Make no mistake this was a fantastic result. We will all have our opinions on tactics and formations yet it was attitude and determination that ultimately gave Blues a priceless win against visitors Wigan at St. Andrews today.
I am sure neutrals will say this was two average Premiership teams in a match littered with defensive mistakes. They may be right, over the course of a season sometimes a result has to be dug out. These can be the games that make all the difference between relegation or not. The habit of beating teams around you is priceless and Blues now have three such wins.
The debate about whether to play 4-5-1 or 4-4-2 is intriguing. Blues scored two playing the latter yet created more playing the former? Sometimes you stumble on the right team by accident. The outstanding wing play of Daniel De Ridder on his home debut has created an option that Steve Bruce exercised in the last quarter of an hour, that of Seb Larsson in centre midfield. Here is a player who fits the managers criteria for central midfield players – the ability to work and put your foot in. What Larsson also gives is an extra attacking option with his passing and forward runs into the opposition penalty box. Did anyone else notice his run into the Wigan penalty area off the ball in the last few minutes? When Chris Kirkland cleared the ball Larsson was already back in front of our back four. His work ethic and ability is suited to this central role at this level and with one of Muamba / Nafti plus De Ridder, Palacios and Kapo available, Blues seem to have better attacking options. One player who I think will also keep improving is Wilson Palacios. For a player to come in from a different continent, adjust to a different lifestyle and style of football I think he deserves a huge amount of credit for forcing his way into the starting eleven so early. As his fitness improves I think we have a potential star in the making. Palacios can pass, tackle and loves to get forward. His effort is first class and he could be a key player as the season unfolds.
While Blues gave Wigan their two goals far too easily the pace of Bent and Valencia caused problems all afternoon. Without Johan Djourou through injury Blues lack any pace defensively and better teams than Wigan will exploit this including, dare I say, the next visitors to St. Andrews? Franck Queudrue was left vulnerable by the lack of defensive cover in front of him in the first half and Valencia exploited this. Does Mat Sadler deserve a chance?
Ultimately at home Blues have to support Jerome more, whose effort and workrate today was once again of the highest standard, regardless of the formation played. When he collects the ball wide sometimes there was just one Blues player ahead of him or in the penalty area against four defenders.
I hope Maik Taylor forgets today and gets another chance next week at Everton. He has been excellent since his return to the team. Unfortunately he seemed to be reluctant to command his area all game and at least one of the goals seemed to be assisted by his indecisiveness. Everyone is entitled a bad game though Taylor knows he has Kingson and Doyle breathing down his neck.
When Blues refrain form the long ball game they are a better team as the second half showed. Someone needs to find the magic key and hand it to Steve Bruce as if we could play with the intensity and attack minded tactics before we go a goal behind the league position would be even healthier.
What is clear from the win is the spirit in the home camp was a lot stronger than Wigan’s. One team had younger, hungrier players and the other had players on bosman big wages who have possibly peaked in their careers. Does the latter remind anyone of a certain Midlands relegated Premiership team of two seasons ago?
When you pick up the newspaper look at the result. Take pride that this Blues team has a spirit and resilience that will be needed over the rest of this roller coaster season.
Opposition: Wigan Athletic
Competition: Premier League
Venue: St Andrew’s
Stats: As you can imagine, there isn’t a lot of history between the two clubs. Wigan have been in the Football League just shy of 30 years and in that time, the two clubs have met just 9 times. The stats stand at two wins apiece with five draws although one of those wins came for Blues in an FA Cup tie when Wigan were still non-league.
Wigan have travelled to St Andrew’s on five occasions. They are yet to win.
Current form: Both teams go into the game in ropey form but that’s hardly surprising considering that both sides were expected to struggle when the season kicked off. Wigan have greatly missed England striker and former Blues man Emile Heskey whilst Blues lack of points can be put down to any number of reasons.
Wigan haven’t won a game in over two months. They last registered a victory – in any competition – against Sunderland at the JJB Stadium back in mid-August. Like Blues, they have a chronic lack of fire power and have failed to notch in their last three games. Wigan are also strugglers away from home having picked up just one point in five attempts – away at West Ham United at the back end of August.
Blues story is a similar one with no victory in our last five and only one goal although Blues fans aren’t too down since we’ve actually played quite well against some much bigger and better sides. Our home form sees us having notched just one win from four games although the Sunderland equaliser was, as we all know, a joke and we were desperately unlucky against United. Perhaps the only side you could accuse us of under performing against was the Hammers.
Similar problems have led to similar records and Blues and Wigan are level on points – separated by a single goal. Blues currently lie in 14th with Wigan in 15th.
Last time out: On the second of January 2006, Blues beat Athletic 2-0 at St Andrew’s thanks to goals from Jermaine Pennant and the now Wigan full-back Mario Melchiot.
Memories: Obviously there’s not much to talk about here since the two sides rarely appear on each other’s history radar. Perhaps it might be wise to talk about a couple of players who have made the recent switch from St Andrew’s to the JJB.
Firstly, obviously, comes Emile Heskey. Whilst he isn’t fit for this game, I’m delighted to see Emile again doing well. He got his England recall and was looking the business for the Latics before his injury. Whilst his good form perhaps spells bad news for Wigan’s relegation rivals, it’s about time that the much maligned Heskey was given a bit of credit.
I always thought he did a good job in very difficult circumstances at St Andrew’s – and has never really let England down, I still find it laughable that people blamed Heskey for the loss against France at Euro 2004. Whilst at Stan’s, we didn’t play to Emile’s strengths and we always, always gave him too much to do. Then certain sections slated him when he couldn’t do it. It was inevitable that he would fail and I’m glad that he seems to have found a club who appreciates the fella.
Mikael Forssell certainly rates Heskey and said so in an interview with a local paper.
The other player who now plies his trade for Wigan is Dutch full-back Mario Melchiot. I can’t say I have the same sympathy for Mario as I did with Emile. Mario had two seasons at St Andrew’s and the first one, he was brilliant. The second, it’s like we had a different player. He didn’t seem overly bothered – like most of the squad that year! – and was constantly found in the press talking himself and the team up about how we were going to stay up… well, much like this, really!
I can’t see ‘Super’ Mario getting a good reception tomorrow although it might lighten towards him somewhat if he stops to do his hair just prior to receiving a pass again…
Team news: Blues have a lot of options for tomorrow. Mikael Forssell is back after competing in the reserves in midweek, as is Sebastian Larsson who was unavailable for the trip to City last weekend. Daniel De Ridder has given the boss food for thought and Bruce has admitted that he still doesn’t know whether he’ll play 4-4-2 or stick to the 1 up top with Kapo in behind system that he has been more in favour of recently.
The problem with a 4-4-2 is that there’s really nowhere to put Kapo. He’s not as effective on the left or up front as he can be in the hole just roaming. De Ridder would be my guess to start on the right with Larsson switching to the left if Bruce has the guts to have a go – and drop Kapo. Palacios to partner Nafti in the middle with Jerome and another – O’Connor? – up front.
I’d like to see us go for it, be ambitious and really show that we can play football. Somehow I don’t think my optimism will penetrate the walls of Steve Bruce’s office and at 2 PM tomorrow, I think we’ll all be disappointed. Whatever happens, I don’t see McSheff lining up in the side tomorrow.
Bruce has to also make a late decision on Arsenal loanee Johan Djourou.
Opposition team news: There’s quite a few previews for this game on various Wigan sites. Here’s a few of them:
Pre-match chit-chat: A few pre-match stories surrounding Blues players this week. Here they are:
- Bruce looking for goals from Jerome
- De Ridder in running for recall
- Queudrue: United error won’t haunt me
What’s going to happen? A carnival atmosphere, a good performance and a more confident fanbase at the end of 90 minutes. I’m very confident for tomorrow and I’m going Blues 2-0 Wigan Athletic.
Mark Lawrenson at the BBC agrees with me… I’m not sure I’m happy with that!
Sometimes I wonder whether this is a Birmingham City blog or an Arsenal blog! Over the past couple of years, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve blogged about Arsenal players.
Aside from the spectacular brand of football they play, I find myself wanting them to win the Premiership, FA Cup, League Cup, Champions League etc over either Man U, Chelsea or Liverpool due to the loanee arrangement that we’ve managed to cultivate over the last couple of years.
Aside from the above, there’s also something remarkably likeable about Arsenal for a big club… Wenger maybe? Despite his “I did not see it!” ways and his sometimes petulant outbursts, he seems a nice enough fella and you only have to look at Blues latest midfield prospect in the shape of Wilson Palacios to back that up.
Add Sebastian Larsson, Fabrice Muamba, Johan Djourou and Niklas Bendtner to that and we have quite a bit to thank old Arsene for, don’t we? And it’s the last two names on that list that have cropped up in many an article over the last day or so.
This one at EatSleepSport is fairly typical of what’s around. Bruce would love to see Bendtner back at Blues. Wouldn’t we all? The guy’s good and if I hear the term “You’re only as good as your strikers” one more time, I think my ears will explode. If the rest of the Blues side was as good as Bendtner, I don’t think we’d have too many problems in staying up!
It’s unusual that Bruce has named a target, mind. Although there’s not much speculation surrounding the player at the moment aside from Bendtner making no secret of the fact that he now wants to play football. A taste of life in the Championship probably contributed something towards that.
There’s been rumours on message boards for a while about Bruce wanting to resign Bendtner on loan in January. But to my knowledge, this is the first time that the possibility has been spoken about by anyone involved. Bruce doesn’t help his own cause when he states that he sees Nik breaking into the Gunners first team at some point but still, perhaps another short term fix away from the Emirates will be enough to convince Wenger to give him a go more permanently after seeing what he’s capable of at the top level? I doubt too many Blues fans would object…
The second Arsenal player currently being talked about is on loan centre half Johan Djourou. This Sporting Life article is typical of the sort of thing that’s been posted over the last day or two regarding the Swiss international.
I was under the impression that Wenger has said a couple of months ago that Djourou would be returning to Arsenal in January. I’m sure I remember posting about it some time ago… a quick check shows me that I posted about it on September 10th but didn’t reference the news anywhere! Typical.
Let’s just say that I would be amazed if Djourou is still here in February. I was confident with Bendtner last year since he was never going to break into the Gunners side but Djourou has shown that he can handle himself well at Premiership level. Obviously Arsenal fans would know much better but surely Toure going to the African Cup of Nations would leave them somewhat short at the back?
As it will us when he leaves. Which once again takes us to one place – January and where the finances are going to come from. Held back budget from the summer, the current board, Yeung or none at all? It’s a big worry although thankfully Schmitz is now fit and of course, we have the ever reliable (!) Martin Taylor and Olivier Tebily waiting in the wings for if things really get desperate.
Yes I know, people might throw last season in my face regarding Taylor but that was the Championship. I honestly don’t think that Tiny is equipped to deal with the Prem, regardless of what Graeme Souness said when he flogged him to us. Djourou and his departure is a big problem and it has to be addressed. As I said in my last blog, tomorrow should go some way to sorting the financing of January out my own personal opinion, I don’t think it will.