Birmingham City nil; seems to roll off the tongue doesn’t it? Birmingham City nil is how I answer people who ask me whom I support nowadays. Like many I watched Monday’s game against high flying Wolves with no expectations and I am bound to say it turned out a darned sight better than I thought it would. Blues put in a solid, if less than spectacular, performance and save for a mistake early doors, could easily have come out of the game with a creditable and unexpected point. Sadly, as so often this season, we conceded a goal and Wolves knew deep down that provided they played conservatively and sensibly that they would win on the grounds that we were highly unlikely to score and that they would probably create another clear cut opportunity or two which is pretty well what happened. We have David Stockdale to thank and his gallant defenders coming in with timely blocks at the right time that it was not a more comprehensive score line. On the positive side, it wasn’t a wholly one sided game even though Wolves were undoubtedly the better side. Blues were in the ascendency when Harlee Dean stupidly got himself sent off but in truth I never felt at any stage in the match that we were going to draw level and this is an aspect of our play that disturbs me most of all.
In my report of the first match of the season at Ipswich Town, I stated that having bossed the game right up until the home side scored against the run of play we never looked like getting back into it after that and frankly there have been far too many occasions when that pattern has been repeated. I confess that I for one am very worried about our prospects; we are toothless in attack and defensively we always look as if we’ll let at least one past and that fellow bluenoses is a bad combination. I am seriously looking at the geography of League 1 for venues to visit next year. This may sound gloomy and negative but of the games I have personally attended this season, in the majority we haven’t mustered a goal and having nothing to cheer so often and when 0-0 is a red letter day, it eats away at the soul.
Earlier in the week, I’d arrived at work and my secretary had a large mug of tea (in a Birmingham City mug naturally!) waiting for me as usual. She had left it on the nurses station just outside my consulting room but I was presented with the shattered remnants of my Blues pint mug by Alex, one of my nurses who had accidentally knocked it onto the floor! Juley, my secretary, an Arsenal fan who nevertheless has the football gene and so understands, was shocked and horrified. She said that she hoped this wasn’t a bad omen for my team but I replied that the omens couldn’t get much worse and it may prove the opposite! Alex was very upset as she knows how important all things blue and white are to me but I told her not to worry on the grounds it might just lead to a change of fortune. Isn’t it strange how human beings clutch at straws?
Anyway, on to the present; it was Saturday morning and what a beautiful day it was! Bright blue sky, golden sun and the world was wearing its crystal coat which gleamed and sparkled in the early low sunlight. It was time for an early walk in the woods with Bentley, a little Cairn Terrier who belongs to an elderly neighbour of ours but who is restricted by a chest condition that renders her breathless especially in cold weather. Bentley is an energetic, feisty little lad who needs a decent workout and since the loss of my beloved Welsh Terrier, Dilys, three years ago now, I’ve been happy to help. It was perfect conditions for a walk with clean air, a crunch underfoot and the beauty of the trees carpeted by their fallen, spent leaves. On my return it was soon time to head for the train from Farnborough to Clapham Junction and from there the short hop to Putney. The pleasant walk over the bridge and along the bank of the Thames through Lambeth Palace park beckoned and I arrived at the ground in plenty of time for a pint of beer before kick off.
I hadn’t been to a game since we played Vile with most of our matches being too far to travel, at awkward times such as Friday night, Saturday evening or Monday. True some had been televised but I don’t really enjoy watching us on the box and our record for televised games doesn’t seem to be of the best but this may be a misconception; all I know is that we seem to be on the wrong end of the score line most times and some of the commentators get on my nerves to be honest; the phrase “that little bitta qual-a-ee in the final third” makes me want to cut my ears off so I don’t have to endure it more than a dozen times in the match! The cliches from these people get wearily repetitive to say the least. So, it was good at least to get back in amongst the atmosphere of a live game once again. I drove to Farnborough Main and having parked, navigated the grindingly slow ticket machine process and then stood in the queue at the train ticket machine which is also slower than a giant sloth, I just made onto the platform for the London train at 13.00 which meant that I reached Craven Cottage at about 2 pm. Over 4,400 Blues fans for this one. Amazing when you think how wretched our form has been since Gary Rowett left.
The game was a replica of so many others that I’ve described this season. We conceded on 14 minutes to a nice move down the left by Fulham. The cross came in too easily but Ojo got across the defender and using the pace on the ball flicked in from six yards giving Stockdale no chance. I said to the guy standing next to me; “I bet you that 1-0 will be the score at the end of the game.” Indeed it was but only due to a couple of worldies from David Stockdale, one in each half. For our part we produced very little apart from one weak shot that Bettenelli fielded without having to move his feet and a free kick from Jeremie Boga that whipped over the wall but a foot wide. Nsue also had a header from a corner just the wrong side of the post. Then in the 75th minute, salvation! Nsue was upended in the box and Mr Harrington had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Boga lined up the kick, I had my phone on video, run up, over the bar! That was our chance to salvage something from a lacklustre performance and off that chance sailed, into the stand behind me. Fulham couldn’t believe their luck; Christmas really had come early. We never looked like scoring apart from that one moment. Fulham moved the ball better, passed it better, player movement was better, they pressed in twos and threes not as individuals like us and when they got possession they didn’t keep coughing it up like we did. Look, for all that Fulham weren’t particularly great but they didn’t have to be to beat us. They carried out the basics competently and ran out worthy winners.
The Good: The support from the travelling faithful; they deserve so much better than the bilge that is being dished up. How is it that the team is not being lifted by the noise we make?
The Bad: The penalty! If nothing else get the bloody thing on target!
The Ugly: The thought that we may not score another goal this year! The fact is that on a personal level, I have not seen Birmingham score a goal when I have been present at the game since 16 September and we lost that one 3-1.
Fulham: Marcus Bettenelli 6, Ryan Fredericks 6, Ryan Sessegnon 6, Kevin McDonald 6, Neeskens Kabano 5 (Aboubakar Kamara 45+2, 6) Stephan Johansen 7 (Rui Fonte 79, N/A) Tom Cairney 6, Tim Ream 8, Oliver Norwood 6, Sheyi Ojo 7 (Marcelo Djalo 90+1, N/A) Tomas Kalas 7.
Subs not used: Yohan Mollo, Jordan Graham, Luca de la Torre, David Button.
Goals: Ojo 14.
Yellow cards: Norwood 61.
Birmingham City: David Stockdale 8, Emilio Nsue 6, Michael Morrison 6, Jonathan Grounds 6, Cohen Brammall 5 (Jacques Maghoma 89, N/A) Josh Dacres-Cogley 5, Mikael Kieftenbeld 6, Stephen Gleeson 5, David Davis 4, Jeremie Boga 6, Lukas Jutkiewicz 5 (Sam Gallagher 63, 6)
Subs not used: Jota, Conor Trueman, David Cotterill, Cheick Ndoye, David Lowe.
Goals: Nil (AGAIN!)
Yellow cards: Davis 87.
Referee: Tony Harrington 7: I thought the referee had a good game although the assistant to my left managed to get get three calls wrong, a throw in, a corner and a goal kick all of which should have been awarded to the team opposite to the one that actually received the award. The penalty award was correct and decisive; pity about Boga’s execution of it.
Attendance: 19,644 (4,400 bluenoses [approx])