It was to be a changing of the guard for this game given that Chris and little Jack were still on holiday in France and Will had things on with his family but by way of compensation both my boys were home for the weekend and we decided to take in the match. We caught the train at 11.30 from Blackwater (getting Ben my youngest up for anything earlier was as likely as Blues winning the Premier League!) and caught our connection to New Street. We walked down from there through Digbeth, and caught the 17 bus to the ground. It was the first time in a while since Jonny and Ben had been with me for a game and I hoped against hope that our beloved team would play better than last week. Any repeat of that performance and it would be memorable for all the wrong reasons after all, Bournemouth the weekend before Gary Rowett arrived was memorable wasn’t it? I confess that I wasn’t feeling particularly optimistic given that Norwich are a better team than Wolves and our neighbours dismantled us easily which is worrying.
However, as is so often the case with Blues, when teams arrive you expect they are going to struggle against, they put a proper performance in! What a difference a week makes. Harold Wilson once said; “A week is a long time in politics” and so sometimes is it the same in football? Blues looked a completely different outfit this week compared to that which turned out against Wolves. The major difference was the midfield which placed pressure on the ball and gave Norwich no space to play their football unlike the freedom of St. Andrews afforded to our neighbours last week. Blues started on the front foot and never looked back. Granted Norwich had two thirds of the possession but they weren’t allowed to dwell on the ball, pick passes, get behind us and cause trouble despite their undoubted quality at this level and the midfield made up of Davis, Kieftenbeld, Tesche and Maghoma supporting Adams and Donaldson and most importantly protecting the back four with their constant harrowing and pressure on the ball, not allowing Norwich to settle, controlled the match in a way that was not present at any stage last Saturday.
Blues started brightly and created the first chance from Maghoma with a right footed shot having turned inside from Kieftenbeld’s pass. Blues were putting so much more pressure on the ball and despite Norwich having the lion’s share of possession, they were restricted to attempts from distance or rushed snap shots which came to naught or resulted in mistakes leading to turnover of the ball. Sergi Canos did square Grounds up early on and I was worried that they would exploit potential weakness down that flank but fortunately Maghoma tracked back to help and the threat was nullified. Attempts by Canos and Jonny Howson were blocked before a swift move down Blues’ left wing resulted in a lovely cross by Maghoma to the incoming Davis to head home from eight yards on 22 minutes.
Norwich responded immediately and Canos tested Kusczcak with a shot that the keeper saved easily enough. Further attempts by Howson, Naismith and Jacob Murphy came and went without really extending the Blues defence. Blues finished the half on the front foot with missed attempts by Maghoma and Kieftenbeld that brought proceedings to a close. I went off for my half time beverage feeling that we were in control of the game compared to last week when I thought it was only a matter of time before the opposition scored.
I expected Norwich to come out and have a right go at Blues early in the second period but frankly Blues’ control of the game only increased. Grounds headed over and David Davis threatened with a shot towards the bottom corner which was well saved. Blues were getting more assertive but Norwich were still threatening and Jacob Murphy’s goal bound shot from the edge of the box was blocked to preserve Blues’s lead. Blues were looking the better side and Maghoma and then Che Adams – who had another excellent game – went close.
Half way through the second period Donaldson seized on some sloppy Norwich defending and burrowed into the area to deliver a perfect ball across the six yard box to Robert Tesche three yards out. It amazes me (I’ve done it myself) that players can contrive to miss from that range! The ball crashed off the crossbar but agonisingly the wrong side of the line. (Russ edit – TV replays do suggest it was the right side of the line, but three points in the bag, so no biggie). The pressure was mounting and Blues sensed that Norwich were having an off day and the ever energetic Donaldson chased a ball into the area in the inside left position where following a clumsy challenge by Steven Whittaker, Mr Bond, the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Clayton Donaldson got up from the heavy challenge and unlike the match at Wigan, dispatched the ball into the bottom corner for 2-0! The stuff of dreams was this; I couldn’t remember when we had been two goals up against anybody, let alone one of the best teams in the league!
For the next ten minutes or so Norwich gave it a good go and put the Blues rearguard under pressure. Jacob Murphy and Wes Hoolahan both attempted to halve the deficit but to no avail and there was a scary moment when a poor punch by Kusczcak presented the visitors with an opportunity which was fortunately cleared. In the end, a ricket in the Norwich defence led to a ricocheted back pass into the path of Donaldson on 83 minutes whose left footed, outside of foot finish, settled the contest once and for all. The Canaries were well beaten; a bad day at the office for them. I am under no illusions that they will nevertheless be a force to be reckoned with this season; it was a case of a very good Blues performance and an under par showing from the men from Norfolk. This was a mirror image of last Saturday really.
The Good: Spending a great day with my two lads. Such occasions for a parent are so often fleeting and regardless of the result, time spent with those you care about are the vital moments in life. The fact that Blues produced one of their better performances was a bonus.
The Bad: Robert Tesche’s miss from such close range! Mind you, the Cardiff striker recently managed to put the ball over the bar let alone hit the bar from a similar position so it can happen to the best of us. In the final analysis it didn’t matter as Donaldson won and converted the penalty soon after.
The Ugly: Some idiots started booing Cotterill when he came on at the end! However short of form and confidence a player wearing the blue of Birmingham City is, there is no call for that, none at all. There is a quote somewhere that goes something like; “Judge not a man by the manner of his fall but by the manner he rises to his feet.” I can’t remember who said it but if anyone knows please feel free to help me out.
Birmingham City: Tomasz Kusczcak 7, Jonathan Spector 7, Ryan Shotton 7, Michael Morrison 7, Jonathan Grounds 6, David Davis 8, Mikael Kieftenbeld 7, Che Adams 7 (Reece Brown 90, N/A), Robert Tesche 7, Jacques Maghoma 7 (David Cotterill 90, N/A), Clayton Donaldson 8.
Subs not used: Adam Legzdins, Diego Fabbrini, Paul Robinson, Viv Solomon-Otabor, Greg Stewart.
Goals: Davis 22, Donaldson 68 (pen), 83.
Yellow cards: None.
Norwich City: Michael McGovern 6, Robbie Brady 6, Timm Klose 6, Ryan Bennett 6, Steven Whittaker 7, Alexander Tettey 7, Jacob Murphy 6, Jonny Howson 7, Wes Hoolahan 6, Sergi Canos 7 (Josh Murphy 64, 5), Steven Naismith 6 (Kyle Lafferty 64, 5) .
Subs not used: Sebastian Bassong, Youssouf Mulumbu, Paul Jones, James Maddison, Russell Martin.
Yellow cards: None
Referee: Darren Bond 7: I thought the referee had a good game although at times his assistants could have supported him better. He was excellent in allowing a good advantage when Maghoma was fouled yet delivered the superb cross for Davis’s headed goal.