Saturday morning once again and once again I found myself standing on the platform at my local station for the train to Reading. The violent winds of Friday had settled and it was a pleasant, mild day which promised to be perfect for football; providing the conditions were similar in the Midlands of course. I did go to the Reading game on Tuesday to watch Blues fall to a late goal having dominated much of the second period. In keeping with the previous game at Norwich, Jutkiewicz missed a glorious chance from barely three yards that would undoubtedly have changed the outcome but for a slight deflection and the fact he took his eye off Frei’s pass resulted in the ball passing between the big man’s legs to safety. Sometimes the ball simply doesn’t run kindly and this is how I see Blues’ fortunes at the moment. A total inability to keep a clean sheet doesn’t help but nevertheless, as I stated in my last blog report, our team are not playing badly but the lack of a win in ten games in all competitions is of concern. It is clear that the natives are getting restless and I heard a number of fans verbally lashing out and blaming the whole scenario on Zola and the loss of Gary Rowett. I am going to state my view here, and there will undoubtedly be many that will disagree with me, but for what it’s worth here is my twopen’orth:
Firstly, a run of poor results was due; we had been riding our luck big time just before Rowett’s departure and quite frankly I expected that we were about to lose a number of the fixtures that followed. We were getting found out defensively and teams were beginning to work us out. It was a matter of time. Zola has come in and clearly wants to change the philosophy and the way we play. Now if this ultimately leads to the sort of football that Watford were playing which laid the foundations for their eventual promotion to the top flight, well quite frankly, Zola gets my vote! In the last two matches, Blues created more than enough good chances to win both games but our forwards simply have to score them. The sort of misses seen at Carrow Road last week and St Andrews on Tuesday will cost any team in this division and unfortunately the way we defend, the cost is usually all three points. What possible good will come out of dismissing Gianfranco Zola at this stage given that he has brought in a raft of new players that clearly have strengthened the squad regardless of results? I can fully understand the frustration and disappointment of many fans who vocalised those sentiments on Tuesday. They are sentiments I share but knee jerk reactions by the owners acceding to some fans’ wishes will only result in more turmoil and in all probability another string of poor results before things start to improve and we cannot afford such indulgence. We have to keep faith, the team has to try and keep playing decent football and we have to back our team and our manager. As I said last week, I have seen enough evidence to convince me that the elusive first win is coming soon to a club near you. I accept that we have some players who are not comfortable playing out from the back but I don’t think this window marks the end of the rebuilding of the squad. There will be further improvements made in the summer. I never expected to be in the playoffs at the start of this campaign but I will be disappointed if we are not having a serious dart at it next season.
I arrived at Coventry as usual at about 12.25 and Chris picked me up and we went back to Baginton for a pint prior to going on to St Andrews. We collected little Jack (barely 12 and already six foot tall! 😀 he’s still ‘little’ Jack whether he likes it or not and probably always will be!) The journey down the Coventry Road wasn’t too heavy and we were soon at the ground. We were running a little later than usual so we had to forego our usual sojourn to the George or Happy Abode and decided to have one in the ground instead. For the benefit of my regular readers, especially Bob, the food at the Cookhouse was steak and ale pie with sweet potato cubes (chef described them as square chips; they were delicious!) and I am bound to say it went down a treat washed down with another pint.
There were four changes with our new French full back Cheick Keita coming in for his debut replacing Grounds who was switched to centre half. Nsue returned at right back, Gleeson returned in midfield and there was a debut up front alongside Jutkiewicz for Jerome Sinclair. Blues started brightly and dominated the opening exchanges but I couldn’t help a feeling of deja vu as, when Fulham did counter, they seemed to look more dangerous than us despite Blues appearing on top. The deja vu increased as quick thinking by Gardner, exploiting the fact that he could not be offside from a throw in, received the ball near the byline and with a good touch, burrowed towards goal and chipped a superb ball right onto the head of Jutkiewicz. The big man did exactly what he did against Norwich and slammed the chance against the crossbar from four yards instead of depositing the ball into the net. Yet another bad miss; my head was in my hands bemoaning the fact that these chances are costing us points. There is no point in trying to bust the net with a bullet header if you miss! The frustration was tangible as the game seemed to be a mirror image of the Reading game which we lost because of golden opportunities passed up. Fulham were looking dangerous and exploited the wide open spaces on our flanks. We look too narrow defensively but that is fine as far as it goes in that you can sacrifice space out wide and defend the box if the cross comes in. The problem is, we don’t look too clever defending crosses!
Chris Martin, from one counter attack, smashed a howitzer of a shot from twenty yards which pole-axed Paul Robinson as the ball cannoned straight into his clock. He went down like a sack of spuds and appeared out for the count. Mr Madley the referee immediately stopped play and signalled to the bench but Robbo stirred and rose to his feet albeit looking a bit dazed. Lesser men would not have done and what is more, he didn’t rub his face once! What a model professional that man is! This extraordinary moment of courage seemed to steady Blues and Robbo almost immediately led by example when he bravely blocked another effort from the Cottagers which could have seen them take the lead. Blues continued to press however and we’re winning a lot of second balls. It was also good to see one or two players looking comfortable on the ball and I was very impressed by new boy Cheick Keita whose first touch from a steepling pass that reached him on the touch line was breathtaking. Bringing the ball under his spell, killing it stone dead and then going past his marker all in one flowing movement was worth the admission fee. Defensively, he tended to get a little overrun and isolated in the first half but stuck to the task and earned the fans’ vote for man of the match as a result. He looks a great prospect going forward and I’m looking forward to seeing a lot more of him. Jerome Sinclair had a quieter debut but contributed well down his wing nevertheless. There were periods of neat, clever passing but the end product at times was lacking. Goalless at half time, I was still concerned that we might get mugged as on Tuesday.
In the second period the attritional play continued with Cheick Keita the stand-out player with his probing runs forward becoming more frequent. Sinclair faded out of the game and was replaced by Che Adams who added impetus and energy. Blues were starting to apply pressure and it was all clearly too much for Fulham full back Ryan Fredericks whose appalling challenge on Gardner in midfield correctly received the ultimate sanction. Down to ten men Fulham were finding it increasing difficult to control space and finally paid the price when a fine overlapping run by Keita to the byline resulted in his pass across the six yard box to the waiting Jutkiewicz. It was an identical situation to Tuesday night when Kerim was the provider, only this time Jutkiewicz did not fluff his lines; good contact, net rippling and St Andrews on its feet! Thank heavens! A GOAL! I had begun to forget what it felt like! The confidence that a goal brings to a striker was evident when the big man’s athletic bicycle kick was brilliantly saved by David Button in goal for Fulham. Chances were coming more frequently and if I have a criticism it is that this game should have been put to bed before a late flurry by the gallant ten men of the visitors who could easily have stolen a point in the very last seconds when Ayite was put in in the inside right channel but whereas we have been punished in recent weeks for such lapses, the Fulham man snatched at the chance and shot wide. Blues deserved this win though despite the late scare.
The Good: The win! Any win is welcome at this stage. Whilst Blues made heavy weather of it and could have put this game to bed long before the scares near the end, they got over the line and that is all that matters at this juncture. As a postscript to ‘good’, Forest have just scored in the 92nd minute to down the Vile and England have beaten France in the rugby! Does life get any better than this? 😀
The Bad: Jutkiewicz’s miss in the first half. Mind you Chris Martin’s header in the second period that went wide wasn’t his finest moment either so it’s even stevens there!
The Ugly: Ryan Frederick’s shocking tackle on Craig Gardner for his red card. It was a horrible challenge.
Birmingham City: Tomasz Kusczcak 7, Emilio Nsue 7, Paul Robinson 8, Jonathan Grounds 7, Cheick Keita 8, Craig Gardner 7, Jerome Sinclair 6 (Che Adams 66, 7), Stephen Gleeson 5, David Davis 7 (Robert Tesche 82, N/A), Maikel Kieftenbeld 6, Lukas Jutkiewicz 7.
Subs not used: Adam Legzdins, Josh Dacres-Cogley, Greg Stewart, Kerim Frei, Krystian Bielik.
Goals: Jutkiewicz 74 min.
Yellow cards: Keita 46, Gleeson 51, Kieftenbeld 65.
Fulham: David Button 8, Ryan Fredericks 5, Tomas Kalas 7, Tim Ream 7, Kevin McDonald 7, Lucas Piazon 7 (Floyd Ayite 60, 6), Ryan Sessegnon 7 (Scott Malone 60, 6), Sone Aluko 6 (Gohi Cyriac 78, 6), Tom Cairney 8, Stefan Johansen 7, Chris Martin 6.
Subs not used: Michael Madl, Denis Odoi, Marcus Bettinelli, Scott Parker.
Yellow cards: Aluko 52, McDonald 79.
Red card: Fredericks 68.
Referee: Andy Madley: 6 On balance, Mr Madley didn’t have a bad game. There were a few decisions for both sides which were a bit questionable but he got the major calls right. He had no choice but to send Fredericks off; it was a shocker!