So near and yet so far. The result may show a single goal defeat against the reigning Premiership Champions, all the Blues fans at St. Andrews this evening and watching worldwide know how close they came to witnessing their team come to achieving what would have been arguably their finest Premiership scalp.
For the second week in a row Blues matched one of the “big four” clubs in a heartening display. What caught the eye even more than the heroic defensive display at Liverpool was the style of play and willingness to take the game to one of the best attacking teams in Europe.
Don’t get me wrong, this was a defeat and the lack of goals may become an issue eventually yet when was the last time you saw a Blues team so confidently take on the bigger teams in the Premiership? Form will fluctuate and there will undoubtedly be twists and turns a plenty. I sense now, for the first time in maybe three seasons, the majority of fans believe this team can grow and show enough consistency to survive this season and progress.
Once again there were many excellent displays within a team performance. The spine of the team is starting to have a settled look and who have said this would involve Djourou, Nafti and Jerome? The on-loan Arsenal centre half is the vital link in my opinion in the back four. Liam Ridgewell has proved to be an excellent signing, it is Dojrou with his pace and power that has made the extra difference recently. The only down side is the shoulder injury he picked up in the second half. Blues cannot afford to have their key players missing for too long. Mehdi Nafti has probably played his best three games for the club in recent weeks. He has deserved to keep his place and is now showing the consistency and unrelenting, unselfish work ethic that has become the trademark of a Steve Bruce side. Cameron Jerome gave the Manchester United defence as hard a time as any striker this season. It is easy to forgot at times how young he still is and consistency in front of goal will only come with experience. Playing as a lone striker has helped Jerome with his all round game and Blues should endeavour to give him as much of the ball when he is facing the goal rather than with his back to it.
The biggest encouraging individual display though surely belonged to Gary McSheffrey. I like McSheffrey’s attitude. Throughout his loss of form he has never hid and just the extra confidence a goal can bring was all that was missing.
We can talk about all if the “What If’s ..” and most will be directed at Franck Queudrue for his dithering that led to Ronaldo scoring the only goal. Blues harassed United’s back four into more errors in the first half. United took their one chance and that is the defining difference between both teams.
The team’s reaction to Ronaldo’s goal impressed again today. Unlike at certain times last season Blues didn’t let the goal affect them and this resilience will be required in coming months.
Liverpool and Manchester United were always going to looked as “bonus” games for Blues in terms of points. After the performances expectations have risen for the forthcoming games at Blackburn and the home clash with Wigan. Can the team maintain the level of recent performance? In what is arguably the toughest of Premier Leagues we are about to find out.
Opposition: Manchester United
Competition: Premier League
Venue: St Andrew’s
Live: Setanta Sports, 17:15
Last time out: The last league game between the two sides came in December 2005. Blues and United played out a 2-2 draw at St Andrew’s with Clapham and Pandiani scoring the goals for Blues. Rooney and Van Nistelrooy notched for the Reds. Just eight days earlier, United had been to St Andrew’s and duly knocked us out of the League Cup by 3 goals to one.
Strange thing… I have absolutely no recollection of the game that ended 2-2.
Stats: Like every other club in the footballing pyramid (with, I believe, the exception of Southend United) we do not have a positive record against Manchester United. United have piled up 44 wins to our 25 with 27 ending all square. In the league, United have 39 to our 24.
Our Premiership form against them isn’t any better with Blues gaining just two points from eight encounters. GULP!
Current form: After an indifferent start to the season (including a 1-0 loss at bitter rivals Manchester City) United have begun to knit some results together. A largely second string United side crashed out of the Carling Cup at home to Coventry City earlier in the week but that was United’s first defeat in six games.
At home United are unbeaten and are looking virtually impenetrable at the back. Discounting the Coventry game, United have conceded just 3 goals this season – the last one being on the 19th August in the 1-0 defeat to Manchester City.
Blues are probably around where we expected them to be. Two clean sheets in our last two league games – including one against Liverpool at Anfield – have boosted confidence somewhat and we’ll go into tomorrow in decent enough form. Like the last time we were in the Premiership, registering goals seems to be our major Achilles heal and we’ve registered just one in our last three league outings.
Memories: Like the other members of the ‘big four’, I’m sick of hearing about United. They have a proud history, they’re a great team to watch, they make lots of money, Fergie has done great things, they have a super stadium and brilliant away support… okay. I summed it up in one paragraph. Why can’t the media do something similar? Bored, bored, bored.
My match memories against United aren’t anything special. Aside from the 2-2 game completely falling out of my head, there’s nothing overly memorable in there. I’ve only been to the fixture once (the 4-3 friendly game where Peter Ndlovu scored a hat-trick for us and Mulryne scored a hat-trick for them. It was United’s first game after “Beckham lost us the World Cup” and was up there with Adolf Hitler in the popularity polls) and I’ve only seen it a couple more times on the idiot box.
Out of those, the only real one that sticks out in my mind is the night I went to a local golf club to watch the fixture on satellite TV whilst in Australia. I was the only one interested in the game although as the night went on, a few people joined me, none of whom were really interested or who knew who we were. We battled for a point and I left the club at around 12:30 AM, quite proud of the lads.
Aside from that… not a lot of my memory bank is reserved for this particular fixture. Sorry!
Team news: Expect eleven changes from the team that were mullered by Blackburn Rovers in midweek. Neil Danns might just nick himself a place on the bench although the chances of us using a creative, attacking midfielder from the middle are even more remote than usual.
The official BCFC.com match preview (with team news) can be found here.
I expect to see us line-up similarly to how we did against Bolton Wanderers almost a fortnight ago (L-R):
McSheffrey – Muamba – Nafti – Larsson
Queudrue – Ridgewell – Djourou – Kelly
I’d say that’s about as solid as we can be although we’ll have to hold onto the ball a lot better than we did at times versus Bolton and even against Liverpool. Sometimes we make it more difficult for ourselves than it needs to be.
As the article says, someone is going to get a tonking when United have Ronaldo, Rooney, Tevez and Saha all fit and in the groove. It’s probably a good thing that we’re getting this game out of the way whilst we’re feeling reasonably confident. A battering when confidence is already low can do a lot of damage.
If we play as well as we possibly can, you never know…
What’s going to happen? We’ll come out, everything will go just as we want it to and we’ll nick a 0-0 draw. We’ll set a new record for the lowest amount of % possession a team in the Premiership has ever had against another Premiership team but we won’t care because two points from United and Liverpool in successive weekends is nothing to be sniffed at.
Seriously, with the way things have been going in front of goal lately, I can’t see us scoring. Especially with United’s backline. We’ll have to be typically Blues about it and snap into tackles, close them down quickly and try and force them into long range efforts. Kelly will have to choose carefully when to use his special ‘match saving tackle’ superpower and the rest of the side will have to be on it from the start… BUT with the right attitude and a good backing, I can see us pulling off a credible draw here.
Blues 0-0 Manchester United – Att: 27,974.
I think I’m in the majority of people who feel absolutely nothing regarding this result. I got it bang on in the match preview yesterday… although obviously I’m not happy about that! But with Blackburn putting out a good side and us making eleven changes, it was always going to be difficult.
A jumbled selection of match reports for your perusal (although why you’d bother is beyond me!)
All in all, a bit of a nothing night for Blues fans.
Still, on the plus side, Jason Lyons won the Second City Trophy at Perry Barr and I had a great time with the ‘Gravity Hammer’ on Halo!
But making eleven changes rarely works and Bruce commented on that in his post match notes. When you have a big squad, it’s always going to be difficult to keep people happy and this is exactly what Steve Bruce is finding out. Still, it’s ninety minutes under the belt for so many of the squad and hopefully they’ll benefit from that in the weeks to come.
So… no Savage to abuse, David Dunn is looking a player again and our reserves aren’t as good as we all hoped. Oh well. Shrug.