Baz and his view of yesterday.
In the end, my Saturday was not completely spoiled as in the evening I took my wife to see Colin Firth in the new film ‘The King’s Speech’ which for those of you that haven’t had a chance to see it is well worth it. You’ll gather from this initial statement that I didn’t travel up all the way to Manchester for this game because to be honest I didn’t want to pay £45 per ticket plus all the petrol money, food and drink costs and the huge investment time that would have taken out half the weekend. Besides, I thought that it was an awfully long way to go to see the lads get beat. I had very low expectations of this game and as it unfolded I was not disavowed in this belief.
I sat in front of my computer and managed to get a good stream with excellent picture and commentary. As expected Alex McLeish set the team out to 4-5-1 with Jordan Mutch coming in for his Premier League debut in central midfield with Bentley, Ferguson, Hleb and Fahey making up the quintet. Matt Derbyshire was given the thankless task ploughing a lone furrow up front on his own. The back four was unchanged with Murphy at left back and Ridgewell reverting to centre half in place of the injured Scott Dann.
Within 90 seconds of the start of the game we were 1-0 down when a simple corner from the right was flicked on far too easily by O’Shea for Berbatov to head in his first goal of the afternoon from barely a foot out. Manchester United 1 Dog and Duck 0. This was a simply awful goal to concede with less than 2 min on the clock. If our game plan had been to stifle Manchester United and be an exercise in damage limitation, it had already failed spectacularly! For the first 15 min, Birmingham were completely outplayed aided and abetted by dreadful ball retention by our midfielders with Alexander Hleb being by far the worst offender. I counted at least half a dozen times that he was either caught in possession or misplaced simple passes. The other thing that became patently clear was that Nani was time and again getting in far too easily down the right flank and giving Murphy a torrid time.
Before writing this blog article I took the trouble to carefully review the game of the day recording on SKY television and it becomes clear that simply pointing the finger of blame at Murphy is both unfair and incorrect. The problem occurring was both full backs were being made to tuck in far too narrow leaving acres of space on the big Old Trafford pitch. It is all very well setting yourself up to be nice and tight and compact at the back sacrificing space out in the channels and dealing with any crosses the do come in from out wide but when you are up against world-class players such as Nani and Ryan Giggs it is sheer folly. These two players particularly destroyed any semblance of respectability that we were ever likely to take from this game. It struck me afterwards that if Alex McLeish was writing this game off from the start and set out his stall to park the bus then he would have been far better playing five across the back bringing in Jirinek as a third centre half to allow the full backs to go out wider.
As it was, Blues appeared to settle after the first 20 min and enjoyed a reasonable spell up to the half-hour mark when they started to pass the ball with a little bit more surety. Just when it looked as if there was at least a modicum of control, Roger Johnson contrived to give the ball away sloppily to Wayne Rooney who fed Berbatov in the box. The Bulgarian turned Johnson far too easily and slotted an easy near post finish past the hapless Foster. It was of course, game over! Further chances fell to Gibson who had come on for Carrick injured accidentally by Hleb earlier in the half, and Giggs who was inches wide with a shot fortunately deflected by Mutch. We were getting a right pasting from an immeasurably superior team but as the board went up showing 2 min remaining I felt that if we could get in only 2-0 down we might be able to make necessary changes to keep the score down to a reasonable level. Blues shot themselves in the foot for the final time in the half seconds before the whistle when a careless pass by Bentley was cut out by Berbatov who despite losing his footing managed to get the ball to Rooney down the right flank. A lovely one-two between these two players resulted in a perfect right-wing cross by Rooney across the 6 yard box to Ryan Giggs beyond far post. The Welshman made no mistake from very difficult angle placing the ball in the only part of the goal that he could have scored just under the bar for 3-0 and the goal of the game. Giggs is 37 years of age and what a player he still is; despite his age he is far, far better than any player in our squad. It had been a calamitous 45 min from which there was clearly no way back and the plan had to be to try and keep the score line below that of cricket score.
Cameron Jerome came on for Hleb at the start of the second half which was no surprise given the hapless performance by the Belarusian. When Wayne Rooney missed an absolute sitter with a header from 3 yards on 47 min I feared that the score was going to be six or seven. The Blues performance was summed up a minute or so later when Murphy crossed from the left when in good position and promptly buried it into the crowd behind the goal. Blues chances were fleeting and following a good run and shot by Bentley on 51 min which was just wide Birmingham went on the attack again and a nice ball into the channel for Stephen Carr was prevented by the out rushing Van der Saar. As if a demonstration that it was not going to be Birmingham’s day was ever needed it was that the goalkeeper’s clearance down the wing alighted at Rooney’s feet and his beautiful control allowed an equally adept pass to Ryan Giggs down the left who then delightfully dinked the ball into Berbatov who finished with aplomb to complete his hat-trick. This was top-class finish and I doubt that many teams in the Premier League would have prevented it.
Ryan Giggs was substituted on 55 min (Thank God!) However, Michael Owen was brought on in his stead but it made very little difference to the one-way traffic that typified this game. Our only real chance of the game came from a mistake by Vidic which was seized on by Matt Derbyshire whose smart cross received the tiniest of deflections from Van der Saar which was just enough to take the ball agonisingly just behind Fahey rushing in at the far post for what would have been an easy tap in. The pressure from the home side was unrelenting and Nani stung Foster’s hands with a fierce shot from 25 yards much to the annoyance of his team mates and crowd who were beginning to get impatient with the brilliant, Portuguese player who despite his all-round excellent game, was becoming self-indulgent much to Blues’ benefit for had he not been so I fear the score would have been double what it eventually turned out to be. Despite this, Foster was unable to prevent Nani eventually getting on the score sheet on 75 min. The humiliation of a sixth goal was only narrowly avoided when Nani again and Michael Owen missed good chances during the next 5 min. To add further insult to injury Cameron Jerome’s goal bound shot in injury time struck Matt Derbyshire standing in an offside position to complete a miserable afternoon. Mike Jones, the referee was obviously feeling merciful and allowed only 2 min of time at the end of the ninety.
The benefit of watching the extended recording this morning has been beneficial before writing this report. Initially, like most Blues supporters I found yesterday’s game a depressing, humiliating and soul destroying experience. I thought that when I replayed the game back that I would think that it was every bit as bad as I thought the first time. However, I was surprised that this was not the case. There were periods in the game between the goals when Birmingham played okay. It is very easy to concentrate on the shortcomings of our team of which there are a number and not for a moment would I try and hide that fact. However, it has to be acknowledged that Manchester United had better players in every single position on the pitch yesterday and in particular the class of Berbatov, Rooney, Nani, Anderson and the imperious and irrepressible Ryan Giggs who was simply fabulous to watch, was far too much for Blues to cope with.
It is been suggested that Alex McLeish had one eye on the cup semi-final in the week but I would suggest that he had two eyes on it instead. In some ways, when we went with two forwards up front in the second half we looked better. We were hopelessly outplayed in midfield and if this is the case you may as well be outplayed with one less midfielder than with five across the park. I thought Jordan Mutch was overawed by the occasion and that Hleb had a dreadful game in the first half and rightly got the hook. Far better sides than us will go to Old Trafford this season and get turned over. The Reds were absolutely rampant yesterday and in many ways we were unfortunate to be on the wrong end of what was one of their best performances so far this season having watched their progress like many this campaign.
The awful defending the first goal set the tone for the game and at least two of the goals could have been prevented by care and attention to the basics of passing the ball to a team mate when only 30 yards or so from goal. Teams like Manchester United are ruthless in punishing the feckless and slapdash because they have pace, power, excellent ball control and retention in all areas of the pitch as well as clinical finishing skills and that is why they will win the Premier league title again this year. For us, it is onwards to St Andrews on Wednesday when we face West Ham United who thankfully are nowhere near the team that Manchester United are. There is a slight blessing in being 2-1down in the tie and going into it on the back of a drubbing. I hope and pray and indeed plead that Alex McLeish and his management team set the team out to attack West Ham and have a real go at them because we simply have to win the game. Please Alex, do not waste this fleeting opportunity of a trip to Wembley for those of us who were only toddlers the last time Birmingham contested a major cup final at that venue. The Bluenose nation expects; do not fail us!
The Good: Our fans that travelled up the M6 to the game and continued to sing ‘Keep Right On’ even at 5-0 down. This fantastic support from the 1300 souls there was far more than yesterday’s performance deserved. I think I would have had great difficulty adding my voice to theirs had I travelled 180 miles to this game.
The Bad: The formation, our defending, lack of pride, passion and frankly effort. We got from this game what we put into it which was nothing.
The Ugly: The score and what it has done to our goal difference in one fell swoop.
Manchester United: Edwin van der Sar 8; John O’Shea 8, Chris Smalling 7, Nemanja Vidic 7 (c), Patrice Evra 7 (Fabio da Silva, 46, 7); Nani 8, Anderson 8, Michael Carrick 7 (Darren Gibson, 24, 8), Ryan Giggs 9 (Michael Owen, 55, 7); Dimitar Berbatov 9, Wayne Rooney 9. Subs (Not Used): Tomasz Kuszczak, Paul Scholes, Jonny Evans, Gabriel Obertan.
Goals: Berbatov (2, 31, 53), Giggs (45+2), Nani (76)
Birmingham City: Ben Foster 7; Stephen Carr 6 (c), Roger Johnson 6, Liam Ridgewell 6, David Murphy 5; David Bentley 6 (Craig Gardner, 85, N/A), Jordon Mutch 5, Barry Ferguson 6, Keith Fahey 5 (Sebastian Larsson, 64, 5), Alexander Hleb 4 (Cameron Jerome, 46, 6); Matt Derbyshire 6. Subs (Not Used): Colin Doyle, Lee Bowyer, Nikola Zigic, Martin Jiranek.
Referee: Michael Jones (Cheshire) 8; easy game to referee to be honest; the match was so one-sided there was nothing of contention throughout.