Well, after all the pre-march anxiety, the game is finally over…
You can peruse a fairly sizable chunk of the web’s match reports by clicking on the links below:
- Official Blues
- Official Newcastle
- Birmingham Mail
- Singing The Blues
- Sky Sports
- Sporting Life
Writing any sort of report about Blues-Newcastle today leaves me feeling as ill as I did last night. A different feeling but an ill feeling all the same. Before the game kicked off, I was saying to Old Man Aff that winning games such as this one really make the week fly and considering I have two weeks to do with as I please starting from this Thursday, I desperately, desperately wanted this week to fly…
The hours leading up to the game seemed to take forever but I could accept that if it turned the rest of the week into a giddy glide through deadlines at work and numpties (copyright, Tom Ross?) on the streets (why are 90% of bus drivers incapable of the most basic human kindness? If you saw someone JUST miss a bus in town today and accidentally yell some unkind swear words whilst listening to an Ipod completely forgetting where he was, you saw me) as I gleefully checked the table every couple of hours to see us sitting comfortably in 14th. It wasn’t to be.
I hate to use the cliché but a game of two halves it certainly was. We should’ve been AT LEAST 2 up by half time and when we weren’t, I feared for us. I didn’t see after the break being quite so one-sided but I had a sneaking suspicion – that probably didn’t need a rocket scientist to work out – that we were going to concede a silly goal. And the goal was silly. Watch it and you will see Owen on his front foot eagerly waiting for a rebound whilst our two lads were back on their heels, not ready for the inevitable parry from a ‘keeper who seemed to find himself out of luck after one or two decent saves – the one at close range from Owen five minutes before the goal being particularly good.
A point is not the end of the world for us although I – like everyone else – do get the feeling that it’s a better point for those who travelled down from the north east yesterday. It moves us up a place and so long as we’re outside the bottom 3, that’s pretty much all I care about. I’d like us to have more points, I’d like us to be able to hang onto a lead, I’d like us to be able to beat teams from the bottom 8 teams at home and I’d really like it if every broadcaster and newspaper column in the world didn’t treat Newcastle as if they were some precious, special relic that was declining in size day by day and would one day disappear (sadly for some fans, see ‘Rotherham’ and ‘Gretna’ and one or two others, that’s a reality)… but that’s a whole other thing.
The back four seemed better yesterday. There seemed to be a determination to keep a clean sheet and rarely did we look like a silly mistake was going to let the Geordies in, save maybe Liam Ridgewell thinking that he was some sort of NBA star. Murphy is looking a class act and Kelly is Mr Consistency whilst Ridgewell seemed to be much better when he simply focused on defending and getting the ball clear.
The midfield dominated the first half and Muamba is going to be one hell of a player someday. He’s adding elements to his game regularly and his eagerness to shoot, no doubt spurred on by his wonder-volley at Pompey (ahem!), was a joy to watch. Big Eck just has to do with him as he needs to do with Zarate and make sure that a shot is taken when there isn’t a better and more obvious option available. Decision making is one of the most crucial aspects in being a creative player in the Premiership and judging by Muamba’s eagerness to attack, he certainly sees himself as having the potential to become a bit more cultured on the ball and being able to add that attacking edge to his game.
DJ, for the most part, was quiet and I wonder if we’ll see Nafti back in for Reading. I certainly wouldn’t mind that and perhaps DJ out wide right with Nafti in the middle will be the order of the day if Larsson’s injury is as bad as first feared (I’ll do another blog on that shortly.)
The attack? Well, what can you say about James McFadden? £5m… when I first heard the figure, I almost cried but Big Eck has proven that he knows the player better than most and has motivated and deployed him in a way to make sure that we get our money’s worth. It’ll be a crying shame if we go down and he has to move on. The Forss didn’t get much service all night and was remarkably quiet. We had no ball retention at all in the final third in the second half and McFadden was cream-crackered so should’ve been taken off much earlier than he was.
Still, McLeish is still fairly new in the job and I daresay learning more about his charges as he goes. I thought Parnaby coming on at half time wasn’t a bad move at the time. I like and rate Parnaby but he struggled to make an impact and our out ball seemed to be a gigantic boot up the pitch in the second half although, in all fairness, neither side were full of lovely, silky, penetrating, attacking flair.
Overall, I’m disappointed, as I think everyone is. 2 points dropped and a real chance to put some daylight between us and the chasing pack. If I remember correctly, we’re now two points ahead of Bolton Wanderers with them travelling to have their game in hand at Old Trafford tomorrow night. They couldn’t beat 10 man Wigan Athletic away so the chance of nicking anything at Manchester United is slim but football… it’s a funny old game.
As McLeish said after the game, nothing was going to be settled on yesterday’s game but the impetus a win would’ve given us would’ve been massive. As it stands, we face another cup final on Saturday and it wouldn’t surprise me if nothing was clearer after that, either.
This year is going to see a record points low for a team staying up and I can see us getting to 35 points (ish) so it really will be edge of seats stuff for us and the teams around us from now until May. Despite Fulham’s impressive win on Sunday, I still can’t see them climbing out of it and I still believe that it’s just one place left on the trapdoor. Surely it can’t be us? Surely? Despite the negative results, there’s still a bit of a feel good factor around the place and I can’t for the life of me see us going down whilst that exists…
Like I said, disappointed – but still optimistic.
The last week has been a good one, hasn’t it? I’m still over the moon about the Tottenham game although I haven’t had time to blog about it. I’ve started several articles but after about three paragraphs I usually end up selecting ‘Ctrl + A’ and then hitting ‘Delete’ because I need to look after a sick relative, do some proper world work, answer someone on the phone or have something significantly more interesting than Blues on offer!
The result deserves some sort of recognition here although I’m sure Spurs fans won’t appreciate this oddity popping up on their NewsNow stream, especially considering they comfortably won their last game. Still, they’ve got some silverware in the bank this season so sod ‘em.
Jake, the kindly soul who usually offers home match reports couldn’t do the Spurs game so John Baker, an exile who runs the excellent Blues Muse website, offered up a match report after having watched the game live … sort of. Here’s what he had to say:
Here’s what I observed through my big telescope this week as we put a 7th goal past the England Goalkeeper this season…
A PREMIERSHIP TEAM
We looked like a decent team for most of the match, and despite our lowly league position looked more like a mid to upper-mid position Prem team for much of the match. We’re now unbeaten in 4, so that sounds about right.
THE STATISTICS DON’T LIE
Along with that 4 game unbeaten run, we’ve also prevented Arsenal from taking an additional 4 points of late, and done the double over the League Cup winners.
OK, so before I start wetting mesen, let’s work from the back . . .
Taylor did little or nothing wrong between the sticks. It seems that a change of ‘keeper coach has really improved Taylor’s game as he now picks more crosses out of the air than I’m used to seeing from him.
Talking of conspiracies, that ex Aston Vile keeper and coach, Nigel Stink, must have been on an Aston Villa salary until he left recently. I think we were being conned.
THE BACK LINE
Kelly and Murphy, just awesome – sorry about the Americanism – plus Jaidi and Ridgewell also shone. OK, so the Ridge gave the ball away just over the half way line, but that’s hardly a defensive blunder. At the back he is cultured, and is a ‘little giant’ as he frequently wins balls in the air. He also had a hand in our first goal from McSheffrey’s corner by the way.
Johnson motored and motored, Muamba motored and gave the ball away too often, McSheffrey was improvement on his Prem self, and Larsson did all the things we expect of him and more. Oh yeah, right, he also scored a beauty of a free kick.
Muamba is in his first Prem season, so he will only get better in terms of composure on the ball, and Johnson, as his seasons wane, almost repeated his goal against Robinson when getting our first Prem win in 2002. McSheff I can only hope is on his way back. I think he’s become a bit of an enigma, but I’ll let you know about that once I’ve looked up the word in the dictionary.
Oh my giddy [Aunt]! We, ahem, McLeish could be on to something here! As much as I’d like to see DeRidder and Zarate used more, I thought that McFadden and the Forss worked well together. We as a Club and set of fans are possibly about to be rewarded with the Forss of old it seems. What’s that? He’s signing for Stoke City in the summer you say?!
Parnaby acquitted himself well as did Jerome, but that Zarate fella, well, he’s a bloody genius! His value has been estimated at 20 million quid, so I can only assume that Big Mac prefers to work mostly with the players he knows he WILL have come next mid-August. But my McFriend, Zarate has stated that he appreciates the Premiership chance given to him by Birmingham City, and would love to give the Club fist dibs when the season is over. That said, should we go after him, can we afford him, and where would he slot into the scheme of things? He’s too damn talented to leave on the bench every week! Zárate, por favor no te vayas!
Having my Welsh inclinations [leave it], I was pleased to see the tartan one wearing a Daffodil during the game. In case you hadn’t realised, it was St. David’s Day on Saturday! In my opinion Big Mac is the signing of the season, and if we can keep him, I can see us doing very nicely next season thank you very much!
Tell me, when the ball breaks from defence, have you noticed how comfortable he is on the ball, how infrequently he loses it, and how the opposing defenders stand off him? This guy is a class act, a canny laddie, and is starting to fill the role that McLeish had him earmarked for. I don’t care what anybody says, he’s worth every penny of the transfer fee, plus a can of Irn Bru and Scotch Pie and beans. Mmmmm.
By the way, if anyone disagrees I’ll break yer legs Jumma! [phrase copyright of Roger Hynd, circa 1972]
THE BANANA CUSTARD CREW [Tottenham]
Playing in their away strip of all yellow – see the connection now? – they were dominated by the boys in blue. I rate Berbatov, but no team wants to carry a prima donna who sucks his thumb at the slightest adversity. Thing is though, we contributed greatly in making Spurs look very juvenile is so many ways on Saturday, and I’m sure I’m only one voice to say, long may it continue.
It’s one of those results that puts a spring in your step for the next week and only now the slog of another working week has started has it begun to rub off. Although the sight of an FA Cup Semi Final with no clubs inside the big three – or Liverpool (I stole this one from an Everton supporting internet acquaintance, I know it’s going to make me laugh for a long time) in the semi has made it seem as though football has collectively gone some way to healing itself, albeit probably temporarily.
Going back to Spurs though, it felt like the justification of steadfastly sticking by and supporting Big Eck through of a string of good if unfortunate performances meriting fewer points than we should have had paid off and was offering us a glimpse of what’s on offer if we continue to do so. So what if they have two world-class centre halves injured? So what if they’re still pished from celebrating too hard? You can only beat what’s put in front of you and Alex McLeish’s brilliant riposte that Spurs caught us on a good day when questioned about this very fact by one of the BBC crew was sublime.
It was also great that we could simply sit and bask in the glory of a very good and comfortable win for a few days since we weren’t due to play for another 11 days. Articles praising the Forss were thrown up across the web and he looked fantastically happy in interviews on local TV. I had hoped to blog one or two of the articles involving him but the links are well and truly buried in the bowels of the internet now and whilst I’m dedicated to both Blues and this blog, there’s certain places that go above and beyond what I expect of myself! There will be no digging in bowels. In short: Forss, feeling good, looking sharp, everyone’s delighted.
McFadden… When we were linked with James McFadden, I said that Toffees fans would be dancing in the street the day we signed him for £5m. Well, all they’ve done is succeed in making themselves fitter and not proving any sort of point because this guy’s going to be a good un for us. He has that intelligence to play against the very top teams and be able to have a positive impact on the game and we’ve already seen his ice cool side in the free-kick situation against Arsenal (we’ll skip over his one on one with the ‘keeper) and the penalty at West Ham.
I’m excited about a potential long-term partnership between him and the Forss. Both have footballing brains and Larsson seems to be on a similar wavelength – watching the three of them celebrate time after time against Spurs was fantastic. I’m just eager for us to get Kapo back now since he’s also the type who can see things that other players can’t. Worryingly for defences in the Premiership, Kapo also has the talent to make these things happen.
I liken the four of them to McSheffrey and Bendtner last season. Both were a class above anything in the Championship and it was intelligence as much as natural ability that saw them stand out. Jerome has all the attributes to be an absolutely top class player (first touch aside?) but since the day he turned up, I’ve had doubts about his footballing brain. I’m not sure he can read his team mates and I’m not sure that he can instinctively see when a team mate is planning an outlandish or difficult pass. I feel that the Forss and McFadden are both likely to see a gap or see a potential move 3-4 seconds before it actually happens and will react accordingly.
Jerome is very raw. He has pace, he has power and over time, his finishing has improved (see: ‘Goals against Derby, Tottenham and Newcastle’). His first touch is still cumbersome and he still can look awkward in possession but the essential ingredients are there. Now I wonder if McLeish – or anyone – can turn good ingredients into the finished article. A footballing brain is a gift and when coaches and ex-players say that 90% of football is between the ears, it’s players like Cameron Jerome I worry about. Great ability but ultimately unsuccessful when it comes to the level that they could potentially play at.
And getting back on topic, it was nice to see the performance being recognised by those in the game when Big Eck was handed the LMA Performance Of The Week. Any recognition is good recognition although does it bother anyone else that Sir Alex Ferguson gets a say on who gets the performance of the week in a league that he manages in? Surely an independent panel should vote? Is it Fergie every week or does everyone get a say? If it’s rotated, we’ve got no chance when Wenger has his say! Meh, whatever. Well done Alex, well done Blues.
Onwards and upwards, we travel to Portsmouth on Wednesday night. I’ll do a full preview tomorrow (probably, assuming a meteorite doesn’t fall from the sky or ‘THE STORM!’ hasn’t wiped me out – the news programmes are doing my head in with the coverage. It’s bad weather, it’s not World War III. A huge inconvenience for some, worse for a few, but let’s not treat it as if it’s an impending apocalypse, eh?) but can’t pass up the opportunity to talk about a subject that was brought up by another exiled Bluenose who joins in on the Joys & Sorrows forum.
Before the weekend, what result did you hope for with Pompey travelling to Manchester United? Did you want United to hammer them to reduce confidence, did you want a draw and a juicy draw for Pompey in the next round to get them focused on the replay instead of our game, a Pompey win to hopefully see them ‘do a Spurs’ and lose focus out of achievement?
Portsmouth aren’t great at home – played 13, won 4, drew 7, lost 2, 16 for (7 in one game) 10 against. My logic was that I wanted Pompey under as much pressure as possible from an expectant home crowd. A win at Old Trafford would certainly provide that and now it’s gone and happened. An early goal from Blues could really put the home crowd on edge and ruin a party atmosphere (Pompey were drawn against West Bromwich Albion in the cup semi earlier today – both semi’s to be played at Wem-ber-lee) and it’s not as if we’ve been playing badly lately.
Many others said that they wanted a United win and judging by the sheer amount of chances created by the home side, that should’ve been exactly what happened. You could argue that any club that goes to Old Trafford and wins is a side to be feared but on another day, Pompey could’ve been on the end of a 6 or 7-0 beating. It’s the way the cookie crumbles and I’ll certainly be backing us to go down there and nick at least a point on Wednesday. Although, if any Pompey fans have read this far, I will say that, regardless of the fact that we’re playing you lot this week, I was delighted to see you put United out.
The good thing is that we go into Wednesday night not being in the bottom three and a win could see us set ourselves up nicely for a gigantic tussle with Newcastle United on Monday night. A win there – regardless of our result at Portsmouth – would spring board us above the hapless Geordies.
And by the way, who – outside Newcastle – thought that Keegan was a good appointment? When I first read that he was interested, I really wanted it to happen. In an amusing “That would be a world class – but stupid and ultimately tragic – story!” kind of way. In the same way that it would be mightily funny if say, Robbie Savage was run over by a Sauerkraut truck. It had a ‘Highly Unlikely’ stamp on it and when it actually happened… well, my laughter cup runneth over.
The next two games are beyond words in terms of importance. 4 points – 3 against Newcastle, please – could see us really begin to shoot up the league. With Wigan still in reasonable form and Reading finally beginning to pick up the points that they have perhaps deserved, it’s important to not be left behind. Derby have gone and Fulham are pretty much on their last few gasps of Premiership air bar a miracle which leaves one space available for a team up to Middlesbrough in 12th. Newcastle are looking the favourites at the moment with their run of form but looking at their squad, you would have to say that eventually, they’ll scrape enough points together to stay up.
Whatever. Anyone but us will do and with the good feeling bobbing around the pit of my stomach at the moment, I have a feeling that it won’t be.
I said to myself yesterday that I would bring the blog back online ‘today’ if we got a good result against Arsenal. I didn’t have the chance to post yesterday due to a certain amount of being sick, coughing my lungs up and generally regretting the fact that I’d celebrated the McFadden equaliser much too hard. You see, I’ve been sick and stressed for the past seven days and each day I think it’s going to improve, it doesn’t. I’ll openly admit that a certain amount of it is down to man ‘flu… but the rest is connected to problems that I’ve had since I was a kid.
So after jumping around like, what can only be described as ‘a maniac’, I can then justifiably lie down pathetically on the couch and squeak that I’d actually quite like to be left alone – but a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits wouldn’t go amiss. And that was my afternoon. A cuppa in my Tim-Tams mug accompanied by the boys on ‘Soccer Saturday’. Just why does Matt Le Tissier dislike Liverpool so much? He’s turning into a hero of mine, that man.
I’m glad I didn’t get to post, by the way. As well as dying of bird ‘flu (it must be bird ‘flu, I caught it off Mrs Aff) I was suffering from a severe case of Wengeritis. This dreadful condition manifests itself in the boiling of blood and the muttering of idiotic and incorrect statements at inappropriate times and places. It’s a temporary bug and tends to leave the body after just a few hours. If I’d posted what I felt yesterday, I think I would’ve come back today, deleted the offending post and pretended as if the blog was broken for a few more days…
Time is wonderful for a bit of perspective and unlike his captain yesterday, Arsene Wenger had the option of giving himself a break in time before issuing any sort of response to the media over the horrific incident that happened in the third minute of the clash at St Andrew’s yesterday afternoon. After all, how many times do we see managers send their #2 down to talk to the press every single week on various footy shows? Or even send a message to the waiting press to say that all that Arsenal are focused on at the moment is the welfare of their injured star and that a response will be forthcoming tomorrow?
And speaking of Eduardo… I’m sure everyone is united in wishing him as speedy and uncomplicated a recovery as possible. No-one likes to see incidents like the one yesterday and they affect us all whether you’re red or blue. We’re all fans of the same sport and whilst our views may wildly differ on many issues, no-one likes to see a player sustain the type of injury that the young Arsenal striker did yesterday, especially at such an age – he turns 25 tomorrow.
The actual incident… Initially I couldn’t watch it again (I recorded the game) and I point blank refused to look at photographs of it. Several forums carried photographs of it but I blanked them out by quickly scrolling past with squinted eyes and my hand over the screen in front of me. The Sky coverage showed the tackle again before they went off air. They said that you couldn’t see the damage done to Eduardo but could see how Tiny went in and how the damage might’ve been done.
Since then I’ve seen several photographs and saw the coverage again… Originally – having seen it just once – I agreed with David Platt and thought that had the damage not been done that the game would’ve gone on with nothing more than a free kick. However, having seen the evidence again, I backed up and agreed that the referee was correct in his assessment. It was a red card offence.
Depending on which photo you look at, Taylor catches Eduardo anywhere between the knee and the ankle. It’s impossible to tell from a still where the contact actually takes place and choosing a photograph that you believe to be the point of impact probably dictates how you want to paint Taylor in this – villain or slightly awkward clown. My point is that photographs can be deceiving. After all, one has caught Tiny ’smiling’ at the damage he’s just done to Eduardo, if you choose to believe that. I hope that with the stats below, you’ll realise that this isn’t the case.
I don’t think I need to say, from a Birmingham City point of view at least, that Taylor isn’t that sort of player. His record stands up against anyone’s and before I wrote this article I was going to look up his full discipline record for his whole career. Thankfully I didn’t have to do that because a poster at SHA had already done it for me! Taylor has made 234 career appearances and up until yesterday, received just six cautions and one red card. And that card came in a Championship-level game in 1999 – a game that saw 3 reds and two penalties. Overzealous refereeing perhaps? Taylor came on as a sub in the 44th minute and was sent off after 63. I have no idea what for, I cannot locate a match report anywhere.
Many people have come out in staunch defence of Taylor including three of his ex-managers in Glenn Roeder, Graeme Souness and Steve Bruce. Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson both supported Taylor on MotD and Blues issued a statement last night stating that they fully supported Taylor and know that his challenge was certainly not meant maliciously.
And that’s the crux of this particular matter for me… intent. Just like in real life, accidents happen in football. We inevitably have to find a villain to blame for something that has gone horribly wrong and having searched (not particularly hard either, I sadly report) for reactions to the incident today, there’s a lot of upsetting stuff floating around with regard to Taylor from Arsenal fans.
Which is a shame because Arsenal are usually the club that you expect to do things right out of the big four. The club that seemed to have kept their feet closer to – not on – the floor than the other big three in the Prem. Wenger has crafted many great sides there and brought many Premiership fans some memories that they’ll cherish. I suppose like any genius, he has his flaws and I find it sad that so many people seem to have took his first statement and amplified the nastiness of it by so much.
Of course there is exceptions and of course, he later retracted it. But I’ve seen both interviews – the one from Sky TV and the one done by the BBC – in full and he said a lot of potentially damaging things and anyone who is anyone knows and understands that in the modern game, mud sticks. Which parts did he retract anyway? It wasn’t exactly clear although I do understand him not wanting to go through something potentially embarrassing for him and his club with a fine tooth comb.
It’s easy to forget that under all of this controversy that we nicked a point from a very, very good outfit – the second time in a number of weeks – and our new signings are really beginning to settle in. I won’t go in-depth about it but Big Eck’s changes were spot on and exactly what was required and McFadden’s coolness under pressure beggars belief. Three goals in two matches having earnt us two points is a big slice of £5m in today’s modern game.
I’m sure Arsenal fans will claim that the injury to Eduardo played some part in such a lacklustre performance, especially in the first half and yesterday, I rejected this somewhat angrily. I was frustrated that all the credit of a hard-working display had been taken away from us. Besides, Blues players also saw the state of Eduardo’s leg and surely anyone who’d seen such an injury would be struggling to refocus? However, on reflection – and having seen the incident again – Arsenal players looked distraught and calling the game off wouldn’t have been the worst decision – although I’m sure 27,000 would’ve disagreed with me.
The first half seemed to take on a surreal air and I felt a little guilty when McFadden put us one up. By the time Arsenal took the lead, I was too busy whining about what a shockingly bad commentator Ian Darke is to remember how I felt less than an hour ago. Football is funny like that. It seemed as though a lot of people had forgotten by the 90th minute and I wonder if Gallas would’ve exploded the way he did if the referee hadn’t given the penalty.
I don’t really have an opinion on Gallas. That’s an Arsenal matter although I’m glad I hadn’t taken my slightly skittish nephew along to the game along with a friend and his kid for the £50 offer and sat in the Paddock – right by where Gallas kicked. Not a brilliant example but maybe somewhat understandable? Like I said earlier, Gallas couldn’t remove himself from the situation like Wenger could. There was so much going on yesterday that it’s impossible to encapsulate it all in one blog
Going over the incidents such as Arsenal’s first goal, our free-kick and the penalty shouts seems a bit empty and hollow really. There’s an extremely talented young footballer lying in a London hospital right now with his career possibly hanging in the balance, another guy who, I have no doubt, is going over and over the incident in his head wondering what he might’ve done differently to avoid inflicting such an excruciating injury.
And I do worry about Taylor. From what people have said about him, he’s a gentle giant and causing that sort of injury – and then being vilified for it – must cause huge self-doubt and worry. I hope his is mentally strong enough to come back from the scars and the mud being flung in his direction by people who simply would not stop and think about it for more than about five minutes.
It’s probably best to leave it there… Simply put: Get well Eduardo, we hope to see you back soon. Come back soon, Tiny. We believe in you. Hopefully the relationship between the two clubs will go back to what it once was once all of this has settled down.