley from Wickham soon after and the Owls looked to have wrapped up the points as time ticked into the added minutes. On the evidence of the second half it was difficult to deny that they weren’t deserving. However, there was to be one final twist. A long diagonal pass from Marc Roberts was headed on by Lukas Jutkiewicz into the path of the onrushing Scott Hogan whose wonderful side footed volley from ten yards left Dawson helpless. A joyous roar from the home support, a 3-3 draw the result. Over the whole piece, the score was fair. Blues were the better side first half, Sheffield Wednesday were the better second period. The unbeaten run continues!
The Good: The game itself; many would argue that there was some questionable defending on both sides but a game with six goals most of which were cracking efforts is not to be sniffed at. Football is about entertainment in the final analysis and over 20,000 people got their money’s worth today.
The Bad: The fact that Blues went missing for much of the second half and so nearly lost a game that arguably they should have wrapped up in the first.
The Ugly: The number of cynical fouls by the visitors when Blues were trying to get back into the game. This was reflected in the number of bookings they accumulated.
Birmingham City: Lee Camp 6, Maxime Colin 6, Mark Roberts 7, Jake Clarke-Salter 6 (Harlee Dean 77, 6) Krystian Pedersen 7, Jeremie Bela 6 (Jefferson Montero 82, N/A) Gary Gardner 7, Ivan Sunjic 6 (Dan Crowley 69, 6) Jude Bellingham 7, Lukas Jutkiewicz 8, Scott Hogan 7.
Subs not used: Connal Trueman, Wes Harding, Maikel Kieftenbeld, Caolan Boyd-Munce.
Goals: Murphy (og) 6, Jutkiewicz 30, Hogan 90 + 1.
Bookings: Gardner 43,
Sheffield Wednesday: Cameron Dawson 6, Dominic Iorfa 6 (Morgan Fox 45, 7) Julian Borner 6, Liam Palmer 6, Tom Lees 6, Kadeem Harris 7, Joey Pelupessy 6 (Connor Wickham 45, 6) Barry Bannan 9, Kieran Lee 7, Jacob Murphy 7, Fernando Forestieri 7 (Stephen Fletcher 72, 6)
Subs not used: Joe Wildsmith, Atdhe Nuhiu, Josh Windass, Alessio Da Cruz.
Goals: Bannan 20, Forestieri (pen) 34, Murphy 65.
Bookings: Lees 27, Forestieri 45 + 2, Bannan 64, Fletcher 74, Fox 86.
Referee: John Brooks: 7, I thought the officials were pretty sound today. I have little argument with the major decisions including the award of the penalty against us. It was a poor challenge by Colin and was rightly sanctioned.
Attendance: 22,120 (2,614 away fans)