This Saturday has all the feelings of a derby game attached to it, doesn’t it? It’s making me feel sick. It’s an important game already without the added spice of Bruce, Heskey etc, as mentioned by Roy Aitken earlier today.
There’s another glut of articles been posted on various sites today and as Saturday approaches, the gloves seem to be sliding off. There’s going to be an almighty bang when the sides get stuck into each other at the JJB. A lot of the stuff coming out today is pretty much what you’d expect – players and coaches on both sides talking themselves and their sides up and being very positive:
- Aitken tells Blues to be confident
- Aitken sets survival target
- Safety is in sight for Forss
- McSheff rules out old pals act
- Taylor lauds McSheff’s ‘bottle’
- Queudrue confident in defensive reshuffle
The thing that stands out when any Blues player or coach is talking about Bruce and Wigan is the way they play. Tough, uncompromising, difficult to beat, whole-hearted. No-one seems to talk about any sort of quality or composure on the ball and obviously that won’t come as a surprise to Blues fans. It’s nice to be the team going into the game knowing that, if we win the battle, we have players capable of playing football and putting a decent move together to score a goal and win a game. Individually as well as a team.
Bruce has a cracking record against relegation rivals – he did when he was with us too – and it’ll be difficult on Saturday but with this team, I always feel like we’re going to do well and I always feel like a result is possible. In fact, since McLeish has come in, I’ve found myself being a lot more positive about Blues again. I used to be the type to always be up for a game, confident of a win and defender of pretty much everything blue. I feel like the Premiership – or possibly the latter stages of the Bruce Premiership era? – eroded that somewhat and it became difficult to be excited about football because of the obvious difference in class between the top and the rest.
But since Bruce has gone and McLeish has come in, the prospect of seeing some goals, some exciting football and players who want to win instead of merely not lose has reinvigorated me and I hope a lot of other Blues fans too. I managed to pick up some tickets for the Everton game on April 12th earlier this week and honestly, I don’t think I would’ve made that effort to be able to afford them had Steve Bruce still been here. And that’s not a deliberate slight on Bruce. I always defended Bruce and I defended him right up to the day he left – and since – but hindsight is a wonderful thing and the grass is now most definitely greener. But for a great period of his tenure, I still believe that he was what we needed.
The most interesting article I read today came, unsurprisingly, from Colin Tattum in the Mail. It’s called ‘Steve Bruce must face his Birmingham City demons’ and you can read it by clicking here. This article reads like a fan wrote it and it’s why this particular ‘nose makes a point of reading both his articles and blogs. After all, did anyone read the report on the Arsenal game? Sublime.
But anyway, what do you think?
I can’t make up my mind about it. On one hand, I think it’s full of speculation but then I remind myself that Tattum is closer to the club and was closer to the situation than most people. His final points about Bruce perhaps having a tinge of jealousy about what Blues are when compared to Wigan left me somewhat embarrassed when I first read it. After all, I could just imagine my reaction if a local journalist who knew nothing about Blues were to make the same accusation about us, especially if we’d just secured their manager for £3m, tripling his wages in the process!
I dunno, I suppose I like us to be understated. I can’t stand it when supporters – of any club – ring up national radio stations or post on forums and bang on about how big they are compared to other clubs or how passionate their fans are or whatever. I like Blues to just be Blues and not worry about where we fit in compared to the rest of the league. We do as well as we can and hopefully one day, that’ll be good enough to win us something of note, our name on the FA Cup if my prayers are being listened to.
Maybe Bruce does miss Blues, maybe Bruce is jealous of Blues, maybe Blues are bigger than Wigan, maybe I’ve got the wrong end of the stick, maybe this, maybe that… I just know that I’m quickly heading down the road of football maniac again and with each passing game, I’m caring less and less about buying essentials such as food and water and thinking more and more about where my next Birmingham City hit is coming from – and that, whichever way you cut it, is down to the change of manager and philosophy in the Blues management chair.
Now all we need is a board to match the ambition of the manager and we’d be all set for the footballing giant to finally, FINALLY awaken. But first thing’s first, let’s see to Wigan and Steve Bruce this weekend.
It’s only Tuesday and already the significance of the Blues-Wigan game is sharply in focus. With Blues coming up against Steve Bruce for the first time since his bizarre departure in November and with the sides so closely locked together in the league, there was bound to be a lot of interest in the game.
I’ll leave the main preview to new-boy blogger Nat on Friday but Mauro Zarate aside, there’s little else being discussed this week. Forssell, Bruce, Aitken and Gary O’Connor have all offered up comments and there’ll be more throughout the week. Considering that we could catapult ourselves a massive seven points clear of the drop zone this weekend, it’s probably fair that this game gets its share of coverage this week. And so that is why I’ll try to post as many links and articles as possible regarding the game before Nat’s no doubt excellent preview on Friday afternoon.
First of all, Blues have sold out their allocation for the game. Nearly 5,000 noisy Bluenoses will be travelling and I can’t help but think of the season we went down with a game to spare. Portsmouth took a few thousand up there and it sounded like a home game for them – they inspired their side to a 2-1 win to confirm our relegation back to the murky waters of the Championship. Those numbers could be crucial and Roy Aitken has admitted as much in an interview on .com.
Early team news is also trickling through and it’s not good for Blues with both James McFadden and Olivier Kapo set to miss out. Naturally we’ll miss players of this quality but with little Mauro finding his shooting boots (and how good was his second against Manchester City?) and Forssell happy to play second fiddle, it’s not as bad as it might’ve been. Garry O’Connor is also talking positively despite saying that he needs a break and although his comment about ‘being a hero’ winds me up a bit – it should always be about the team in my not so humble opinion – it’s good to see him back in first team contention. He was beginning to find the net when his injury hit and although he hasn’t massively impressed since signing, I still have hopes for him. He’s right too, annoyingly… he might just be the one to score the goal that we all remember as the one that kept us up.
The back four might still be a problem with Queudrue and Ridgewell both missing but Terry Westley is convinced that Taylor’s 90 minutes against the Villa in reserves in midweek will place him solidly back in first team contention, however, I don’t think too many Bluenoses would be against the idea of Parnaby at right back and the Premiership’s most played player in the shape of Stephen Kelly at centre half.
Wigan’s team is also taking shape and you can read a mini-preview via the Wigan Vital site. Palacios is still yet to score for Wigan and his inclusion does make me nervous. Hopefully he’ll respect us as the club that gave him his first Premiership break if he does notch. And speaking of midfielders from this season… am I the only one who is still a bit miffed about the luck we had with Oubina? I don’t know why but I just got a feeling that he might’ve been a star for us this term and when he recovers, I’m certainly going to try and keep up with his career and how he’s progressing in Spain.
And sticking with the Latics, Steve Bruce has been having words with a local paper about us. It is a shame how it ended but surely everyone is now in agreement that it was in the best interests for everyone involved. We’d become stale under Bruce and Bruce had become stale managing us. He appears to have reinvigorated Wigan and no Blues fan I know would swap McLeish back for Bruce. Maybe the ending was always going to be awkward due to Bruce having outstayed his welcome at he insistence of the board. He did wonders in the transfer market pre-season but it felt like a stay of execution rather than a fresh beginning.
The comment about him having signed 95% of our squad is a bit of a cheek too. Whilst it’s true – and I hope that Bruce was just naive in what he said – our style has changed completely and now we look like a team capable of scoring goals and assuming we stay up, McLeish looks like he’ll be changing more staff and further identifying and correcting errors that, when he first arrived, looked ingrained in the team. Only now are our players beginning to look comfortable on the ball and confident in their ability to go and get things out of certain games – all points that Garry O’Connor has made in an interview with The Mail.
I’m not one of the anti-Bruce lot. He did a lot for us and we shouldn’t forget that. But when he joined us, his reputation was in tatters and six years at Blues helped him to get back some of his credibility within the game. The ending at Blues should’ve perhaps happened earlier than it did and so when he eventually did go through the exit door, too many were relieved to stop and say ‘Thank you’. I hoped that in time we’d rediscover our respect for him – and him for us – although it remains to be seen. I think he’ll get a good response. I hope so, anyway.
And the final word in this blog goes to Mikael Forssell who has had his say on the manager. Rumours often floated around about a falling out between the two although nothing was ever officially reported. The Forss has come out and said that he holds no grudges against Bruce and that the only thing that will matter on Saturday are the three points. Good lad. I just hope the rest of the squad is as focused.
At 3.40pm last Saturday Blues were technically sitting in the bottom three of the Premiership. That, just over and hour later, they were four points clear of the last relegation place shows how thin the dividing line in football can be.
Make no mistake, Alex McLeish’s men deserved the vital home win against Manchester City. If anyone thinks this may have been the pivotal moment of the run-in so far the twists and turns of the past two weekends matches should serve as a reminder events can turn around just as quickly again. If Fulham beat Sunderland for example and Blues lose at Wigan the gap would only be three points…
It is hard to summarise a match where one team, the visitors, were seemingly already on their post season holidays. It is to the credit of McLeish’s men that they did not sink to the level of the opposition and without the intervention of a referee whose only consistency is his inconsistency the win looked like being far more comfortable than eventually happened.
With Franck Queudrue winning the vote to replace the suspended Liam Ridgewell at centre half and Damian Johnson swapping places with Mehdi Nafti Blues dominated the first half bar one Benjani shot which hit the post. For all their possession, clear cut chances were not forthcoming as often as the approach play suggested. With Queudrue settling into his new role as the half progressed it was the industrious work of Larsson and Johnson that caught the eye and if ever there were two players who have benefited most from the change of manager this season it is the midfield duo. The former now has the consistency to go with his undoubted skill and work ethic whilst the latter has shown he has more to his game than the previous manager allowed him to use.
When Queudrue caught out Richard Dunne with a delightful defence splitting pass just before half time young Zarate showed why the loan fee paid for him has been paid back already with an intelligent lob to give the home team the goal their half’s work warranted. A few minutes later the groans around St. Andrews were clearly audible when news filtered through that relegation rivals Bolton were two goals ahead of ten men Arsenal. So when the second half started quietly and was awoken with another quality strike from the young Argentinian the homes fans relaxed. Enter Rob Styles. The softest of softest penalties later, followed by a red card, eventually given to the correct player (Queudrue) for the “foul” on Benjani and Mr. Styles had shown his view from thirty yards away is as poor as his sight from mere yards away. Hindsight shows technically it may have been a penalty, if the incident had occurred outside the penalty area I wonder if anything would have been given. Mr. Styles hides behind the rules. Remember his is the referee who also gave the infamous penalty that never was at Anfield and Peter Ndlovu will remember him from a few years back amongst others. Fortunately Mr. Styles is the same for all teams as he was later to prove.
With Elano converting the penalty Blues showed the resilience and desire required to withstand any potential Manchester City threat and once Larsson was able to resume his right sided duties, having filled in defensively after the sending off, the shape of the home team was better. With an Arsenal comeback in full swing at Bolton Mr. Styles decided to let his heart rule his head and gave a penalty after the most un-penalty probably witnessed at St. Andrews in recent history. Gary McSheffrey basically fell over after a shoulder to shoulder challenge. Mr. Styles, if he was consistent, should be giving half a dozen penalties per match on that basis. It took footballing courage for McSheffrey to step up and take the penalty. Home fans have not been particularly supportive of a player who is clearly short on confidence yet for me never shirks away when things are not going well. If it was Olivier Kapo who had one assist and one goal and not much else would fans also be heckling him ? Some of the modern fans forgt to support their team and/ or player during the actual match. I wonder how they would feel if someone stood over them in their workplace and consistently shouted down at them. Whatever your opinion on a players abilities the least we can do is back him during the ninety minutes.
With the two goal lead restored Blues never looked again in serious danger. Martin Taylor looks odds on now to be back for the Wigan game. Queudrue showed that a centre half comfortable on the ball gives an extra option. A vital win enhanced with Bolton losing at the end against Arsenal and we have some breathing space with six games to go. Easter may have gone, don’t count those chickens just yet.