The bright sunshine of Spring means that the season is drawing to a close. Like many, I just want this one over so we can all regroup and look to better things next term. We played Brighton in the week and I did go along with Will. The crowd was large as you would expect for a team anticipating the bright lights and riches of the Premier League which beckons enticingly. I expected to get beat and defeated we were. However, I did not expect us to perform so well. The only problem was that we failed to defend properly at the beginning of both halves and found ourselves 3-0 down in a match that we had played a dominant part in. We were ahead in all statistics except the one that matters and as Gianfranco Zola commented this week that it’s no use being better than Brighton for 88 minutes when they were better than us for the remaining two; when they scored their goals of course. The first goal with only a minute on the clock summed us up; they had a two on nothing down our left flank and having got unchallenged to the by line the crosser had all the time in the world to pick out Glenn Murray for his habitual goal against us. Cheick Keita was nowhere to be seen and made no attempt to get back in and help out his mates who were stranded. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not having a pop at Keita specifically. It doesn’t help that we have a goalkeeper who doesn’t command his six yard box and centre-halves who aren’t really good enough. It’s not as simple as the faults of one player but although I like the boy and admire his undoubted talent and skills, a left back primarily has to defend properly and that means tracking runners and not ball watching. Hopefully, it will come with experience but two completely unmarked players with yards of space to run into is unacceptable and is the reason we were chasing the game from the off. Gardner crashed a free kick against the bar on ten minutes which is exactly what happens when a team is going through the sort of run we are and you are playing the team at the top. Had it been them, the ball would undoubtedly have clipped the underside of the bar and gone in. Blues were unlucky not to be at least level at half time; Blues overall play deserved better.
Speaking of things ‘deserved’ I note in the Derby Telegraph this week, one of their hacks commenting that Birmingham City have got what they deserve following the dismissal of Gary Rowett when in a good position in the league and only a couple of points outside the playoffs. The article had a smugness and gloating quality to it which I found somewhat malodorous. The basic premise depends on how you define Birmingham City doesn’t it? If you define it in terms of the ownership or as a business concern, there may be a point to be made but in the interests of balance, our owners made a legitimate business decision based on a number of factors, some of which we are not party to. The present Derby manager allegedly wanted to speak to QPR and had also been approached by other clubs, including Derby County if the press reports are to be believed and that is a mute point given the dubious veracity of some reporting. The January window was approaching with the promise of money to spend, the manager had a contract offer on the table but was reluctant to sign it so what were the owners to conclude? They decided to appoint a different manager and so far it hasn’t worked out but if anyone believes that the wheels weren’t about to come off with the squad we had well those people are delusional. I also believe that Gary Rowett would have left us anyway once a more attractive offer came along so let’s not view this through rose tinted glasses. Do we deserve what has happened since? I am not so sure I subscribe to the Derby journalist’s contention. It also depends on whether you define Birmingham City as the fans themselves. Many believe that all clubs are nothing without them and surely it is the reason they exist isn’t it? If we accept this definition then Derby Telegraph man is definitely in the wrong; our supporters do not deserve what has happened. I hope that Gianfranco Zola has pinned the article to the dressing room door since I believe no further motivation will be needed for our encounter with Derby.
I arrived at Coventry train station at 12.25 as usual and Chris was there to pick me up. It was back to the Royal Oak for a quick pint before proceeding down the A45 to the ground. We tried to grab another in The Happy Abode before entering the stadium but the place was rammed and we went straight in for a drink and some food which this week was beef curry from the Cookhouse. Suitably fortified we took our seats. The pitch was bathed in sunshine and Jutkiewicz had come back in for Donaldson, Keita dropped to the bench with Robbo taking his place and Grounds reverted to left back. David Davis also replaced Gleeson in midfield. If we were hoping for a good start we were disappointed within three minutes when a shot from Jacob Butterfield given too much room on the edge of the area rebounded off the post and hit the diving Kusczcak on the back of the head before rebounding back into the net. This was typical of the way things are going for us at the moment and the home fans frustration was compounded when Jutkiewicz appeared to have got in front of Carson in the Derby goal to bundle the ball into the net midway through the half. The referee appeared to give the goal only then to change his mind at the behest of his assistant. I’m told that the linesman saw a hand ball but it looked fine from where we were and in the phone in after the game a number of fans standing on the Tilton thought the goal was legitimate and should have stood. Apart from a ten minute spell when the away team tried to force the issue with a second goal Blues came back into the match and were unfortunate to still be behind at the interval. Blues maintained a high pressure on the Derby rearguard throughout the half but just couldn’t get the vital breakthrough with the Derby defence lead by Rams captain, Alex Pearce stood resolute and survived with their clean sheet intact at the break. The home faithful let the officials know in no uncertain manner what they thought of their decision making which I have to say was pretty indifferent regardless of the disallowed goal.
Second half, Derby as in the first half started brightly and Johnny Russell hit a powerful shot that Kusczcak did well to bat away. Blues responded well and pressed hard for an equaliser and Gardner missed our clearest chance on 50 minutes when he shot wide from eighteen yards right in front when anything on target probably registered. Birmingham were eventually rewarded when from a corner and a flicked on header from Lukas Jutkiewicz, the ball fell to Che Adams, Blues best player, who sorted his feet out quickly and buried his shot from close range to silence the massed ranks of Derby fans at the Gil Merrick end. Blues sensed that a much needed win was there for the taking and forced a number of free kicks and corners. With time added on being played, Gardner placed a free kick thirty yards out in the inside left position, perfect for a curling cross into the box for the assembled ranks of blue. Instead he attempted a shot which was high wide and not very handsome for a goal kick which Foster took quickly with laser lie accuracy to Tom Ince unmarked on the half way line. He ran onto the ball and with the aid of Kusczcak who had obligingly run out into no man’s land, lobbed the ball over the custodian into an empty net. It was an appalling goal to concede and so it was for the umpteenth time since Zola took over; played well, lost the game. This one was particularly hard to bear as Blues did not deserve to lose this match but if you defend like we do it will continue to happen.
The Good: The performance from the team! Once again Blues played well.
The Bad: The goals conceded; sure the first one was unlucky but Butterfield should not be allowed to shoot freely especially so early in the game.
The Ugly: There was an unpleasant altercation just behind us as two frustrated supporters had a disagreement. However, tough it is at the moment we mustn’t fall out amongst ourselves. We have to pull together.
Birmingham City: Tomasz Kusczcak 5, Emilio Nsue 6, Ryan Shotton 7, Jonathan Grounds 6, Krystian Bielik 7 Paul Robinson 6, Robert Tesche 6 (Kerim Frei 65, 6) David Davis 6 (Stephen Gleeson 90 + 1 N/A) Craig Gardner 5, Lukas Jutkiewicz 6 (Clayton Donaldson 80, N/A)
Subs not used: Adam Legzdins, Josh Dacres-Cogley, Mikael Kieftenbeld, Cheick Keita.
Goals: Adams 68.
Yellow cards: None.
Derby County: Scott Carson 7, Markus Olsson 6, Alex Pearce 7, Richard Keogh 7, Chris Baird 7, Craig Bryson 6 (Darren Bent 78, 6) Bradley Johnson 6, Jacob Butterfield 7 (Will Hughes 64, 6) Johnny Russell 7 (Ikechi Anya 70, 6) David Nugent 6, Tom Ince 7.
Subs not used: Johnathan Mitchell, Abdoul Camara, Cyrus Christie, Matedj Vydra.
Goals: Kusczcak (og) 3, Ince 90 + 2.
Yellow cards: Pearce 45, Keogh 90.
Referee: David Coote 4: A late replacement for the original official, Andy Davies, I felt he got the major calls wrong. I’m not convinced that the goal by Jutkiewicz should have been chalked off and as it transpired it cost us at least a share of the spoils.
Attendance: 19,381 (2,746 away fans)