The much anticipated date for the first local derby of the season was finally upon us. As usual, the big day had been moved to Sunday and the time to 12.00 noon which for me never seems right but that is the result of police and TV pressures nowadays. The inconvenient timings meant that I had no chance of getting a train to get me there unless I set off the day before as a straightforward journey of just over two hours with a single change at Reading had become a four hours trek involving buses and a round the houses not so very scenic route. Despite the fact that the match was televised this was one game when a true bluenose needs to be present and so the car it was. I set off early as I had arranged to pick up my youngest son Ben from his place in Oxford. He was looking a little jaded after a Halloween party the night before with signs of green and artificial blood make up still on his face despite his best efforts to remove it and a hangover that he clearly didn’t want to talk about. Still I thought it was a good effort to be up, washed and dressed by the appointed hour of nine o’clock so we could get on the road to meet up with Chris and little Jack at Baginton. Ben was grateful for the Weetabix ‘on the go’ smoothie drink that his mother had sent him suspecting such an eventuality.
We arrived in good time by just after 10.00 and got straight off down the A45 to St Andrews. We parked up and got straight into the ground where there was a pork bap with salad on offer at the Cookhouse washed down with a pint. That done it was time for kick off.
Blues set up with Kuszczak in goal, Colin, Morrison, Roberts and Grounds across the back, Davis, Ndoye and Kieftenbeld in a strong physical midfield. Up front saw the return of Jota with Che Adams supporting Isaac Vassall. Villa got off to a bright start without really testing Kuszczak unduly. Kodjia’s speculative, long-range shot on eight minutes was easily fielded before Glenn Whelan’s shot was blocked and deflected wide for a corner. The powers that be at St Andrews had equipped the assembled throng with cardboard clappers which has happened before at important games to generate extra noise and atmosphere. The place was a cauldron as it was without them but they also served as missiles to hurl at any Villa player that came anywhere near the edge of the pitch. Snodgrass was bombarded with them which delayed the taking of a corner kick and whilst I know it’s wrong, it was still quite funny. Steve Bruce, tried to play the safety card on the radio after the game banging on about endangering players yadda yadda but in all honesty, the players had more chance of getting hit by a stray meteorite than sustaining serious injury from a light piece of cardboard with the aerodynamic properties of a binliner. When the kick was eventually taken, John Terry’s weak header was easily caught by Kuszczak to hoots of derision from the Tilton.
Following the initial flurry by Villa, Blues gradually started to control the game and in the main, dominated proceedings with Ndoye particularly bossing the midfield battle. Jota was pulling the strings out wide and turned inside at will to trouble the Villa rearguard who were struggling to cope with the pace and movement of Adams and Vassall. Birmingham were winning most of the second ball conflicts which established a positive momentum in the game and kept Villa on their heels and under pressure. Jota tried a shot from the edge of the box following a swift breakaway when the pass options available to him both right and left would arguably have given colleagues a better opportunity. The drive was blocked and the danger averted at the expense of a corner.
One comical moment on the half hour occurred when Villa goalkeeper, Sam Johnstone had just collected a cross and placed the ball on the floor to clear. His kick was charged down by Isaac Vassell, with the ball flying narrowly wide. The young loanee was very fortunate to see the ricochet fly past the post instead of into the net. Had it gone in I reckon it would have been the best laugh down at our place since Enckelman’s stud brusher from Mellberg’s throw in all those years ago! 😀 Not long after, Johnstone saved well from Cheikh N’Doye whose header from 12 yards really should have been the opener on 38 minutes; either side of the keeper rather than straight at him and it’s 1-0.
Birmingham carried on where they left off in the second half and really should have taken the lead in the 49th minute after a mistake by Villa’s Conor Hourihane whose misplaced pass was seized upon by Jota, who raced clean through on goal with just Johnstone to beat. Normally so assured on the ball he panicked and lifted this glorious chance over the bar. For me, that was the game right there; score, as he should have done and Blues go on and win; he didn’t and the result was a goalless draw. Villa were lucky to survive nevertheless when substitute Sam Gallagher stabbed narrowly over the top after 59 minutes from six yards from a fierce drive from Kieftenbeld. These were the best two chances of the game and somehow Steve Cotterill has to figure out a way of getting the team to convert them. This game was there for the taking but as it was it was nervy near the end as we all feared that the visitors would mug the points as they have on previous occasions. Fortunately Gaby Agbonlahor was nowhere to be seen to score his one and only goal of any given season.
Villa did come close to breaking the deadlock in the 63rd minute when an excellent flying save at his near post by Kuszczak kept out Kodjia’s header following a cross from Albert Adomah. We were very lucky to not go behind when Hourihane’s free kick flicked off John Terry’s head and missed the outside of the post by not very much resulting in a sharp intake of breath from those around me! The introduction of Jedinak by Steve Bruce made a big difference to Villa and they certainly enjoyed a brief period in the ascendency as the result. It was a hearts in mouths moment thirteen minutes from time when following a good block by Kuszczak to stop a Villa incursion the rebound fell to substitute, Keinan Davis, who saw his angled left footed drive fly off the bar to safety. Whilst this was a lucky let off it was a piece of luck Blues deserved since over the piece, they were the better of the two sides but having said that, a draw was a fair result and both teams will be satisfied with a satisfactory afternoon’s work which despite the score line was an entertaining watch.
The Good: The performance from Blues and most importantly, the clean sheet. Clean sheets are vital; carry on getting them and results will inevitably follow. The fact that there was no alcohol being served in the away end; shame! 😉
The Bad: I suppose the decision to provide cardboard clappers for this game. The first bombardment was funny but it started to get tedious in the second half.
The Ugly: The mob immediately behind the goal to my left!
Birmingham City: Tomasz Kuszczak 7, Maxime Colin 7, Michael Morrison 7, Marc Roberts 7, Jonathan Grounds 7, Mikael Kieftenbeld 8, David Davis 7, Jota 8 (Jeremie Boga 82 N/A), Cheikh Ndoye 9, Isaac Vassell 8 ( Sam Gallagher 45+1, 7) Che Adams 8 (Lukas Jutkiewicz 90+2, N/A).
Subs not used: Harlee Dean, Craig Gardner, Jacques Maghoma, Connal Trueman.
Yellow cards: Adams 16, Ndoye 52, Roberts 74.
Aston Villa: Sam Johnstone 7, Alan Hutton 7, James Chester 8, John Terry 7, Ahmed Elmohamady 6, Robert Snodgrass 6 (Mile Jedinak 60, 8), Glenn Whelan 7, Conor Hourihane 7 (Keinan Davis 74, 7), Albert Adomah 6, Josh Onomah 6 Jonathan Kodjia 7 (Scott Hogan 81 N/A).
Subs (not used): Ritchie De Laet, Chris Samba, Birkir Bjarnason, Jed Steer.
Yellow cards: Snodgrass 16, Onomah 76.
Attendance: 24,408 (2,078 Vilers) this could have been a full 30,009. Reduced no doubt by police insistence.
Referee: Andrew Madeley: 8; I thought Mr Madeley handled this match well. It threatened to boil over on a couple of occasions but he kept a lid on it well. The second city derby is never an easy one for officials and the men in claret and black (probably prevented Villa wearing their traditional strip!) had a good match.
Postscript: I’m out of the country next week so can’t make the Brentford game or go to Barnsley (not that I would in all probability; it has to be the one of the most depressing places in England). I will miss the Forest game as I have to attend a friend’s birthday bash, Middlesbrough on a weekday evening? You kidding me? Sheffield United away game is a Saturday evening kick off and logistically awful if you are travelling from where I am. The Wolves game is a Monday evening kick off which is difficult from the point of view of work commitments so the first game I will be able to realistically get to will be Fulham away and the next home game QPR on 16 December! Enjoy the break from my drivel in the interim fellow bluenose sufferers. 😀 Until the next time then, ta-ra-a-bit!