It was cool and dank on Saturday morning but much milder than of late. It was also 3rd Round FA Cup day and whatever the debate regarding the present importance of the world’s oldest football knockout competition, on a personal level, it still goes down as one of the best and most anticipated days of the season. It is a win win situation as far as I’m concerned given that if the draw pits you against one of the so called big clubs especially at home it’s a huge day out and football being what it is, who knows? If you get a draw against a small side especially away from home, it’s a chance to visit somewhere you perhaps haven’t been to and it represents an opportunity to progress (or be on the wrong end of a shock 🙁 ). Blues though have a history of upsetting the big boys and I still fondly remember Barry Bridges netting two in a replay against the mighty Arsenal in the 5th Round and Fred Pickering’s header to dispatch Chelsea in the quarters in front of a packed St Andrews crowd of 55,000. That was 1968 and we lost at Villa Park in the semis to an excellent Baggies team that we nevertheless played off the park but the woodwork thwarted the efforts of big Fred and Geoff Vowden three times to rob us of a deserved trip to the twin towers. Blues actually went to three semi-finals in seven years; the hardest defeat to take was against Fulham in the last minute of extra time in a replay in 1975. I am convinced we would have beaten West Ham in the final had we prevailed.
Back to the present; it was Newcastle United at home. There is no doubt to my mind that they are a Premier League club in the wrong place at the moment. They will be promoted come May along with Brighton and such is the quality gap of those two teams compared to the rest of the Championship that there are only play off places and ultimately one more promotion slot to contest for. Given that there are too many teams better than Blues in the division at present it is highly unlikely that we will be disturbing that dynamic but a good Cup run can lift the mood and cheer up an otherwise groundhog season. They say that the Cup is a great leveller and it was going to have to be, if our recent form was anything to go by. We had already been unceremoniously thrashed by the Magpies as we meekly surrendered 4-0 in a dismal run of form, barely laying a glove on the opposition ourselves and a nose that lives in my area that happened to attend that game told me it could easily have been double that. So, the present prospect did not auger well and I am bound to say for my own part I had zero expectations of a positive result as I made my way to Reading and from there to Coventry to meet up with Chris as usual. My youngest boy, Ben joined me at Oxford as today the gang had procured a posh box with meal, a few drinks and lots of the usual banter so it was going to be a fun day out regardless of the outcome on the pitch; at least that is what I was telling myself. There were ten of us altogether, the other eight included Chris, his brother Will, Will’s wife Juley, Uncle Frank and Auntie Joan, seasoned ticket holders of many years standing who more recently have had to give them up as the frailties of age have caught up with them. The remaining three were Adrian, a Walsall fan and a couple of mates of Chris’ both of whom were Newcastle fans, Simon and Colin.
I was mildly admonished following my last blog article for not describing the food on offer so by popular request here goes: there were some salmon and egg rolls for the peckish amongst us when we first arrived and at half time there was a buffet of chicken drumsticks, sausage rolls, mini burgers and a mini cheese flan thing; hmmm the Cookhouse is better! Nevertheless, the food was decent enough. Sadly, I missed out on a chance to meet up with our own Kev Ball who was coming up with his son Jordan for the game from the West Country. Unfortunately, by the time we had hooked up by phone my group were already in our hospitality box in the old main stand and time was running short; sorry mate, hopefully next time?
There were changes in both teams but neither could be accused of fielding weakened sides. Newcastle started the better and nearly scored from a free kick out on our right flank conceded by Fabbrini. Paul Robinson got a deflection on the cross for a corner preventing Mitrovic from scoring from close range. From the resultant corner from our side of the pitch Lazaar’s delivery ended up on the deck in the middle of the six yard box where it bobbled around in a scramble by numerous defenders trying to clear only for it to trickle away to the far post where Daryl Murphy had the sort of chance that my granny with her arthritic knees could have netted. Into the onion bag it went and for the seventh time in just over four games Blues had conceded a soft goal from a set piece! I know I’m beginning to sound like a gramophone record but failure to defend properly from free kicks and corners will lead to multiple defeats as we have witnessed recently. I feared the worst at this stage and my nightmare scenario of five or six was not beyond the bounds of possibility. During the scramble leading up to the goal Mitrovic was injured and ominously lay still in the six yard box. Interesting isn’t it that players who roll over and over with triple somersault and tuck get up, do a nice feigning limp to the sideline and then run back on two minutes later. Mitrovic was clearly badly hurt as after a stoppage of over five minutes he was stretchered off to sympathetic applause from all round the ground. I heard rumours of a leg break; I am sure I speak for everyone in hoping that is not the case.
Newcastle continued to press and a second goal early on would have killed this tie. Another corner by Lazaar found its way to Mitrovic’s replacement Gouffran who shot narrowly wide from 12 yards. The same player brought a good save out of Adam Legzdins on the 20 minutes mark and from yet another corner, Grant Hanley headed narrowly over the bar. Fortunately, Blues started to settle midway through the half and came back into the game. Whilst they didn’t offer a lot of threat going forward David Davis did manage to get a shot off from distance that wasn’t troubling Sels in the Newcastle goal and there was an apology for a free kick that was deposited into a defender’s midriff standing in the wall but at least Blues were showing some modicum of control and possession. Jonathan Grounds deserves special mention as he was getting forward down the left and providing some threat in that area. On 41 minutes he nutmegged Lazaar on the corner of the area and sped down the line before delivering a good ball to the far post where Jutkiewicz was on hand for an easy tap in. Blues were lifted and Grounds nearly turned the match right around when he fired just over the Tilton Road bar when Matz Sels made a hash of a punch of a cross and was so nearly punished for it.
The second half was more attritional with neither side gaining an upper hand. Davis had a shot saved by Sels at the second attempt midway through the half and Newcastle produced a scary moment for Blues when his probing run and fast cross along the floor came to naught as there was no one there to finish off the chance; with 15 minutes left I doubt we would have recovered. The final ten minutes belonged to Blues who had two glorious chances to settle the tie. Josh Dacres-Cogley, a substitute for Jonathan Spector, whipped a lovely cross over to Lukas Jutkiewicz but the big man mistimed his jump and the attempted glanced off his head and wide. With time almost up another cross from the other flank fell perfectly onto Jutkiewicz’s head who obtained a better connection this time but failed to keep the effort on target. That was the game right there but it was not to be and it’s off to St James’ Park in a week or so for a replay. I doubt we’ll survive the return match but you never know.
The Good: The fact that Blues didn’t lose the game and towards the end should probably have nicked it.
The Bad: The concession of the goal after only five minutes but also the serious injury to Mitrovic; get better soon chap.
The Ugly: Here I have a grave confession to make. Before the game, Adrian persuaded me to go halves on a bet, £2.50 each at 66/1 on a Newcastle win, 0-5. I said at the time that I hoped I would be wrong and knowing the way I am with predictions of Blues results it would probably mean we would win. Adrian said my secret was safe with him; yeah right, I got dog’s abuse from Will and Chris afterwards but at least Jutkiewicz’s equaliser cancelled any possibility of the wager being won and in my defence, I apologised to Paul Robinson in the car park afterwards. I will visit my psychiatrist this week and see to it that this sort of aberration never happens again. £165 would have come in very handy though! 😀
Birmingham City: Adam Legzdins 6, Jonathan Spector 6 (Josh Dacres Cogley 44, 7) Paul Robinson 7, Ryan Shotton 7, Jonathan Grounds 8, Mikael Kieftenbeld 6, Stephen Gleeson 6, David Davis 7, Diego Fabbrini 7(Greg Stewart 79, 6) Che Adams 6, Lukas Jutkiewicz 8.
Subs not used: Tomas Kusczcak, Reece Brown, David Cotterill, Robert Tesche, Michael Morrison.
Goals: Jutkiewicz 42
Yellow cards: None.
Newcastle United: Matz Sels 6, Deandre Yedlin 6, Jamaal Lascelles 7, Grant Hanley 7, Massaido Hadeira 7 (Matt Ritchie 69, 6) Vurnon Anita 6, Jack Colback 6, Cheick Tiote 6 (Isaac Hayden 65, 6) Achraf Lazaar 6, Daryl Murphy 7, Aleksandar Mitrovic N/A (Yoan Gouffran 5, 6)
Subs: not used: Dwight Gayle, Paul Dummett, Ciaran Clark, Karl Darlow.
Goals: Murphy 5
Yellow cards: Hayden.
Referee: Neil Swarbrick 7: I thought the officials were balanced and fair throughout. Mr Swarbrick on the whole, kept the game moving and I’m glad to say kept his cards in his pocket apart from Hayden for Newcastle.