After a long and tiring week, it was Saturday morning once again and I was standing on the platform at Blackwater station with a vast throng of London Irish supporters going to the Madjeski for their game against Cornish Pirates. It was to be followed by the Ireland – England international to decide the Grand Slam – or not – for England. On the train there were even more London Irish fans sporting green shirts, leprechaun hats and shamrocks and all seemed to be in colourful high spirits for what was clearly going to be a very exciting day. Cans of Guinness were being poured and consumed and amusing banter with occasional raucous laughter echoed round the carriage. It was only 10.30 in the morning and as many of my faithful blog followers know, I’m partial to a pint of ale but it was a little early for me and I politely declined the offer of some Guinness by a friendly group of fans cheek by jowl with me. I reflected on the fact that by the time the international came around, some of the assembled wouldn’t care one way or the other who won, would not be able to focus on the action and would probably have gaps in the recollection of the event afterwards. One thing was for sure; for some of my new acquaintances, Sunday morning was going to hurt! I said goodbye to my companions at Reading whist they disappeared into The Three Guineas immediately outside Reading station for more refreshments whilst I headed in the direction of the Manchester train to Coventry.
I arrived at the latter destination as usual at around 12.25. We drove back to the Oak to pick up little Jack and there was time for a lunch time pint before setting off for St Andrews. I had no expectations from this match and was reconciled towards a convincing defeat at the hands of Newcastle who for me and many others are the best team in the division along with Brighton. Everyone else is vying for a dart at the only remaining play off spot and since we have long since given up on even that possibility it is a case of limping to the end of the season, staying out of relegation trouble and looking to go again next term. I think it will take at least two more transfer windows to be anywhere near challenging for promotion and so we will just have to be patient, avoid getting over frustrated and enjoy the odd good day and try not to get too down when things don’t go well. The sight of away end fans taking the p**s out if us will continue for a while I fear but when the worm does eventually turn and it will, getting our revenge will be all the sweeter.
This match will not linger long in the memory. Blues for their part were more solid and cautious than I’ve seen them for a while. The visitors, I expected would move the ball quickly and eventually outclass us, but they were more direct than I thought they would be and although they dominated possession they played a lot of their football in front of a resolute Birmingham side that set up with a back three of Bielik, Shotton and Robinson with five across the middle and Gardner roaming behind the lone striker, Jutkiewicz. It was not likely to inspire an avalanche of goals from us as Grounds and Nsue were quick to drop in at the slightest hint of danger and the five across the middle rapidly became six when defending higher up. Kusczcak was still called upon to make two or three excellent saves in the match and although Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie bundled the ball into the net in the first half, the strike was correctly ruled out for offside or it could also have been disallowed for a foul on the keeper; take your pick.
The second half was a little better with Blues starting brightly and for the first ten minutes Newcastle were forced to concede a number of corners as they came under pressure. Unfortunately, it seems we are as inept at converting our fair share of these as we are at defending them but to be fair, we did the basics regarding set pieces in this match well in this game. It was a match of very few chances. The closest either team came was when Kusczcak saved superbly from an excellent header from Jack Colback deep into the second half. In recent times the ball has fallen to an opposition player in situations like this but at least our defenders were on hand to clear the danger. Blues did have their moments and once again played some neat stuff in midfield but so many good field positions were wasted with the final misplaced pass especially out to the right to Emilio Nsue who – having manufactured space to run into – was given passes that he had no chance of retrieving. I counted at least six occasions that this happened in the first period alone. With only a couple of minutes left, Tesche picked up a ball in midfield and drove forward exposing Newcastle who had been pushing for the winner. Suddenly there was a three on two with Jutkiewicz and Gardner running to the left and right of him respectively. In retrospect the pass to Jutkiewicz on his left should perhaps have been delivered to Gardner instead. The big man got a firm shot off rather than be closed down trying to take a touch but the strike was saved easily by a grateful Darlow in goal. That was Birmingham’s chance for the game right there but in truth, neither side did quite enough to win this one and a goalless draw was about right.
The Good: The London Irish fans on the train; they added much needed colour to proceedings. The gammon baps at the Cookhouse and the fact we didn’t lose the game; it was one more point than I was expecting! I suppose you have to add in the clean sheet; we don’t get many of those do we?
The Bad: Shame about England’s record winning streak coming to an end. I had a bad feeling about it this morning. Congratulations to Ireland on their victory though.
The Ugly: Can’t think of anything specific so I suppose we have to be thankful.
Birmingham City: Tomasz Kusczcak 8, Emilio Nsue 6, Ryan Shotton 6, Jonathan Grounds 6, Krystian Bielik 7, Paul Robinson 7, Robert Tesche 6, David Davis 7, Maikel Kieftenbeld 6, Craig Gardner 7 (Stephen Gleeson 90, N/A), Lukas Jutkiewicz 6 (Clayton Donaldson 87, N/A).
Subs not used: Adam Legzdins, Josh Dacres-Cogley, Che Adams, Jacques Maghoma, Kerim Frei.
Yellow cards: Paul Robinson 56.
Newcastle United: Karl Darlow 6, Paul Dummett 6, Jamaal Lascelles 6, Grant Hanley 6, Vurnon Anita 7, Matt Ritchie 7, Ayoze Perez 6 (Jonjo Shelvey 78, 6), Mohamed Diame 6, Jack Colback 7, Daryl Murphy 7 (Daryl Murphy 62, 6), Yoan Gouffran 6 (Christian Atsu 82, N/A).
Subs: not used: Chancel Mbemba, Rob Elliot, Jesus Gamez, Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Yellow cards: None.
Referee: Simon Hooper 6: I disagree with the fan that rang WM radio after the game and suggested that Blues played 12 men but there were decisions that I felt should have gone our way in the second half that didn’t. However, I bet I could find a few Magpies that would have viewed the opposite so it’s in the eye of the beholder isn’t it? In the end the officials didn’t influence the result so it was an OK performance from them. Mind you, there was the incident in the first half when Newcastle had a goal chalked off for offside, correctly as it happens, but the fact is the assistant missed the offside leading up to the one he actually flagged for so it was just as well he got it right in the end. Moreover, offside or not, there was a clear foul on Kusczcak as the attacker, Matt Ritchie, netted. I note that The Chronicle, a paper in the North East suggested that the goal had been wrongly disallowed; it’s interesting how things are viewed when the natural bias that is in all of us is taken into account isn’t it? Nevertheless, look at the footage yourselves and come to your own conclusion.