I nearly didn’t go to this game. It was New Year’s Day after all and whilst I don’t overindulge leading up to midnight many of my friends do and don’t consider the whole event a big anti-climax so it had been made clear that I would in all likelihood be going up to the game alone and when I saw the weather on rising early doors the inclination to stay at home and watch football on the telly was strong. My youngest son was home from University and he enquired whether I was going to go to the game and since he clearly was up for attending I thought ‘ow goo on then’ and checked the train times. A normal service appeared to be in place and so I suggested we should take that form of transport given the appalling weather. I checked the rail website just before departing from the house to find that the 10.31, 11.02 and 11.31 had all suddenly disappeared, assumed cancelled and the next one was the 12.02 which would get us to NewStreet at about 14.17. If the 12.02 got cancelled in the same way without so much as a by your leave the journey was off so into the car we climbed and avoiding the M25 headed north towards Brum on the M40.
The driving conditions were dreadful and I wondered just how mad I was to be even contemplating the trip. Ben, my son was good company as we talked about life, the universe and everything and the miles flashed by quickly as a result. On the way I spoke to Will, a hung over life form living somewhere in the wilds of West Sussex who was one of the Bluenose brethren not with us. He told me that his brother, Chris was going to the game to which I exclaimed “Well that’s not what he told me last week!” It appears that his intention to spend the day with Gayle, his wife had been scuppered by Gayle’s necessity to work at the pub since they were a staff member down. I called Chris and he confirmed this to be the case and since Gayle and he could no longer spend the day together as planned, football it was. I said that I would pick him and Little Jack up on the way through so a welcome diversion to a newly refurbished Royal Oak at Baginton was made and a pint whilst we waited was in order. The journey was completed to St Andrews forthwith and we grabbed a pie in the ground before taking our seats.
Blues started very brightly and got off to an excellent start by scoring as early as the tenth minute. Paul Robinson short pass to Callum Reilly on the left was drilled across the area hard and low. There appeared to be a deflection that may have taken the ball away from the keeper and his defenders allowing it to alight at the far post where Nikola Zigic was quicker to the ball than his marker and gleefully netted from six yards. On 19 minutes Blues came very close to doubling their advantage from a corner from the right by Olly Lee. Dan Burn rose high above everybody and headed the ball towards the top corner. It looked in all the way until it struck the face of the bar before rebounding to safety. For me this was the turning point of the game; six inches lower and a 2-0 score line and I have little doubt that Blues go on and win comfortably. Sadly, as we all know football has a habit of ruining the best laid plans of mice and men. Blues went flat after their initial flurry and Barnsley started to come into the game. Blues played as they have done for a few games now with two holding midfielders behind a three supporting the big Serb up front. Barnsley played a flatter 4-5-1 formation and I felt we allowed them too much space out wide and the lack of pressure on the ball and our exasperating tendency to cough up possession when we did have it made it too easy for Barnsley to play between our lines and cause trouble. Giving the ball away was frequent for both sides but Blues were the major offenders. One such example was when Shinnie who had a poor game carelessly gave Barnsley the ball near halfway just after the half-hour. O’Brien ran at our out of position backline and provided the perfect ball to Brek Shea in yards of space just to the right of goal. It is fortunate that Shea was also having a poor afternoon since his drive was fired too close to Darren Randolph who was able to parry the shot. Blues’ next bit of good fortune was that Barnsley’s stand out player, Mellis following up somehow managed to flick the ball wide of the far post when well placed 12 yards out.
Two minutes before the break Blues should have made it 2-0 when following the move of the match culminating in a sublime flick pass from Zigic saw Chris Burke away on the left skinning the right back for pace. Bearing down into the area with only Steele to beat Burke’s toe poked attempt was smartly saved by the keeper and the chance was gone.
In the second half, Barnsley continued to enjoy possession and overall control of midfield and Blues’ inability to keep the ball persisted. Barnsley were clearly fancying their chances and Zigic not for the first time this season was forced to clear off the line from a Peter Ramage header from a corner just before the hour. At the same time, Bartley pulled up with what looked like a hamstring injury and was immediately replaced by Hayden Mullins. A feeling of foreboding among the crowd was tangible.
Inevitably a silly free kick given away about 25 yards out on the right was beautifully curled round the wall on 61 minutes for a deserved equaliser. Barnsley were now looking the more likely to win this game and Lee Clark sent on Wade Elliott in response and converted to 4-4-2. Blues looked better as a result and a more direct approach put the visitors on the back foot for the last quarter of the game. Elliott probed, Novak worked tirelessly and Burke and Caddis overlapped down the right and provided a number of excellent crosses none of which unfortunately were exploited. As so often at home this season, it was all a bit too desperate, too frenetic and too lacking in composure in trying to find the winning goal in a game that should have been won comfortably in the first half..
Novak came close on a couple of occasions and went past Steele twice only to be too wide on the first occasion and despite standing up a cross to the far post on the second the header from Olly Lee was netted but outside the post. Substitute, Peter Lovenkrands nearly made a name for himself in the very last minute of the game. He accelerated down the right wing veered into the area and inexplicably nudged the ball towards goal with the outside of his left foot that was always going to take the ball away from the target. Novak was unable to reach it and it was another case of what might have been for Blues in another of those too little too late showings.
In summary, this was another disappointing draw on home turf, the fifth in succession. There have been too many games like this and with the present personnel I cannot see that our position is going to improve any time soon. We are a below average Championship team that is doing the best it can with the resources it has. Our present League position is about where I expected us to be and where I reckon we will finish. Those who were talking of pushing towards the play-offs should forget it; Blues are simply not good enough though they cannot be faulted for effort. In fairness it has been a tiring schedule over the Christmas period and I understand that Paul Robinson, Lee Novak and Olly Lee were all physically sick and under the weather at half time from a debilitating bug that is going round the squad and some leeway can therefore be allowed for what appeared to be a lacklustre performance in the second period. Add to the mix, Bartley’s injury and the fact that Dan Burn has been recalled to Fulham, the fortuitous lack of a FA Cup game on Saturday due to Bristol Rovers and Crawley having to settle their second round tie is timely. The uncertainty of Lingard staying or being recalled by David Moyes means that the squad is going to be further stretched so if we finish where we are in the league at present the season should be considered a successful one. Hopefully, there will be some investment in the summer once the ownership saga is resolved one way or the other; without it the future is grim.
The Good: The company of my son, Ben, my mate Chris and Little Jack.
The Bad: The result; Barnsley were there for the taking and should have been beaten, having said that, they thoroughly deserved their point and were the better side for a fair chunk of the game.
The Ugly: The weather conditions; wind, torrential rain and a further element of mitigation for the players of both sides.
Birmingham City: Darren Randolph 6, Paul Robinson 6, Kyle Bartley 6 (Hayden Mullins 57, 6) Dan Burn 7, Paul Caddis 7, Chris Burke 7, Olly Lee 6, Andy Shinnie 5 (Wade Elliott 67, 6) Callum Reilly 6 (Peter Lovenkrands 89, N/A) Lee Novak 7, Nikola Zigic 7.
Subs not used: Doyle Fergusson, Brown, Gray
Goal: Zigic 10 minutes.
Barnsley: Luke Steele 7, Martin Crainie 6, Jean-Yves Mvoto 6, Peter Ramage 6, Tom Kennedy 6, Stephen Dawson 7, David Perkins 7, Jacob Mellis 7, Jim O’Brien 6, Chris O’Grady 6, Brek Shea 5 (Tomasz Cywka 75, 5).
Subs not used: Dibble, Nyatanga, Wiseman, McCourt, Scotland, Pedersen.
Goal: Mellis 61 minutes.
Referee: Chris Foy 6; The referee wasn’t the main problem; his assistants were! Kevin Mattocks (yellow flag) was awful on the Kop side. His partner Nicholas Gibbons was a little better but not by much. There were some bizarre decisions regarding offside and the difference between corners and goal kicks. Mr Mattocks particularly got far too many of them blatantly wrong.
Happy New Year to everyone whatever you football persuasion 🙂
Bazza KRO SOTV