I awoke as usual, at just after 06.00 and – not being one for lying around in bed – I got up, abluted, and headed downstairs. The dawn broke to a milky grey sky, still air and cold dew on the back lawn undisturbed by denizens of the night or human foot. Bentley, a little Cairn Terrier belonging to an elderly neighbour, but staying with us while she is away, looked up expectantly in anticipation of his walk. The light of the morning increased as the minutes went by as I enjoyed breakfast and a hot cup of coffee and with the sunrise complete it was time for Bentley and I to venture out. We were not alone and doggies of all shapes and sizes were met with, sniffed and moved onwards from. Chris called up and we confirmed arrangements to meet up at Coventry later on. We usually push the boat out on FA Cup Third Round Day and hire a box and drink ale in the warm but we couldn’t muster enough people to make it economically viable and on that basis, Will and my son Ben decided to give the game a miss (bloody part-timers!) so it was just Chris, little Jack and yours truly for this event.
We had all been present for the game at Reading on Tuesday and it was pleasing that on a filthy night when it lashed it down with rain all evening that Blues put in another good performance, not only winning but scoring TWO goals in a single game! The stuff of dreams and no mistake especially with a clean sheet to add to the one against Leeds last Saturday and be in no doubt both events were thoroughly deserved wins. Admittedly, we are still in the bottom three and there is much work to do but the back to back wins have at least given us a chance and a glimmer of hope of an improving picture unlike the situation after the Norwich game. Despite the upturn in our fortunes, I can’t honestly say that I was approaching this tie with huge enthusiasm. Both teams are struggling; although Burton have won three and drawn one of their last five but like us have more pressing concerns than the Cup. They will probably share our view that whilst it would be nice to win to maintain momentum, they like us are not going to win the Cup and are unlikely to go far in the competition, so getting knocked out wouldn’t be the end of life as we know it. The one thing I can say is neither team would want a replay. Could this mean an exciting, open game? Only time would tell but I suspected it was going to be tight with one goal or perhaps the odd goal in three settling the matter.
After Bentley’s walk it was soon time to set off for Blackwater station. The sun had come out and it promised to be a fine day. There was a queue at the ticket machine and I only managed to get mine in the nick of time. Unfortunately, despite ordering a return, the grindingly slow contraption coughed out a single and the train guard hadn’t got a portable ticket dispenser to rectify matters. When I got to Reading, I was directed to the main ticket office where a lovely lady on the counter charged me the difference, a princely £0.65 and gave me a return ticket! Life surprises you sometimes; I was expecting a load of hassle and another charge and instructions to complain to head office, etc, but not a bit of it. It turned out to be the most painless experience and with ticket in hand and stress levels relieved there was plenty of time for a comfort break and catching my connection. I arrived bang on time at 12.25 to be picked up by Chris and it was back to the Baginton Oak for a pint before setting off down the A45 to the ground.
We reached there at about 2.30 pm and there was time for another scoop before some food at the Cookhouse except that there was no Cookhouse! We had to settle for a pie and a pint each. The word beforehand was that the fit again Che Adams would not start and I felt this was a wise move. The last thing we need is for him to fall lame again to another hamstring injury on what was going to be another cold day. He has bigger fish to fry in the coming weeks. I was fascinated to see what sort of side Blues would field given that Burton would likely as not put out their strongest side as with their resources it was unlikely that Nigel Clough would have the luxury of choice in the matter. It turned out that Steve Cotterill fielded the same side as against Leeds and Reading and why not? It was important, if at all possible, that we maintained momentum and a defeat after two good wins would not help.
The first thing to say is that this was not a great game. There was very little excitement to speak of in the first 45 minutes and had this game been on the telly, I would probably have nodded off in front of it. Burton had the best of what there was in my view and after 14 minutes Will Miller produced the first moment of danger, of a goal that is, when he struck a shot from the edge of the box which Stockdale clawed out of the top corner near post. Burton had other attempts from Lucas Atkins and pantomime villain Lloyd Dyer who shot wide and had an attempt blocked respectively. Burton seemed to have a shoot on sight policy as further shots by Dyer, Murphy and Brayford were either blocked or missed. Blues on the other hand hardly laid a glove on the visitors and certainly failed to trouble Bywater in the Burton goal. I don’t want to give the impression that The Brewers were all over us, they weren’t, but they did pass it better, kept possession better and looked sharper than we did and had they scored, I don’t think we could have had complaint. However, the whistle blew on a largely dull-as-dishwater half with the score at 0-0.
The second half improved a little bit but not by much. Blues so nearly went behind from a corner when the ball fell to Ben Turner whose attempt was cleared off the line. We were very lucky to survive that one. Blues started to get more into the game after Burton’s initial flurry and Boga and Maghoma were starting to cause the visitors’ defence problems. The game needed a spark and this was provided by Jacques Maghoma who burrowed into the box and finally got behind the Burton defence for the first time in the match. His square ball was met by Sam Gallagher who deposited the chance high into the net for the lead somewhat against the run of play on 56 minutes. A similar position a few minutes later was squandered when the wingman placed his pass behind the on-rushing Davis who would surely have made it 2-0 but he had to check and take a touch and the chance was gone. The contest was a lot more even after the goal and although in the last few minutes, Burton huffed and puffed, they couldn’t blow the Blues house down and with basic game management, the home supporters left happy with the tight win I had predicted. Into the hat for the fourth round for the first time for three seasons; you never know, Spurs away and we may get to play in the FA Cup at Wembley after all! 😀
The Good: The fact that Blues didn’t play very well but still won. This was the sort of game we would have lost a few weeks back.
The Bad: No food at the Cookhouse! What is going on?
The Ugly: The match; it will not go down as one of the great classics of FA Cup history. It wasn’t helped by the fact that only the Kop, a small area of the Gil Merrick stand and the VIP area of the old family stand were populated. An empty Tilton did not look right.
Birmingham City: David Stockdale 7, Maxime Colin 7, Harlee Dean 7, Marc Roberts 7, Jonathan Grounds 7, David Davis 7, Jacques Maghoma 7 (Cheick N’Doye 88, N/A), Craig Gardner 6, Jeremie Boga 7 (Josh Dacres-Cogley 80, 6), Mikael Kieftenbeld 6, Sam Gallagher 7.
Subs not used: Conor Trueman, Jota, Che Adams, Michael Morrison, Lukas Jutkiewicz.
Goals: Gallagher 56.
Yellow cards: Kieftenbeld 37, Grounds 67, Davis 90.
Burton Albion: Stephen Bywater 6, Kyle McFadzean 6, Jake Buxton 7, Ben Turner 7, Tom Flanaghan 6, Tom Naylor 7, Luke Murphy 6 (Hope Akpan 86, N/A), John Brayford 7 (Marvin Sordell 74, 6), Lloyd Dyer 7, Lucas Atkins 7, Will Miller 6 (Joe Sbarra 45, 6).
Subs not used: Shaun Barker, Stephen Warnock, Jamie Allen, Harry Campbell.
Yellow cards: Brayford 65, Turner 75, Sordell 83.
Referee: Jeremy Simpson: 7; The officials were fine and I thought had a solid game. The only decision I felt that the referee got wrong was an obvious foul on Boga in the first half on the edge of the area when the Blues player was about to shoot. Fortunately, it had no bearing on the overall result.