What I love about Bazza’s articles is the absolute belief that everything goes against us and that we should always be better rewarded than we have been. I used to be like that and I loved my football a lot more when I was. We all need to be a bit more like Bazza, I think.
Thanks again for the article, Baz!
The trip down to Portsmouth is a relative hop skip and a jump for me compared to the usual forays up to St Andrews. The distance concerned is only about thirty-five miles and doable in a weekday. I had already obtained tickets for my eldest son and me and we were looking forward to the game with anticipation. We made the trip easily and to my astonishment I found a place to park with no problem which has never been the case before on previous occasions down to Fratton Park. On the subject of the mode of transport I did look into going on the train to Fratton station from Farnborough but there was at least one change and the trip was to take 1 hour 41 minutes stopping at every station on the way.
It was touch and go whether we would arrive in time and there was absolutely no leeway if the train was held up by fallen trees, acts of God, Sod’s Law or the wrong type of wind! So it was to the car we turned Mr Chancellor because as I saw it there was no reliable alternative, such is the transport infrastructure in the heavily taxed south. Where was I?
We had arrived about half a mile from the ground where for the first time in my lifetime of watching our great and glorious lads on the road, I viewed the new roof on the away end at the dump that is Fratton Park. This long overdue development will be welcome for many fellow fans from all over the country as I cannot be the only one who remembers all too vividly getting absolutely soaked to the skin during previous encounters with Pompey.
The game started and in virtually the first attack Pompey were awarded a penalty. Whatever your opinion of the ball to hand debate, all everybody in the game and the fans on the terraces want is consistency. I must have seen at least a couple of dozen instances this season where blatant use of the hand in the penalty box have been waved away by referees. I’ve also witnessed awards of penalties when it was clear that the player couldn’t possibly get out of the way of a ball hammered at him at speed. The incident concerned here was in my view one such occasion. The penalty award was a truly awful decision which set the stage for a rotten performance by the referee. Defoe of course scored and we were 1 – 0 down and the match had barely started.
Less than a ten minutes on the clock and it’s 2 – 0 and I had visions of us being avalanched. Taylor made two saves before Defoe, who is deadly from two yards, netted the final parry. I thought the little sod was going to have a hat trick before the 15 minute mark. The fixture was turning into a catastrophe but the resilience shown by Blues since the arrival of Big Eck came to the fore when miracle upon miracles Fabrice Muamba scored his first goal for Birmingham pouncing on a flick on from a corner. 2 – 1 and barely 10 minutes gone!
Blues began to settle and it was pleasing to see us knocking the ball about and not letting Portsmouth have it all their own way. Zarate delighted with driving runs at their defence, Forssell was winning his fair share of flick-ons and Larsson and McSheffrey were making inroads down their flanks. For all the flawed decisions that seem to come thick and fast from the referee, he was at least allowing the game to flow which made for an entertaining spectacle. Just before half time, Steve Tanner, the referee finally awarded us a free kick just outside the Pompey box to loud ironic cheers of the gathered faithful. (It was a clear foul by Glen Johnson on the Forss so he had no choice really). Sebastian Larsson stepped up and planted the most beautiful swinging ball into the top corner past the helpless David James who has built the good part of his reputation on saving such efforts. Another magnificent strike from our Swedish winger and Blues had recovered deservedly to 2 – 2.
The second half started badly when an unlucky ricochet landed at the feet of Hreidarsson six yards out and was promptly deposited into the back of the net. For the rest of the half we put Pompey on the back foot and played some of the best attacking football I’ve seen from us all season. Despite bombarding the Pompey penalty area with crosses we couldn’t seem to get the break that they had enjoyed for their third. The best move of the match resulted in Cameron Jerome’s volley bound for the top corner brilliantly saved by David James.
What sticks in my craw however, is a double incident that occurred when we had them under enormous pressure. A defender, I think Sol Campbell, had the ball hit his hand in the area. The incident was virtually identical to the penalty award of the second minute of the game. What does Steve Tanner do? Yes, he waves the appeals away. However, there is more the ball bobbles around in the box and another defender, this time Glen Johnson, controls the ball with a hand. Once again a loud shout, once again the referee waves it away. The second part of this drama was definitely deliberate intent and should have resulted in a penalty kick.
It is this incident that Alex McLeish is referring to I think when he diplomatically suggested that consistency is needed from officials. This unevenness cost Blues a well deserved point at least. It was the pivotal issue of an otherwise splendid game which was entertaining to watch. We certainly didn’t deserve to lose 4 – 2. The final goal occurred as we were caught chasing the equaliser and the ultimate score line flattered Portsmouth. The goals resulted from only three meaningful attacks by our hosts in the second period when they were largely outplayed.
It seems such a pity that one of our best performances of the season should result in 4 – 2 defeat. Despite the inadequacies of the referee, we weren’t quick enough to the breakdowns in the first ten minutes. After that we were more than a match for them and in the second half the better side. Football is unfair sometimes, life is unfair much of the time but our team is good enough to stay in the Premier League but points have to be obtained. If we play like we did last evening, particularly second half, those points will be provided come May.
Bazza kindly contributes to this blog most weeks and his contributions really are appreciated despite my tardiness in posting them. I can only apologise and hope that the people who visit enjoy his input as much as I do.
I did wonder on Saturday morning just what effect the winning of the League Cup would have on Tottenham, a team whom I rate as superb going forward when in full flow. The human mind is a complex thing and vulnerable to all sorts of conflicting factors. Why does the golfer on the green see the hole the size of a bucket one day and microscopic the next? Why does the scrum half play the expansive pass to lay on the picture book try when in the next game when faced with an identical set of circumstances, he hesitates and is clattered to the ground? Did I hear the word confidence? Confidence is a fickle thing; a beauty who bestows her favours lavishly only to spurn the recipient so cruelly in the next instant. Now you would think that our girl confidence would be smiling brightly on the men of Tottenham Hotspur having won something tangible. Their fans were clearly set to crow like their emblem cockerel in expectation of a comfortable win. The predictors on the internet on Friday suggested victory for Spurs by a margin of at least two clear goals.
However, there is a bit more to it than confidence when it comes to football. There is for instance, the so called hangover effect that can affect a team that has just basked in a deserved and glorious victory; securing European participation in the process. The tendency to drown in a mixture of champagne and your own adrenaline is very great and I hoped that it may have been the case on Saturday. The recent form of Spurs has also had something to do with the acquisition of Woodgate and the return of Ledley King. They are two of the best central defenders around and there were clear signs of improvement from the moment they came together. No longer were the Tottenham defence the soft touch of earlier in the season. However, neither was available! In addition to confidence a team needs luck and this was a significant stroke of good fortune for Birmingham City Football Club. Hope springs eternal I thought and set off for the 125 miles journey to St Andrews. Little did any of us know what was to follow in the afternoon?
The game did of course result in an unexpected and resounding victory for Blues and much as the result of some truly dire defending by the patched up Spurs back four. Before getting too carried away we should reflect on several factors both positive and negative. That Birmingham deserved their win is beyond dispute. Forssell was imperious and sharp as a pin, McFadden was outstanding in the way he lead the line and Larsson’s beautifully flighted free kick for the second goal capped another excellent performance from him. The back four and midfield quartet deserve great credit for their hard work in making Spurs play most of the game in front of them. It was a shame that another Liam Ridgewell mistake should be punished right at the end to rob the team of a clean sheet and we must be grateful that it was not a tight game. The points we have lost in just those sorts of situations this season do not bear thinking about and we would be sitting comfortably mid table with a bit more diligence. Nevertheless, there is definite improvement in the organisation and tracking over the last few matches which can only help OUR confidence. The little cameo from Zarate was a delight and I cannot remember feeling this excited about a player since I saw the 16-year old Trevor Francis make his debut. However, the word ‘pass’ needs to be explained to him as he had a glorious opportunity to put the recently unsung Cameron Jerome clean through with his first touch. Never mind the two mazy runs he did go on nearly resulted in goals in their own right. Boardroom, if you are reading this; BUY THIS MAN!
Talking of unsung heroes, Damien Johnson was solid and industrious as ever and put in another excellent performance. The main disappointments were Gary McSheffrey who looked a man struggling for confidence and form and also clearly not fully match fit. The other was Fabrice Muamba who kept winning the tackles and promptly giving the ball back to the opposition. On this point, I don’t know whether anyone has noticed the recent statistics of how little of the possession we have had in the last two games. In Arsenal’s case it is obvious; ten men playing against the best passing side in the league. In the case of Spurs it may be because we are allowing the opposition the ball as long as it is in front of us. Weaving pretty triangles doesn’t necessarily result in penetration and goals as Spurs found to their cost on Saturday. Just to clear one thing up; I, like many, thought that Berbatov had handled the ball in the first half before unleashing a shot that smacked off the post. MOTD showed clearly that he had used his chest and the effort was therefore fair. On another day Spurs could have had two goals with that one and the one that clipped the post in the second half. It would have been undeserved and the Gods of football smiled on us. Another statistic worthy of mention is our ball retention and pass completion rates which hover around 60 – 65%. Only Derby has a worse record! This needs to be addressed for next season if we survive. I believe we will. Finally, an interesting site has attempted to predict who the sides going down will be. Check it out by clicking here.
The predictor interestingly enough suggested Bolton or us to join Derby and Fulham. However, the big flaw in the prediction scoring system is the failure to weight with regard to the quality of the opposition faced. We have after all faced both the north London giants (Arsenal twice), West Ham, Manchester United and Chelsea in the last ten games and have achieved more than perhaps could be expected. One or two observers have pointed out this flaw and have defended Blues suggesting that other candidates in the seven clubs other than the bottom two have positions more precarious. All we can do as fans is cheer the lads on and hope that we can find the points we need to survive. If we continue to play like we have done the last month or so, we’ll be alright.
Massive apologies to Bazza who sent me this article on Tuesday. I only checked my email today and have posted it as soon as receiving it. Yet another view on Martin Taylor, that tackle, Arsene Wenger and Eduardo.
I consider myself a very lucky man after what I witnessed last week. On Wednesday believe it or not I was privileged to attend the AC Milan – Arsenal game at the Emirates as the guest of a good friend who knowing my love of football invited me along as her guest as her sister was unable to go. After a beautiful three course meal I watched the game which as you all know was a 0 – 0 draw but the passing and movement from both sides especially in the second half when the tempo increased was sublime and I could only reflect on the fact that my team will never be that good! When you see the facilities at a ground like the Emirates and the standard of football on offer it beats me when fans of the top four sides ring up BBC 606 and complain. I hasten to add this does not apply to the Gunners as much as certain teams north of our hallowed turf.
On the way back to my home in Surrey on the train my thoughts played forward to our forthcoming fixture against Arsenal at St Andrews. Adebeyor had given the Milan centre-halves a torrid time, young Walcott terrorised the full back when he came on late as a substitute, Fabregas, although not at his imperious best had delighted with the assuredness of touch and range of pass. Alexander Hleb played beautifully and looked cool in control of the ball and graceful off it and I dreaded to think what was in store for us. My heart hoped that the Arsenal that played in the FA Cup against Manchester United or in the league game earlier in the season against Middlesborough would turn up but I suspected we were unlikely to be that fortunate. In my head I could see only defeat and it was just a matter of the margin.
Saturday morning arrived and as is my usual ritual on a match day, I drank my coffee out of a Birmingham City mug and was relieved to spy no less than two magpies in my garden out of the kitchen window whom I saluted with a flourish wishing both Mr and Mrs Magpie well! My youngest son grudgingly arose, ate breakfast while I filled the car with petrol and having donned the shirts of the faithful we betook ourselves in the direction of the M3 on the first leg of our journey north for the 12.45 kick off. (Football should be played at 3 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon in my opinion!)
We were fortunate with the traffic and arrived in our seats just in time to take part in the minute’s applause for Len Boyd. The match started and suddenly a red card! Two minutes gone for heaven’s sake – what has happened? Naturally the horrible injury to the young brilliant Croatian international striker Eduardo has been graphically shown in the media despite the Satellite TV channel televising the game showing restraint in refusing to replay the tackle in slow motion for the masses. However, it was shown on MotD in the evening albeit only once but just in case there was any doubt about the severity of the trauma the newspapers on Sunday and Monday have more than made up for the commendable initial censoring. The ghoulish in all of us gets the better of most of us in the end doesn’t it?
For those of you that don’t know I happen to be medically qualified and have had some experience of caring for people with such awful injuries and my initial view was that it was a distal, compound fracture of the tibia and fibula of the left leg which for a number of reasons do badly because of the damage not only to the bone which has a relatively reduced blood supply at that level as opposed to the same bones further up the leg but to the soft tissues particularly the skin overlying the fracture. It since appears that the injury is a little lower than that and the compound trauma is to the ankle joint. It is difficult to say which of the scenarios is worse but on balance Eduardo is perhaps slightly better off with the latter but make no mistake about it, the injury is still very serious and potentially career threatening despite the optimistic newspaper reports this morning which assume that the injury will heal and recovery progress without complication which is a huge assumption at this stage. Like every right minded football fan in the country I hope and pray that Eduardo will make a fantastic recovery and we will all have a further opportunity of watching this fabulously talented young man grace the Premier League and the international stage once more.
What of Martin Taylor? He must be devastated to have caused such harm to a fellow professional and I have considerable concerns regarding his future. How is he going to react the next time he has to commit to a tackle? Half-hearted attempts to win the ball have no place at the level he is playing at presently and it remains to be seen whether he has the mental strength to put this deeply upsetting incident to the back of his mind and play a dominant role in our quest for survival. He is needed at this time given the state of our central defensive resources. One thing that I am glad about is that Arsene Wenger has retracted his original statement that Tiny should never play again after that tackle. He was clearly angry and upset as we all were and his reaction was in some ways understandable. However, if that philosophy was to be applied to every X-rated tackle we have all witnessed throughout the football league there would be some notable absentees in the professional ranks! There have been far worse challenges this season which have fortunately not resulted in serious fractures and the things that can be said about Tiny’s tackle are that he attempted to win the ball, he challenged from a close position, he did not go in with two feet and he didn’t take a dirty great run up before a feet first lunge. It was mistimed; it was clumsy and it was crude but Eduardo was too quick and skilful and that was his undoing on this occasion. I suggest that a tenth of a second either way and the ball would either have been won or there would have been a free kick awarded and we would have continued with eleven versus eleven. As it was, however unintentional the outcome of the challenge, the referee had little option but to dismiss the defender when he saw Eduardo’s leg snap like a twig.
The Arsenal players were clearly affected by the incident as demonstrated by their performance in the first half but credit has to be given to the Blues players who worked overtime to deny Arsenal space and time to weave their magic. In many ways, Blues deserved the lead given them by the free kick beautifully dispatched by McFadden and it is somewhat churlish to suggest that it wasn’t a foul because McFadden had lost control of the ball. Regardless of whether he had or he hadn’t Flamini still backed into him and pulled him to the ground so it was still a foul. After half time we were overrun by Arsenal who decided to up the tempo. Having had chance to review the equaliser on MotD I have changed my original view that Maik Taylor was fouled by Adebeyor. The latter jumped legitimately for the ball; Taylor attempted to punch and didn’t get there. The challenge was therefore fair and the goal sound. The second resulted from a mistake from Ridgewell and they are mistakes that are mounting up this season I’m afraid. Lovely finish from Walcott and I thought we were going to get avalanched at that stage.
What has got lost in all the footage about the injury to Eduardo is how magnificent Birmingham City’s players were on Saturday considering that they played the whole game with ten men against the best side in the land and yet having gone behind, dug in and scraped a point out of it! It was a truly magnificent performance but we were very lucky. The award of the penalty I thought at the time was harsh. It later transpired that my initial feeling that Clichy may have played the ball was proved on replay. However, the defender has only himself to blame for going to sleep at a vital moment. The challenge was clumsy and we have been long overdue a bad one to go in our favour for heaven knows we have had some pretty abysmal decisions go against us this season. However, we were doubly lucky when the referee failed to give a clear penalty against us for shirt pulling about a minute before. What on earth Nafti was thinking of when he grasped Adebeyor’s shirt is beyond me especially as he was running away from goal and presented no immediate danger? I hope Big Eck delivers the hairdryer treatment to Nafti for that one! Maik Taylor was fantastic in the second half and we have the post to thank for saving us when Taylor couldn’t. Fortunate or otherwise Blues deserved their point and I am delighted with the result as I am sure all fellow noses are. However, as a final caveat I will say this:
I would much rather have lost the game if it could have finished with Eduardo’s leg intact!