It was an early start; on the road at 07.30 as I had to go an see my elderly aunt, nearly ninety, and spinster cousin who live in Sutton Coldfield and both have health issues which – being the one and only medically qualified person in my family – I tend to get tasked with. It was an excuse to see them and for all their ailments it was an enjoyable visit and I got away from there just after midday for the 40 or so miles over to Leicester. The weather was filthy on the way up but had brightened up by the time I arrived at a business park about ten minutes walk from the ground.
I wasn’t hopeful of a positive result from this game. The consensus feeling is that Leicester will be a definite play off contender this year and are a force to be reckoned with at their home ground, but, despite all that, Blues should have won this game. The result did eventually go against us as I rather thought it would but in a well fought contest there were periods in the match when Blues were the better side, especially the first half hour of the second half when we created enough chances to have comfortably claimed all the points. True we did have to withstand a fair amount of pressure at times but we kept an increasingly frustrated Leicester side at arms length for most of the game.
Blues got off to a cracking start when a well worked move out to Ferguson playing wide in Lee Clark’s presently favoured 3-5-2 system was crossed in by the youngster where Matt Green finished smartly. The vocal away support was in raptures and I have to say Blues continued to give as good as they got, looking dangerous when going forwards and restricting the home side to playing in front of what became a back five, forcing them to try their luck from range. Randolph had little to do although he was brave in diving at Nugent’s feet in the first couple of minutes of the game, causing a delay that converted into four minutes at the end of the half; 1-0 up at half time and so far so good.
In the second half I felt Blues largely had the better of it and there were opportunities to catch Leicester on the break as they pushed forward chasing the game. Shinnie and Novak had at least two opportunities to shoot when well placed but chose to shirk the responsibility allowing the rugged Leicester defender chances to clear. Another chance went begging when after a flowing move the option to pass was correctly taken but the pass into Novak was poorly executed and Schmeichel was allowed too close proximity and effected a save. He was certainly the busier of the two keepers and kept out a good dipping free kick from Eardley low down at his right hand post. From a corner taken by Fergusson, Shinnie moved well to the near post and any kind of flick on and danger would have resulted but he missed it as the ball whisked past his forehead rather than making contact with it. Another header from a corner from I think Adeyemi was drilled straight at the keeper instead of back the way it came when a sure goal would have been the result. A second goal during this period when Blues were on top and I believe they would have secured the points.
As it was, the lead remained slender but our back line looked solid enough. Clark withdrew Green, our one out and out striker on 58 minutes and replaced him with Shinnie presumably in a “what we have we hold” move. Needless to say the inevitable happened and Leicester – who hadn’t really looked like scoring – duly did in the 77th minute with a fine strike by James Vardy. The home stands that had been as silent as a row of church pews at a funeral suddenly were all full of noise and the momentum turned. Now Lee Clark withdrew Ferguson and replaced him with Kyle Bartley presumably to shore things up and at least protect the now 1-1 score line? Well that didn’t work either; tails up, Leicester scored a carbon copy goal from the edge of the area, this time by Andy King and exactly what happened two seasons ago reoccurred. A game that was won was suddenly lost and with eight minutes to go the home fans who could hardly believe their luck were cock-a-hoop. Burke came on at 82 minutes immediately after the second Leicester goal for a too-little-too-late cameo but there was a penalty dispatched by Nugent on 88 minutes before the end which gave the score line a wholly unrepresentative look given the match as a whole. Colin Tattum in the Birmingham Mail described Kyle Bartley’s tackle on Lloyd Dyer as “dodgy” whereas Karen Carney who was commentating on Blues Player said she felt Leicester should have had at least three penalties. Make of all this what you will, but the decision that was given looked clear enough to me and I was at the other end of the pitch. Can’t say I agree with Karen about two others though. There was a tackle on Nugent by Robinson mid way through the half but the referee was five yards away and immediately indicated that the ball was cleanly won. I’ve no complaints about the award he did make however.
The Blues fans were magnificent all afternoon and stayed with the team despite the disappointingly heartbreaking turn of events in the last few minutes. They didn’t deserve the loss but that’s football. At least Chris Burke reduced the arrears with a lovely curling strike with his left foot into the far corner giving Schmeichel no chance but it was too late and no more time remained to complete the comeback.
As I said earlier, Birmingham should have won this game but instead they contrived to lose it and that was the only way Leicester were ever going to come out winners. Their goals were excellent strikes but the game should have been put to bed before they scored. We lost because we failed to take good chances that we created, Shinnie and Novak being the main culprits. We lost because Lee Clark tried to shut up shop far too early in my view and Birmingham teams have traditionally been rubbish at doing that throughout the ages. We lost because we removed our one true goal scoring threat in the form of Green and when adversity did overtake then there were few options left apart from Burke who was brought on far too late.
I do not pretend to have the answers to our dilemma at the moment of seemingly being able to play good football, perform well and yet end up with nothing. The doom and gloomsayers will throw up their hands and say it’s all the owner’s fault or Peter Pannu is bleeding the club dry or Zigic’s wages are crippling us and we can’t afford anyone as a result and that the players aren’t good enough. Others claim that the formation of 3-5-2 isn’t working; well yes and no, we do look solid when we play it and Dan Burn was immense again yesterday in the middle of the back three and headed everything that came into our box. Ferguson played very well out on the left and can provide us with the necessary wing back role; his cross for Green’s goal was excellent. However, Eardley is not a wing back in my opinion and it gives the team an unbalanced look. He cannot beat anyone and therefore tends to cross from deep or switch the play to the left. His crossing when he does deliver it leaves much to be desired. However, the most negative aspect of the formation from our point of view is that Chris Burke cannot fit into the system. Our strengths for what they are, are our wide men, Ferguson and Burke, and Clark therefore has to find a way of including both of them even if it means playing 4-5-1 or 4-3-3. All this having been said it doesn’t matter what formation you play if your players aren’t good enough and that my friends is the stark truth of it but Blues did play well yesterday despite the disappointing result and deserve our backing which was provided in good measure at the King Power. It’s going to be a long hard winter for us but I believe there are more than three teams that will fare worse than us this season. As for Leicester, a predicted play off place? Yes, but there are at least three teams in this division that will fare better than them so not this time for them ultimately I’m afraid.
The Good: The support from the travelling faithful; fantastic!
The Bad: Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the missed chances and tactical errors by Lee Clark; poorly judged substitutions at the wrong times.
The Ugly: Haven’t looked at the fledgling Championship table but I suspect it doesn’t make good reading.
Birmingham City: Randolph 7; Eardley 6, Mullins 6 (Burke 82, N/A), Burn 9 Robinson 7, Ferguson 8 (Bartley 78, 5); Adeyemi 6, Elliott 7, Spector 7; Green 8 (Shinnie 58, 6), Novak 6.
Unused subs: Doyle, Ambrose, Reilly, Allan
Booking: Bartley 88.
Leicester City: Schmeichel 7, DeLaet 7, Drinkwater 6 (Dyer 46, 8) Whitbread 7, James 6, Vardy 8, King 9, Schlupp 6, Moore 7, Nugent 6, Wood 6 (Knockaert, 46, 7).
Unused subs: Logan, Bakayogo, Miguel, Danns, Waghorn.
Referee: Eddie Ilderton 8: I thought the referee had a good game. He allowed the match to flow, played advantage when it was warranted and I felt made the right calls with the various penalty shouts. I do not hold with some of those who blamed the referee partially for this defeat, we lost because of our own shortcomings nothing else.