I wasn’t able to go to the game because of work commitments which almost made me late for the kick off on ITV but I managed to get back just in time. Those of you who were not there will have undoubtedly watched like I did, the television coverage of the game, so it is not my intention to give a detailed account of events here but having now bowed out of the FA Cup for this year I thought I would make some brief observations.
Firstly I thought a patched up Blues team, with N’Daw playing in an unfamiliar left back role in a 4-5-1 formation with Rooney on the right, again in unfamiliar territory, gave an excellent account of themselves against a strong Chelsea line up that despite the absence of Drogba, Lampard, Cole and Terry was still likely to be far too strong for a weakened Birmingham. It could have started very badly had Mata showed more composure in the first minute when he fluffed a great chance to put Chelsea in control of the tie. Put through by N’Daw’s poor positioning the Spaniard elected to shoot rather than find Kalou in splendid isolation in front of Doyle’s goal and the chance ended up in the Tilton.
Torres who was simply dreadful all game missed a great chance near the end of the first half having done the hard bit by rolling round his marker to find himself 16 yards out with only Doyle to beat; he dragged the effort wide. In between these two incidents Blues were largely the better side with the lone Zigic up front on his own outstanding despite being kicked in the head twice (both accidental) by Luiz. Blood was shed by the big man who nearly scored with a header that Cech had to tip over the bar. He was ably supported by Elliott, Mutch and Gomis in a midfield that gave their illustrious visitors the hurry up and unsettled them. Chelsea ominously did come more into the game just before the break and when I spoke to Chris who was at the game at half-time he said that we had started allowing Chelsea to play and this comment turned out to be prophetic.
Chelsea took charge in the second half and the opening goal duly arrived in their favour despite the fact that there was an element of fortune about it as the ball ran kindly for Mata who toe poked the ball past the unsighted Doyle whose hand couldn’t get enough purchase to keep it out. I felt that if Blues could re-establish some ascendency again they would still have a chance; that was of course until Meireles crashed a glorious cracking shot into the top corner from 25 yards that would grace any match and be worthy of winning any game as it did in this case. N’Daw’s clumsy challenge on Torres resulted in a penalty which Mata inexplicably tried to identically place to Doyle’s right just like the first time at Stamford Bridge albeit with more power. This gave Blues a lift and reverting to 4-4-2 with Burke at right back and Spector on the left when King replaced the confused and totally spent N’Daw there was a flurry of huff and puff with relentless pressure on the Chelsea goal for the first time in the half but the visitors held firm. A fabulous through ball by Burke to Mutch which split Chelsea asunder was blasted high into the Tilton as the ball took a cruel bobble on the bumpy pitch.
Chelsea were worthy victors but Blues did themselves justice. It is fitting that they didn’t get pasted as they could have done had Torres and Mata taken their first half chances, Mata had converted the penalty and Sturridge had not trod on the ball when it was easier to tap in from six yards in the second half. Birmingham did not deserve a five or six nil thumping and came out of the game with their honour and pride intact. The penalty save may, in a strange way, be a pivotal moment; not in this game but for the rest of the season going forward. A thumping last night could have seen our season completely unravel and instead this can be put behind us and the team can go into two important away fixtures at Coventry and Leicester with renewed confidence; after all neither of these sides are Chelsea and if we can play with the same drive and commitment showed last night there is no reason why Blues cannot conclude this season with a real tilt at promotion. Should we do so 2011-12 will be one of the most memorable seasons ever? Congratulations to Chelsea they deserve to go on and well done Blues for sticking to the task. There was no disgrace in defeat last night.
The Good: The performance from every one of the Blues players some of whom had to perform roles alien to them.
The Bad: Fernando Torres’ performance; he even declined the penalty kick when it was offered to him. It is sad to see such a world class player playing with zero confidence.
The Ugly: Nasty kick on the head resulting in crimson stuff from Zigic’s head. His lunge at Cahill was reckless and some referees would have sanctioned the challenge with a red card but I think a yellow was the correct call.
Birmingham City: Colin Doyle 7 Jonathan Spector 7 Curtis Davies 6 Pablo Ibanez 7 Guirane N’Daw 5 (Marlon King 72, 6) Nathan Redmond 5 Jordon Mutch 6 Morgaro Gomis 6 Wade Elliott 7 Adam Rooney 6 (Chris Burke 7) Nikola Zigic 7
Bookings: Zigic, N’Daw
Chelsea Petr Cech 7 Branislav Ivanovic 7 David Luiz 6 Gary Cahill 7 Ryan Bertrand 7 Raul Meireles 7 Juan Mata 7 (Michael Essien 89, N/A) Mikel Ramires 6 (Frank Lampard 76, 6) Saloman Kalou 6 (Daniel Sturridge 60, 7) Fernado Torres 4
Goals: Mata 54, Meireles 60
Referee: Anthony Taylor 7; a good solid performance and little to argue with the key decisions.
Attendance 21,822 (3,220 away fans)