Will and Chris had managed to get some VIP hospitality seats in one of the boxes and whilst they said they tried to get me in, the truth of it was that they probably decided I was a little too hoi-polloi to join them so I had to settle for the company of my youngest son, Ben who travelled up from Oxford and could occupy Chris’s seat which was available given that he and Will were drinking elsewhere! Will had to take his children swimming early doors and arranged to pick me up at Guildford station some time between ten and half past. That part of the plan went OK, it remained to be seen whether we would rendezvous with Ben at Birmingham International on the way through before proceeding to the ground. Ben and I intended to get a drink in the George, catch some of the lunchtime game and then grab some food in the Cookhouse before kick off. The last time we had played Fulham at Craven Cottage, Blues had given one of the most complete performances of the season with a spectacular 5-2 win with a sublime goal at the end from Viv Soloman-Otabor who ran 70 yards with the ball before depositing it into the bottom corner. Any repeat of that performance and we were in for a treat but I’ve been watching football long enough now to make me doubt it.
Will and I arrived at Baginton to pick up Chris who mischievously announced the moment he saw me that his little brother was a fair weather supporter on the grounds that he was only here on a Saturday because he was going into the posh area. He related a conversation that went something like this;
Chris: “Will, how are you fixed for the match this Saturday?”
Will: “No chance mate, I have shed loads of stuff to do at home and I’ve got to take the kids swimming Saturday morning and Juley has jobs she wants me to finish off at home and with everything that’s happening at work this week I’ve got stuff I’m going to have to find time to finish up there so I can’t see me getting away this weekend, sorry.”
Chris: “OK Will, no problem, sorry to hear that. Can you give me Baz’s number as I need to tell him there’s a spare place in hospitality this week and I’m sure he’d like to come.”
Will: “Corporate! No, wait! I might be able to get away after all if I take the kids swimming early doors and ………..”
Chris: “Hang on, you were just telling me that you had loads on and that Juley wouldn’t let you go.”
Will: “I know but now I’ve got an excuse! If I tell her that I’ve been invited to a corporate do, she can hardly stop me going can she? I’ll tell Baz that your usual seat’s free!”
So now it all comes out! Will is stammering and back-pedalling for all he’s worth and the truth is laid bare! Yours truly has been done out of a three course meal in the warm with a pint or two on tap when in actual fact I’d been told that there was a spare ticket going in the stands and maybe one of my lads might want to come! I could only agree with Chris’s conclusion; fair weather indeed!
We set off and picked up Ben on the way down the Coventry Road and got to the ground about one o’clock whereupon Chris and Will departed for the corporate area and Ben and I made for the George for a couple of scoops before entering the ground for a pork bap with apple sauce. We were offered salad to go with it but Ben and I just looked incredulously at each other and were well supported by fellow noses around us who agreed that salad in a bap with half a pig in it was wrung! Just plain wrung!
As for the match itself, it wasn’t the spectacle we saw at Craven Cottage but with a bit more tempo, guile and precision in final pass and finishing, Fulham were there for the taking. As it was, it was another lacklustre first half where the away side looked the more threatening although neither side were great in truth. Blues created the square root of nothing and looked lethargic and ponderous with the capacity to cough up possession the moment they got it. Fortunately, Fulham weren’t good enough to capitalise except for the one time they did score on 37 minutes from a breakaway from our corner. A clearance by Emerson Hyndman to Ross McCormack near the halfway line was swept out to Tom Cairney, Fulham’s best player on the day I felt, who turned inside and waited for the overlapping Rohan Ince who was fed in with a perfectly weighted pass so the midfielder could hit it fiercely first time. Kuzczak got down to the shot and some will contend that he did well to do so but the keeper will probably feel he could have done a little better as the ball squirmed agonisingly under his body and trickled over the line. Where Grounds and Spector were only they know and it clearly showed our lack of pace and mobility at the back. It was a poor goal to concede from our set piece and we now had a mountain to climb. Our record at retrieving points from losing positions this season is hardly startling.
It wasn’t as if Blues had not had clear warning prior to the opening goal; Emerson Hyndman nearly scored on 18 minutes when Moussa Dembele robbed Spector when the defender allowed the ball to bounce and then tried to shepherd it out. This was yet another example of why the American struggles to get a starting berth. At this level, poor errors of judgement like this get punished and it was only a good block on the shot by Hyndman by Morrison when Dembele cut the ball back to him got Blues out of jail. A few minutes later Scott Parker was put clean through in the inside left position and in his England days this would have ended up as only one outcome but the former international dithered which allowed Grounds to get goal side and see off the danger. Despite these isolated incidents the first half was fairly even, if tedious and the away side went into the break ahead.
In the second period Gary Rowett gave the hook to Kieftenbeld and replaced him with Jacques Maghoma on 53 minutes and reverted to 4-2-3-1 from 4-3-3. This led to an improvement in the play from Blues and the previously subdued home support started to engage. They did not have to wait long before Morrison netted the equaliser on 56 minutes. David Cotterill seized on a loose ball on the right wing and delivered an excellent ball into the box. Morrison outmuscled his defender to bury a downward header past the stranded Marcus Bettenelli in the Fulham goal to the evident delight and relief of the home fans. Blues could and should have gone on to take all three points but an excellent save from a fierce left footed drive from Caddis prevented the go ahead goal. Just before the end David Davis beat Bettenelli with a low shot from the edge of the area only for it to crash off the post. It rebounded awkwardly to Clayton Donaldson who missed from four yards. That chance was the game right there but it was gone and with it the extra two points that on the second half showing should have been claimed. Fulham held on and we had to settle for a draw which is not enough at this stage.
My feeling is and has been all season that we won’t make the playoffs. I think there have been and will be too many games like this. (Rotherham, Wolves, Bristol, QPR and Blackburn are but five examples) We do not score enough goals, we don’t take our chances, we are frail defensively and we therefore concede soft goals at critical moments; we aren’t good enough I’m afraid but it has still been a good season whatever happens.
The Good: The company of my son, Ben and the fact we were able to enjoy the day and have a couple of beers together. This is what football, life, the universe and everything is all about. Fulham’s goal from their perspective was a well worked move and well taken but our poor defending contributed to it.
The Bad: The result; Blues really should be able to beat teams like Fulham at home. I mean no disrespect but they are a pale shadow of what I would expect from such a famous old club.
The Ugly: Nothing to report; despite the disappointing result we all had a great day.
Birmingham City: Thomas Kuzczak 5, Paul Caddis 8, Michael Morrison 6, Jonathan Spector 4, Jonathan Grounds 5, Maikel Kieftenbeld 6 (Jacques Maghoma 53, 7) Stephen Gleeson 6, David Davis 7, David Cotterill 6 (Will Buckley 81, N/A) Jon Toral 6 (James Vaughan 74, 6) Clayton Donaldson 6.
Subs not used: Adam Legzdins, Paul Robinson, Viv Soloman-Otabor, Ryan Shotton.
Yellow cards: None.
Fulham: Marcus Bettenelli 6, Richard Stearman 6, Michael Madl 6, Fernando Amorebietta 6, Tim Ream 6, Tom Cairney 8, Scott Parker 7, Rohan Ince 7, Emerson Hyndman 7 (Ryan Fredericks 74, 6) Ross McCormack 7, Moussa Dembele 6 (Matt Smith 86, N/A)
Subs not used: Andrew Lonergan, Jamie O’Hara, Jazz Richards, Dan Burn, Luke Garbutt.
Yellow cards: Dembele, Parker, Madl, Fredericks, Bettenelli.
Referee: Darren Handley 6: The only criticism I would level at the officials is that it took until stoppage time before Bettenelli was booked for time wasting. Earlier intervention would have negated the need for so much time added (six minutes) In addition Fulham adopted a physical approach (I don’t blame them given their position) which explains the number of cards they picked up but cards should have been meted out in the first half in my opinion and some of the cynical behaviour that occurred in the second may well have resulted in harsher sanction on the visitors but the referee was not the reason we dropped points; we didn’t do enough to win and that is the stark truth.
Attendance: 17,104 (792 away fans)