It was a dark dark morning in a dark dark Surrey suburb that Dilys, my beloved Welsh Terrier and I stepped out into early doors on the Saturday before Christmas. It was wet, cold and breezy and going to get windier if the doomsayers on the weather forecasts were to be believed. Nothing in my experience spoils a game of football more that high wind and it just has to be hoped that it negates the opposition more than your team but the goodness of time would tell. After a long walk, a chewy bone for Dilys and a bowl of muesli and a cup of black coffee for me, I set off in the direction of the station. I was running a little late so had to get a bit of a wiggle on arriving a couple of minutes before the train pulled in. The ticket machine decided to start playing up and no matter how much pressure I applied to the various touch screen items I wanted, it pleased itself whether to respond. After entreaties, not all of them the type that one would use in mixed company, I eventually ordered a ticket to New Street and put my credit card in. The train had now pulled in and people were getting on. The machine went whirr whirr and thought about its task at length slowly and I mean slowly dot matrixed my printed tickets. More entreaties ending in come on and hurry up ensued until finally the tickets were deposited in the Perspex flapped hopper at the bottom of the machine. They say don’t they that less haste more speed? Well, it was at this point that I struggled to retrieve my tickets from the hopper which contained a small amount of rainwater rendering the tickets sticky as the resin on them had welded them together. The expletives were coming thick and fast now as my train was about to move off. Sticky tickets in hand I dashed for the platform and I have the elderly, kindly guard to thank as he held the train a few vital seconds that made the difference and I jumped on the rear carriage just as the doors closed behind me.
I had rung my mate Chris first thing as he was able to go to a game for the first time in weeks now that his pub in Baginton was finally refurbished. He was due at King’s Heath Cemetery at midday so I elected to go all the way to Birmingham rather than get picked up at Coventry as would be our normal arrangement. The journey, having caught the initial train at Blackwater, was uneventful enough and I set off on foot down through the Bull Ring towards St. Martin’s Church where I waited for Chris and Little Jack to arrive to pick me up. We proceeded down to the ground where after parking up walked up to the Royal George. The weather as predicted had not got worse and the skies had actually cleared but it was still windy. Beer was required!
It was clear that a much bigger crowd was expected than we had been used to of late and the queues reflected that. After a couple of pints we decided to miss the crush getting into the ground and had another along with a steak and kidney pie inside. The game itself came and went with no score, the first ever between these two teams at St Andrews but it was nevertheless not a bad game of football. Blues put in a pretty decent performance overall especially in the first half when had it not been for four excellent saves by Darlow in the Forest goal Blues would have been at least a couple of goals to the good. Tom Adeyemi cracked a beauty of a cross shot early on that was fizzing into the far corner only for Darlow to save round the post; the referee gave a goal kick! The midfielder was unlucky when a few minutes later Darlow flapped at a ball lofted back in from a partially cleared corner and the ball came out to Adeyemi whose looping header only just cleared the crossbar. A whipped in free kick from the right by Lingard was headed downwards towards goal only for Darlow to save again and finally Chris Burke turning inside from the wing curled a fantastic 25 yard shot towards the top corner before Darlow pulled off the save of the match to push the ball to the safety of a corner. Zigic was guilty of failing to get his head to a wonderful whipped in cross from the byline from Burke just before the interval that any touch would surely have registered the first breakthrough but the chance skimmed by the big Serbian’s nut leaving the St Andrews’ faithful holding theirs. There was a sizeable contingent of away fans behind the Gil Merrick end and they added to the packed ranks of home faithful which made for an excellent atmosphere for a change.
The second half did not produce the flurry of chances of the first and certainly for the first 15-20 minutes Forest had the best of it putting Blues under pressure with a series of corners. The home defence was nearly caught napping from one of them when from a short corner routine, Halford’s resulting header when the cross did come in had to be cleared off the line by Nikola Zigic making some amends for his miss late in the first half. Henri Lansbury did have the ball in the net at a few minutes later but it was rightly chalked off as he headed the ball out of Randolf’s hands as he attempted to distribute with the ball fully under his control. Then came the unsavoury incident of the match when Robinson nicked the ball ahead of Forest substitute Darius Henderson who took exception to the challenge. Pushing his face into Robinson’s left referee, Mr Madeley with little choice; off went Henderson with Robbo picking up a yellow card. With very little time left, I felt Olly Lee was fortunate to escape a harsher sanction than the yellow card he received for a fly hack at a Forest midfielder as the visitors looked to break dangerously. A draw in the end was fair. Blues did not quite do enough to win the game despite dominating the first half. Forest edged the second period but they didn’t really threaten us apart from the Halford header. Randolf hardly had a save to make despite Forest having the upper hand after the break. It is for this reason that I cannot agree with Billy Davies that his side “were by far the better team in the second half” this statement is somewhat delusional; 16 goal attempts to 5 in favour of Blues with only 2 on target for Forest and one of those was easily caught by Randolph. Forest got what they came for; a point hoping to snatch three if the opportunity arose. As for Blues, they should have been over the hills and far away by the break and could so nearly have lost the game to the only clear cut chance Forest created with Halford’s header. Finally, Blues should have been awarded a penalty for a clear foul on Zigic as he threw himself at a beautiful whipped cross from Caddis at the death but he never gets them does he?
The Good: This, despite the score line was a good game of football. Blues were over the whole game the better side although Forest did have a period in the ascendency for the first 15-20 minutes of the second half before Blues re-established control. Overall it was a good performance.
The Bad: Blues had enough chances to have won this game. Burke delivered at least three excellent crosses into the box plus another couple of contributions from Caddis. Poor finishing meant they weren’t converted.
The Ugly: The Darius Henderson incident; an absolute disgrace and fully deserving of a straight red card.
Birmingham City: Darren Randolph 7, Paul Caddis 7, Dan Burn 7, Kyle Bartley 7, Paul Robinson 7, Chris Burke 7, Olly Lee 6, Andy Shinnie 6 (Demarai Gray 60, 5) Jesse Lingard 7 (McLean 80, N/A) Tom Adeyemi 7, Nikola Zigic 6.
Subs not used: Colin Doyle, Reece Brown, Hayden Mullins, Lee Novak, Callum Reilly.
Bookings: Randolph, Robinson, Bartley, Lee.
Nottingham Forest: Karl Barlow 8, Dan Harding 5 (Eric Lichaj 45, 7) Henri Lansbury 6, Andy Reid 6, Jamie Mackie 5, Greg Halford 6, Jamaal Lascelles 6, David Vaughan 6 (Nathaniel Chabolah 69, 6) Jack Hobbs 7, Simon Cox 7, Djamel Abdoun 6 (Darius Henderson 74, N/A)
Subs not used: Gonzalo Jara, Jamie Paterson, Matt Derbyshire, Dorus de Vries.
Bookings: Harding, Reid. Sent off: Henderson.
Referee: Robert Madeley 6: had a good first half and got the balance just right but lost it a bit in the second period. Started to get decisions wrong towards the end. Once again Zigic was denied a clear penalty as he went for an in swinging cross from Burke. He was clearly pushed and that could have been the difference. However, a referee’s performance is sometimes only as good as his Assistants. The one on the Kop side had an inconsistent day. Missing an obvious clearance by a Forest defender in the 93rd minute for a corner rather than advising the referee to award a goal kick was an example. I’m afraid the second half was littered with such errors.
Bazza KRO SOTV