View from the South – Birmingham City v Derby County

A little late, my fault not Bazza’s, the final View From the South of the season. Grim reading.
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Since my last report we have lost two games away from home; to Stoke City (what a joyless encounter that was) and Preston North End, a venue where we never get anything. I looked up to check since I could only ever remember winning a league game at Deepdale once in my lifetime. I first started watching Blues in 1963 when I was ten. Sure enough we have been successful at Preston once in the league. We apparently won there in a League Cup game in the eighties but who cares? Suffice as to say it’s not a happy hunting ground and we got what I expected, nothing. We also played Charlton at home and managed a last gasp 1-1 draw and just as well as that point arguably secured our continuation in the Championship. In all three games, the goals we conceded were pathetic. Against Stoke we were awful and deserved what we got, against the other two sides we played a lot better but defensive frailties and lack of punch up front cost us.

Despite the title, I’m not going to dwell on the game last night too much other than to say that this was probably the best performance the side has put in since lockdown. I got the game up on my phone and had Soccer Special on the telly at the same time to watch developments elsewhere. There was a remote possibility that we could still be relegated but in reality it was the stuff of fairy tales but a win to end the season would have changed the mood considerably. It was not to be. Another 3-1 defeat at the the hands of a Derby side that did very little to merit it other than accept the gifts our lot presented them with. I hate to sound like a gramophone record but our defending was laughable. Failure to put a big size twelve through a ricochet in the box by Roberts from Derby’s first foray into our box and the chance was gratefully slotted low past Camp into the bottom corner by Graeme Shinnie. I slapped my thigh hard in frustration and yelled out a three word expletive (to give you a clue, two of the words began with the sixth letter of the alphabet) and yet again we were 1-0 down with an unnecessary mountain to climb with only six minutes on the clock.

Fortunately, events elsewhere were going in our favour and we were never realistically in danger but that’s not the point. Derby could easily have gone 2-0 up just before the break from a swift counterattack but Waghorn lobbed the ball over Camp and fortunately for us over the bar as well. Despite this, Blues were the better side throughout this contest and did indeed climb the mountain with an equaliser that came about in a similar fashion to the one we conceded early in the second half through Sunjic. Wayne Rooney of all people emulated Marc Roberts in air shotting a clearance to the midfielder whose fierce drive from the edge of the box was unstoppable. Blues could and should have gone on to win but their intensity dropped and just as the game appeared to be petering out for a draw the comedy show started!

Krystian Pedersen, for reasons only he will know tried to shepherd a ball out for a goal kick when there was clearly not enough pace on it. He had the hooves of two Derby players thundering in his ears and of course they robbed him, Pedersen slipped and ended up on the deck and it was a simple task for the gleeful Marriott to pass square to his team mate, Whittaker. His first shot from eight yards was saved by Camp but a diving header to the rebound made it 2-1 and game over. As if to rub it in, Derby added a third through Sibley with our defenders backing off and applying no pressure on the ball. A curling shot around the defender into the near post top corner was the result and it was 3-1 in a game Blues had largely dominated. I’ve heard from one or two people that we didn’t deserve to lose and we were unlucky.

I’m sorry but I beg to differ. This sort of performance has become a recurring theme all season. We simply don’t defend properly and it is maddeningly down to basics. The players we have are a lot better than they are displaying of late but, and this is the crux of the matter, they are nevertheless not good enough!

Our club is in deep trouble in my opinion. We have not won in the league since February, some fifteen games ago. It is very fortunate that there were only eight games left rather than say ten because my friends had there been I am in no doubt that we would be looking at the map to find the way to some very different venues next season. I am glad in one way that the season got played out because it has served to expose huge frailties in our squad which is threadbare in quality to say the very least. Had the EFL gone for points per game to settle the final positions we would have finished higher in the league and been lulled into a false sense of security.

As it is a significant root and branch reform of the squad is required and there isn’t much time to do it but at least we know where we stand which is in a bad place but we have one opportunity now to do something about it. There was an emotional send off for Jude Bellingham as he was substituted last night. The lad gave everything he had for a lost cause and this final defeat must have hurt him gravely. I am sure I am not alone in wishing him well for what I am sure, health permitting, will be a glittering career at Borussia Dortmund and England. The club has been paid a lot of money by the German club for his services and that financial injection must not be wasted.

It is clear that we have a defence that leaks worse than a bucket made of chicken wire. I am certain that Pedersen will not be with at the start of the new season. I suspect he will go and that we should turn a profit on our original investment. We will need another left back who defends properly and can get up and down the pitch. I feel we need a big lump of a centre half who can marshal the back line and add some height. I’m old school when it comes to centre backs; I want them to kick it and head it away and when the ball is at their feet, give it to someone better than them! A player that can compete at corners and free kicks in both boxes will do nicely. A strong leader of this type should improve the other defenders we have and get them playing with a bit more confidence.

Clearly, we now need the creativity we are losing with Jude’s departure. That will be difficult as you have to go some to get someone as good as him but there should be opportunities to be had following the present health crisis. Football will have to change as clubs have had little or no income over the last six months. There are players in top leagues all over Europe that will be finding themselves surplus to requirements because of good old fashioned economics. Good Premiership squad players may find themselves redundant as a result and there are undoubtedly going to be diamonds in the rough as such players have to accept the reality of dropping down the league for less money in order to ply a living.

The appointment of a new coach who knows our league and has good contacts in the game is therefore essential as time is of the essence. Gary Gardner and Crowley looked good last night and I would keep them. Sunjic is another player we should keep but alternatively we could cash in on him if we can get similar to what we paid for him as holding midfielders are fairly easy to find. Hopefully, Kieftenbeld will get back to his best after his serious injury. We need at least two wide players. Jeremie Bela, I like and he is exciting using his pace to go by people but that fact that he can’t last 90 minutes is of concern. To be effective he has to be able to do what he does far more often otherwise he will be relegated to the role of part time bit player or impact sub.

Two new strikers and that assumes we can secure Scott Hogan’s services. I think he suits us but has suffered from the lack of fans in the stadium. He is one of those blokes who feeds off atmosphere and with St Andrew’s rocking once again, I think he will come good. We need more options than warhorse Lukas Jutkiewicz and Scott as we are incredibly predictably one dimensional otherwise. Whatever happens, our hierarchy had better get the key decisions right because if they don’t we will not be as fortunate next term.

The Good: The season is over and we don’t have to endure any more of this torture.

The Bad: The last eight games since lockdown; six defeats in eight and the two draws were salvage jobs from losing positions. It’s been dreadful.

The Ugly: The future unless something radical is done.

Birmingham City: Lee Camp, Maxime Colin, Harlee Dean, Krystian Pedersen, Daniel Crowley (Maikel Kieftenbeld 79) Jeremie Bela (Miguel Fernandez 90) Gary Gardner (Scott Hogan 90) Jude Bellingham (Caolan Boyd-Munce 75) Ivan Sunjic, Lukas Jutkiewicz.

Yellow cards: None.

Goals: Sunjic 57.

Derby County: Kelle Roos (Ben Hamer 16) Graeme Shinnie (Morgan Whittaker 65) Martyn Waghorn (Louie Sibley 65) Matthew Clarke, Chris Martin, Wayne Rooney (Evans 65) Curtis Davies, Jayden Bogle, Jason Knight (Jack Marriott 83) Max Bird, Lee Buchanon.

Subs not used: Craig Forsyth, Florian Jozefzoon, Max Lowe, Jordan Brown.

Yellow cards: None

Goals: Shinnie 6, Whittaker 87, Sibley 90+1.

Referee: Tim Robinson.

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