It has been a chequered week one way and another for technology both at home and at work. I did actually attend the game in midweek at Bristol City and was preparing my report as usual on Wednesday at home after what had been a very busy day made longer by my office computer system at work having a mind of its own. When my home computer crashed at the moment I was just completing my article losing all the work I’d done in the process, I decided that God was a Villa fan and he truly hated me. My Internet connection had gone down anyway and so I gave up late at night and abandoned all hope of ever getting a piece out for publication. Some may feel that is a blessing. By the time the technology issues had been resolved the Bristol experience was old news and I didn’t bother in the end. Before moving on however there are a few points I’d like to add. Firstly, despite the fact that their team were relegated on the night, I thought the Bristol fans were absolutely magnificent in the way they never stopped their full throated support of their team. They kept one chant going for over 20 minutes in the second half which I thought was fantastic and gave as good as they got in the face of a loud visiting cohort from our fair city. I wish Bristol well next year since with backing like that they have an excellent chance of being back soon enough.
As for Blues, we played some good stuff in the first period and should have put the game to bed. They took their foot off the gas in the second half but held on comfortably enough and I always felt there was another gear in Blues had they needed it. Though they made heavy weather of it, the win was deserved. The team adopted their favoured away formation of 4-5-1 which has worked well in recent times at Palace, Leicester and now Bristol and there was speculation that Lee Clark might continue with this set up against Leeds at home, not in a negative way but in order to prevent the opposition getting too many opportunities to score by outnumbering us in midfield. The other thing that has struck me about the formation is that for the first time in a long time we have suitable personnel to play it and we look balanced as a team which has not always been the case playing the more orthodox 4-4-2 at home.
Our paltry record of only six wins prior to the Leeds game tells its own story and has cost us dearly this season. We look more solid as a five across the park but can exploit the pace of Redmond and Ferguson out wide going forward. On Tuesday, my one main misgiving was that Mitch Hancox struggled against Albert Adomah and Bristol moreover doubled up on him at times meaning that they threatened from that flank. Ferguson did attempt to help Hancox but both are quite diminutive and Hancox especially looks as if he needs to spend the summer in the gym working on his upper body strength. Hancox, for all that, stuck to his task against the pacy Ghanaian and will have learned a lot from his run in the team. Paul Robinson was excellent alongside Davies and Caddis contributed with overlapping runs in tandem with Redmond as well as attending to his defensive duties. Elliott played well I thought and took his goal nicely and Zigic lead the line well winning most of the ball in the air played up to him. I felt our players could have exploited this area of dominance a little better and finally a little less over elaboration by Redmond and Morrison may have yielded a more comfortable score line. So would Lee Clark persist with the same team?
The answer was yes; well almost, Hayden Mullins came in in place of Callum Reilly but the 4-5-1 formation was adhered to. A youthful Blues side took the game to Leeds in the first half and in reality should have been out of sight in by half time. We created chances that on another day with a little bit more precision, a little more luck and a bit more run of the ball would have resulted in a comfortable two or three nil lead at the interval. Ravel Morrison struck the bar in the 12th minute with a lovely curling chip, Mullins fired over on the volley when well placed, Nathan Redmond fired straight at Kenny but Leeds also nearly scored when Butland fumbled Austin’s effort and nearly presented the visitors with the lead but he redeemed himself with a smart save from Tonge.
In the second half the inevitable surge from the away team came and some nervy moments occurred before Blues finally took the lead somewhat against the run of play in the 70th minute. In a breakaway attack, the momentum appeared to have been quenched by the Leeds defence until Nathan Redmond, who had switched to the left with the introduction of Chris Burke for Shane Ferguson, picked up the ball and turned inside unleashing a fierce shot that Paddy Kenny parried. Following in was Hayden Mullins who tapped in from six yards out. At this point I have to say that Mullins had one of the best games I have seen from him in a Blues shirt and ran the excellent Paul Robinson close for the man of the match award in my view. It was good to see him control midfield and not continually give the ball away as he was doing earlier in the season. Overall it was difficult to fault his performance and to cap it off with the winning goal adds up to an excellent performance. I have been one of Hayden’s fiercest critics this season but he was good today and credit must be given where credit is due. The wind was largely taken out of the sails of Leeds when we scored and to be honest they were never the same force after going behind. Blues never looked like losing this one and the win was a lot more comfortable than the score suggests.
Sixty points have now been gained and relegation is now mathematically as well as practically impossible. The team in sixth place has 66 points, the maximum that Blues can achieve, but the reality is that despite the feelings of what might of been with wins against Wolves and Millwall for instance, the last thing that we as a club needed was to go into the play offs with that sort of momentum. Unlikely promotion of that type would have only resulted in a catastrophic campaign next year. Somehow, I think we are better off where we are.
The Good: A decent performance and a good win; a rarity at home this season! Chris and I met Frank Worthington in the Royal George before the game. Good to see the great man in good form.
The Bad: The fact that we didn’t win more comfortably.
The Ugly: The prospects of Wolves and The Vile after today’s results!
Birmingham City: Jack Butland 6 Paul Caddis 7 Paul Robinson 8 Curtis Davies 7 Mitch Hancox 7 Nathan Redmond 6 Hayden Mullins 7 Ravel Morrison 6 Wade Elliott 6 Shane Ferguson 6 (Chris Burke 62, 6) Nikola Zigic 7
Leeds United: Paddy Kenny 6 Tom Lees 6 Jason Pearce 6 Paul Green 6 Rodolph Austin 6 (Adam Drury 83, N/A) Luke Varney 7 Stephen Warnock 6 Michael Tonge 7 (Michael Peltier 63, 6) Sam Byram 6 El-Hadji Diouf 6 (Steve Morison 74, 6) Ross McCormack 6
Referee: Simon Hooper: 8. I thought the officials had an excellent game today for two reasons: firstly, I hardly noticed them, secondly, on the odd occasion Chris and me did disagree with a decision, there was not a hint of protest from the players of either side. This latter point suggests that they were right and we were wrong.