I left work later than I would have liked but was lucky with the traffic and managed to clear the M25 before it did its impression of a car park as is its wont at just after 4 pm during the week. I reached Chris’ pub at Baginton in good time and enjoyed a drink before we set off for the M69 and Leicester. Little Jack’s Mum, Emma had a netball game in Leicester and was able to give us a lift sparing us the hassle of finding a place to park before the game. So it was that we arrived just before kick off and took our seats; that is the ones that we all stood in front of. People seem to be standing to watch their football more and more which frankly, I don’t mind since it adds to the atmosphere. As I rather predicted, Wade Elliott came into a five man midfield with Zigic up top, Burke, Fahey, N’Daw, Elliott and Townsend behind him. The back four was change about again as Spector reverted to right back with Ramage left and Caldwell and Davies in the middle. Boaz Myhill completed the line up. The best laid plans were disrupted early on as Spector went off injured to be replaced by Ibanez who went to centre back with Curtis Davies filling in at right back. The injuries to key personnel in the back four have coincided with our dip in form and the return of Carr and Murphy cannot come quick enough.
This was the proverbial game of two halves with Birmingham the better side by far in the first period and the home side dominating in the second. Before I forget to mention it, Blues did not play badly despite the seemingly comfortable defeat. Things are not going Blues’ way at the moment and it is all too easy to get all down and gloomy about our play off prospects as we appear to be falling out of contention and yet in the same breath Leicester are being talked of as getting into the top six. Whilst there is a lot of football to be played before the season proper ends, I cannot see them making it as they would need about 25 points from ten games which is a tall order in this league without being disrespectful to the Foxes who deserved their victory last night over the whole piece but they were lucky not to be at least 3-1 down at half time but credit to them for riding their good fortune and capitalising on an injury affected, very tired Birmingham team towards the end.
Blues bossed the midfield exchanges from the off and much of the play was conducted in the Leicester half but it was former Blue, Neil Danns who provided the first attempt on goal when he shot wide from twenty yards but Myhill had the attempt well covered. Wade Elliott forced Kasper Schmeichel into a save not long after as Blues began to dominate. Zigic was clearly a concern for the Leicester defence and on 19 minutes he was clearly fouled for a penalty by Kennedy and Bamba. The referee correctly awarded the kick immediately and he couldn’t very well not do so. Even from our vantage point it was a foul as clear as day but after the game, Nigel Pearson described the award as ‘dubious!’ All I can say is; if that is dubious then penalty kicks will never be awarded again! I cannot understand that when your team have won the match 3-1 that football club officials still cannot find one single crumb of sportsmanship and magnanimity and admit that the referee actually got it right. It was a clear penalty calmly dispatched by Elliott and Blues had a deserved lead.
It should have been two on the half hour when from a corner, Zigic’s header crashed against the bar and down and Caldwell’s follow up header was cleared off the line. Blues were all over the home side at this point when against the run of play, Leicester scored. Kennedy’s cross from the left was headed back across goal by Nugent. The ball looked to be going wide but it rebounded back off the far post to alight at the feet of Beckford two yards out for a tap in. A lucky goal true enough but the turning point of the game as it gave Leicester confidence to come back into a game that they were never in to that point. Nevertheless Blues should have restored the lead on the stroke of half time when Elliott turned Wes Morgan in the penalty area. His clipped cross found Davies whose cross in turn found Townsend who volleyed across a gaping goal when only four yards out instead of making the home side pay for slack marking; this was to prove a costly miss.
I felt we could go on and win the match based on the first half performance by Blues; Chris was less convinced and he was proved to be right. His brother, Will who couldn’t join us last night, has stated all season that we tend to have a good half and a bad half and so it was again. In fairness Leicester were so much better in the second period and dominated proceedings after the break. Boaz Myhill was called on increasingly as Leicester, all swagger and poise having been outplayed earlier, ran a tiring Blues side ragged. A Richie Wellens shot from distance was fisted clear and the ball spun to Beckford whose overhead kick from 10 yards failed to find the mark. Myhill had to make a fine reaction stop from a fierce shot from Schlupp after he burst onto a through ball leaving N’Daw flat footed. You could sense a breakthrough was coming and with ten minutes left the game was up. A simple long ball was pumped forward by Kennedy between the static Ibanez and Caldwell who compared to the pacy Schlupp have the turning circles of an oil tanker. The substitute latched onto the pass and coolly slotted the ball between the advancing Myhill’s legs.
Desperation took over at this point as Ramage was withdrawn and Huseklepp sent on in his stead. Three at the back and up and at ‘em it was then. We all say that it is far better to lose 3-1 having a go trying to make it 2-2 than lose meekly 2-1 protecting your goal difference. The risks are well known and it failed to pay off on this occasion. Blues did have a go and Wade Elliott came close with a curling shot following set up work by King and Huseklepp on the edge of the box but with seconds remaining and everyone up in Leicester’s box for a free-kick, Sol Bamba hoofed the ball clear and it turned into a perfectly weighted pass for Beckford to run beyond last man Pablo from halfway. I doubt there was much intent on Bamba’s part but it didn’t matter as Beckford outpaced the veteran Spaniard to slot another for the Foxes for a deserved, if flattering, score line.
Blues have registered only two points out of the last twelve with defeats against Forest and now Leicester and draws to Derby and Coventry. This is hardly promotion form but we have to try and not get too down about this. Other teams are having problems when they would expect to forge ahead and the situation is tight in the top half of the table. I do not believe that last night’s defeat represents a lethal blow to our play off aspirations any more than it meant that our problems were over had we won. Blues do need to get back on the winning trail soon and the next three games against Middleborough, Portsmouth and Cardiff will decide our season I suspect. I believe we can still make the play offs but it’s going to be tougher than perhaps it should have been. I am certain that the players would love to go back to the game at home against Forest and replay it all from there but we can’t and we just have to keep right on believing. The correct team won last night; let’s hope that that team is us come 5 pm Saturday afternoon.
The Good: Excellent first half performance apart from our finishing.
The Bad: The injury to Spector, our lack of full back cover and our subsequent poor defending for Leicester’s goals especially the equaliser which was the turning point of the game.
The Ugly: The fat bloke at the back of the stand banging the drum.
Leicester (4-4-2): Schmeichel 7, St Ledger 6, Bamba 7, Morgan 7, Kennedy 6, Gallagher 6 (Marshall 61, 6), Wellens 7, Danns 8, Dyer 6, Nugent 7(Schlupp 71, 7), Beckford 7.
Subs not used: Mills, Howard, Drinkwater.
Bookings: St Ledger (foul, 40), Kennedy (foul, 70)
Blues (4-4-1-1): Myhill 6, Spector 5 (Ibanez 10, 5) Ramage 5, (Huseklepp 82, N/A) Davies 7, Caldwell 5, Burke 6, N’Daw 6, Fahey. 6, Townsend 7, Elliott 7, Zigic 7 (King 65, 6).
Subs not used: Gomis, Doyle.
Bookings: Caldwell (foul, 71)
Referee: M Russell (Herts) 7: Despite showing inconsistency, overall the officials were fair and decisive. It was good to see that he didn’t bottle the penalty decision although it was an obvious call in my view despite the Leicester Manager’s desciption of ‘dubious’.
Attendance: 21,092 (away 1,483 – excellent noise and atmosphere from the travelling faithful).