I had planned a full match preview but upon getting home from work and crashing around a track on Project Gotham Racing for a while, I realised that it probably wasn’t worth it just two hours before kick off. Now there’s just over an hour to go before our biggest game of the season and how there hasn’t been reports of Blues fans literally exploding with anxiety in the local news, I will never know.
I’ve been watching the clock slowly turn all day and it’s impossible to believe that 14 hours can seem as long as they have done today. I mean, really. Now there’s under an hour to go and I feel physically sick. I told Mrs Aff that she needn’t fix me up with any sort of dinner tonight because it wouldn’t stay in its container if we scored – and we will – but she insisted and did me a nice meat and veg meal. I ate a bit. Not much. I think it’ll stay down but if we could afford to skip horrific leg breaks, last minute penalty drama or early sendings off, that’d be swell.
Eerily, as I sat down to write this, V-H1 Classic has decided to throw up “The Winner Takes It All” by Abba…
I’ll be honest, it’s not one of my favourite songs but there’s a certain poignancy to it. The amount of times that I’ve read that this is it, a win and we’re safe and a loss and we can wave goodbye to the Premiership for another year. I’ve dismissed that and even moreso since we managed to hang on to 17th over the weekend but there’s no doubting that a win tonight could severely dent Newcastle’s chances as much as enhancing our own. After all, it’s all about scrambling to seventeenth and at the moment, we’re just about doing that and even if we lose tonight, we’ll still be doing that.
Today’s one of those games, isn’t it? A full match preview doesn’t do it justice so I’ve just decided that I’d sit down with my laptop before the game and write what I felt. There’s something less mechanical about writing when I’m in such a hyped up state but at the same time, I find myself being overly biased and, dare I say it, silly when I write in such a frenzied state!
Tonight’s game was the last thing I thought about before I went to bed last night and the first thing I thought about when I woke up this morning. The morning ritual of coffee with Mrs Aff and getting clean and washed for the day ahead was permeated with “Come on you Blues!” under the breath and daydreaming of scenarios that might crop up tonight. Freak accidents happen all the time after all and what if say, James McFadden or Mikael Forssell fell over and rolled an ankle when doing a warm down playing, say, cricket? It happened to Jimmy Anderson… what if someone mistimes a tackle and leaves us with 10 men early on? What if we start like we did against Portsmouth? What if… what if… what if…
Aside from the excruciating anxiety, my day got off to a good start with traffic being kind and me getting into work nice and early. I’d like to believe that there was some sort of buzz around me and that everyone sitting on the bus could tell that this day meant so much to me – and us – but as I looked around at people listening to their iPods and reading their free copies of ‘The Metro’, I somehow doubted it. I sat down with my trusty copy of FourFourTwo and scoured the pages for our name… I don’t know why but I always smile when I see the words ‘Birmingham City’. Whenever I talk about ‘town’ to relatives in Australia, I refer to it as ‘Birmingham City centre’. Just so I can smile.
I got into work and looked for someone to talk to about the game… no such luck. I got into my office and kissed the scarf above my desk. “Come on Blues” I whispered to anyone that would be straining to hear my pleas. No-one answered. I secretly asked for us to be 2 up inside the opening ten minutes and then for the game to die out into a dire midfield battle where neither team looked like scoring. At 9:45 ish, I’ll know whether I’d have gotten my wish. My first wish that a friend or two be struck down by lightning and offer me their tickets for free hasn’t happened so I’m not holding my breath on the result, either.
All in all, not a bad day. Things went smoothly and the working day went quickly. Only when I got home did it begin to drag. I can’t believe that it’s only 19:15… if I’d been dreading 19:15, it would’ve come at a speed only matched by a NASA fuelled rocket.
As I type, the teams news has just come in. Predictably, we have made just one change with McFadden coming back in for Zarate. Glad about that. Newcastle have gone – predictably! – attacking with Martins, Owen and Viduka all starting. They suspect that he’ll start on the left but drift about. Johnson – who I still see as the more intelligent of our two centre mids – will have to be on his toes to track him. He’s dangerous from pretty much anywhere as shown by his 40 yard effort against Liverpool. Geremi also starts for the Geordies as does Joey Barton. I’ve always rated Geremi and as for Barton, he’s one of those players who I’ve always thought thinks he’s better than he is. Time will tell on that one. Newcastle has been the graveyard for more than one promising player over the years.
I feel sick… really, I do.
At 5:30, I met Mrs Aff from work and announced to all and sundry that I wasn’t feeling well. Everyone looked concerned until I explained. They then looked at me with pity. Women… the majority just don’t understand this football malarkey, do they? Imagine if I’d been as dismissive when asked to look at which sort of Wedding dress design I prefer yesterday afternoon?! (As it happens, I picked a nice one and I have excellent taste in both women’s clothing, Wedding dresses and jewellery – the more I discover about myself, the more I worry.)
But back to the game, Newcastle have a lot of quality, don’t they? I started off so optimistic this morning and confidently predicted a 3-1. I don’t buy into all this nonsense of “There run has to end sometime and it’d be TYPICAL if it happened tonight.” I don’t buy that we have worse luck than most clubs. We have a complex that makes us believe that luck plays a part in seeing us never achieve success but if we fail to win tonight, it’ll more than likely be because we haven’t done enough to win the game.
My confidence has been on the slide all day and now, the mere mention of Newcastle’s name leaves me trembling with fear. Not, you must understand Geordie fans, because I’m scared of you lot especially. But because I’m scared of some of the performances and results against teams around us since McLeish took over – Bolton away and Sunderland away particularly. The last few performances have perked us all right up but with this current side, you never feel like you’re too far away from a bad performance before the 3-4 game good run again. The problem is that the good runs coincide with good opponents resulting in points as opposed to three.
Just over half an hour to go… I don’t know what to do to fill that half an hour. I could watch the Setanta Sports preview but having seen a fifteen minute piece on Setanta Sports News where they sort of forgot that we were even involved in tonight’s game, I’ve decided to give it a miss. I’ve decided to give Tom Ross a miss too simply because he’s Tom Ross. I thought about listening to some music but when I’m nervous, I pace and listening to music will dictate the pace of my, well, pace and if I listen to something designed to pump me up for the game, I’ll be knackered before kick off…
Hell, I must bring this to a close now… It’s making my head hurt. I can’t bring myself to make a prediction so I’ll just hope that come 10 PM tonight, we’ve managed to pull it off and all this anxiety has been worth it.
Keep Right On and enjoy the game!
Opposition: Tottenham Hotspur
Competition: Premier League
Venue: St Andrew’s
Stats: Spurs have won 43 games to Blues’ 27 with 19 ending in draws. In the league, Spurs still hold the advantage with 38 wins to 25.
Blues have beaten Spurs just once at home in recent history – a 1-0 win on the opening day of the 03-04 season thanks to a goal from David Dunn.
Last time out: 18/03/2006 – We lost 2-0 thanks to goals from Lennon and Keane.
Current form: Blues are still winless in 2008 and have kept just one clean sheet in 22 games. Our home form is far from impressive with one win at St Andrew’s in over four months. Despite this, people remain confident and many will believe that his is a game that we could get that all too elusive win from. Our points must begin to be fitting of our performances.
Spurs go into the game in good form and good mood having won the Carling Cup against Chelsea last week. They’ve lost just once in their last ten – a 3-1 reverse at Manchester United in the FA Cup) and
Memories: It would be wrong to use this section of the blog to mention any other game than the one at White Hart Lane earlier in the season – Alex McLeish’s first game in charge. After having gone one up through a Gary McSheffrey penalty after 24 minutes, Spurs hit back thanks to a quick fire double from everyone’s favourite striker -Robbie Keane. Spurs pushed for a third when up popped Cameron Jerome out of nowhere to level the game at 2-2 from twenty yards. Keane was controversially red carded just five minutes later and this handed the initiative to Blues. After going close in injury time, Seb Larsson decides to take a pop from 30 yards. It flew spectacularly past Paul Robinson in the Spurs goal to send the Blues fans into raptures… quite a welcome for Big Eck!
Other memorable games against Spurs include the 3-1 League Cup win in 2000 (Adebola 2, Burchill) and the previously mentioned 1-0 home win thanks to David Dunn back in August 2003.
Team news: Martin Taylor is banned for tomorrow and Olivier Kapo is out for a month so expect Radhi Jaidi – who has been the subject of praise from McLeish this week – and Gary McSheffrey to come into the side. Otherwise expect an unchanged line up.
Opposition team news: It looks as though both Woodgate and King will be out so hopefully there’s a back four that we can take advantage of. For more Spurs team news, click here to visit the Spurs site Push & Run.
- Hutton on McLeish
- BCFC Match Preview
- Premier League Preview
- Nafti makes his point to Blues
- Jaidi praised by McLeish
- O’Connor likely to miss out
- Cup winners won’t get an easy ride
- Beeb preview
- Setanta preview
What’s going to happen? I haven’t given the game much thought this week. I always feel that the more I think about a game in the week, the more chance we have of winning it… obviously this doesn’t work since I thought about the Sunderland game for a week solid before it, such was the importance. I’m not confident and the stats above should tell you why. We can’t seem to keep a clean sheet and although I think we’ll score tomorrow, I can’t see us outscoring Spurs.
Blues 1-2 Spurs
Competition: Premier League
Venue: Goodison Park
Stats: Our record against Everton is far from impressive. In 116 meetings, Blues have managed just 25 victories with Everton taking 59 with 32 ending in draws.
Blues haven’t won at Goodison for nearly fifty years – this is our 25th attempt since we won 2-0 on the 16th November 1957.
Last time out: 22/04/2006 – We drew 0-0. Thriller, eh?
Current form: Blues got back to winning ways against Wigan Athletic last week after a spell which saw us not win in five previously. Our away form doesn’t look too clever with just four points from six played but we’ve already done some tough trips – Chelsea, Liverpool, Blackburn, Man City – and our three away games, against Liverpool, Blackburn and City, have given us justifiable reason for optimism tomorrow.
Everton currently sit four places and five points ahead of us in 9th position. The league table perhaps shows that Everton have a lack of consistency with them having already lost two in the league at home – also won two – and three on the road – also won three! But the home defeats were to Liverpool and Manchester United respectively and in both games, the Toffees can perhaps justifiably feel aggrieved to have lost.
Goodison is a tough place to go and Everton have got some top class players in their squad – few as important as Tim Cahill who has come back from injury with a bang, netting twice in three games.
The Toffees will be a tough proposition at home and we’ll need to be at the top of our game – and hope for a little bit of luck – to nick something.
Memories: You know that question that football fans always ask: If your club didn’t exist or went bankrupt, who would you support or who would you follow? I always think to myself that I’d follow Everton. I’ve always liked Everton. I’ve had a soft spot for them since I was a kid, since I first saw Goodison Park on the TV and saw that they play in blue. There’s something decidedly un-Billy-Big-Spuds about them and that makes them far more likeable than their near neighbours.
I have four memories that stick out from games versus Everton… in no particular order:
The first is ‘that’ goal from Stan Lazaridis from our second Premiership season. You know the one where he seemed to beat about eighteen players and then fire home from an angle of about half a degree? Scandalously, no-one’s illegally uploaded the footage to YouTube. And if there’s ever been a goal that deserves to be shown time and time again, Stan’s was it.
The second memory is of Wayne Rooney and his two footed assault on Steve Vickers resulting in his first ever red card. At the time he was still Everton’s golden child and a Toffees fan tried to convince me that Rooney had the best of intentions when jumping in! Whenever we talk of the incident now, he admits that he might’ve been wrong at the time. We drew the game 1-1.
The third memory is from a cup game in early 2000. We were back in the First Division (Championship) at the time whilst Everton were obviously in the Premiership. We lost 2-0 up at Goodison thanks to two David Unsworth penalties in the final fifteen minutes. I remember listening to the game and then watching the highlights on MotD. Us being a featured game on MotD was a real novelty for me then since I’m not old enough to remember our stints in the top league before then. We played really well and proceeded to miss a hat full of chances before being picked off in the last 15… at the time, it was heart-breaking. One of those ‘plucky but not ultimately good enough’ FA Cup performances that seem to pop up every season.
The last – and probably most gutting one – was the game that saw us gain our first ever Premiership point and score our first ever Premiership goal. Stubbs brought down John in the fiftieth minute and John got up and slotted home the penalty himself. In off the post! We all went absolutely wild. This was the life! Stubbs was sent off and I honestly thought our first Premiership victory would come at a top class club like Everton. I was in dream land. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out as a home player took a shot and watched it take about seventeen deflections on its way to the back of the net in the 92nd minute… Heartbreak again. Thankfully we picked up our first win just a few days later at home to Leeds United… I know, Leeds were in the Premiership. Hysterical, isn’t it?
Team news: Mikael Forssell and Johan Djourou are back in contention. Djourou might well come back in for Schmitz with the Forss likely to start from the bench. Wilson Palacios has travelled with the squad and Steve Bruce will make a late decision on him. I personally wouldn’t expect him to play and with no obvious replacements – save perhaps, Neil Danns, Bruce might opt to go for 4-4-2 with Larsson and De Ridder out wide, pushing Kapo up front with Nafti partnering Muamba in the middle.
Of course, Bruce might have other ideas in mind with Nafti and Muamba playing from the middle alongside Larsson with Kapo and De Ridder going out wide. Alternatively, Kapo could play in behind Jerome with McSheffrey on the left. Options, Steve Bruce now has options.
Pre-match chit-chat: A few pre-match stories knocking around:
- Bruce wants seven subs – Not in favour, personally. Keeping your squad happy is part of modern day management.
- Bruce promises to help Palacios – Good decision by Bruce. I’ve never doubted his ability to cope with situations such as this one and it’s sounds as though Palacios is getting what he needs from the club.
- That’ll do for a start – Spot on, Brucey!
- De Ridder seizes his chance
- Ridge in danger of missing derby – I’d be happy enough with Schmitz and Djourou but you can’t help but think that Ridge would have a stormer next week…
What’s going to happen? I’d love to predict a Blues win, or even a draw. Like last week, I’m really up for this but I learnt my lesson about predicting wins just because I’m looking forward to the game!
Everton 1-0 Blues, another decent away performance though.