First of all, a Merry Christmas and very happy forthcoming New Year to one and all. Quite a bit has happened since my last blog; two away games at Middlesbrough and Preston which yielded a point apiece but by all accounts could and should have been a total of six. There was a scratchy win at home against Cardiff City which like many I watched on SKY and felt like most fair minded people that we were lucky to grind out the win with a penalty well dispatched by Paul Caddis that should never have been given but there was an incident early in the game where a spot kick should have been awarded due to a rugby tackle on Morrison so I have no qualms in accepting the good fortune afforded us. We then went away to Hillsborough and got ceremoniously thumped by the Owls in what sounds like a tired and poor performance. So, it’s been a bit up and down with consistency hard to come by. You only have to look at the table to realise that a successful team doesn’t necessarily have to be that good in this league but it does need to consistently pick up positive results since all sides appear capable of beating any other on any given day. Consistency is what is required in 2016 if Blues are to harbour any pretensions about the playoffs although I still feel that the squad lacks enough depth to achieve it but we’ll see.
I’m not sure whether the unseasonably warm weather is helping or hindering Blues at the moment. Pitches must be in excellent condition with the grass continuing to grow relatively briskly for the time of the year and repairs easier to achieve at a time when fixture congestion makes that task challenging. It was bright, mild and sunny on the train up to Coventry for the game. I was accompanied by Jonny, my eldest son who was home for a few days which was better that my usual solitude. We arrived in plenty of time for Chris to pick us up, collect little Jack and head over to the Royal George for a pre-match drink. As for the game itself, it was good to see Clayton Donaldson’s return to the side after his prolonged injury that coincided with our indifferent form falling from second in the table to tenth. Also returning was Robbo in the centre of defence and it was gratifying to see Viv Soloman-Otabor coming in in place of Demarai Gray for his first start.
The difference that the changes made was there for all to see. We look so much better a side with Donaldson leading the line. We find it easier to get onto the front foot, play higher up the pitch because he occupies their defenders and makes them defend first and think about going forward second which they find difficult because he is such a pest, never giving the opposition chance to settle. Gleeson had an excellent game against his former club, Jon Toral looked classy and assured on the ball and Maikel Kieftenbeld broke up play and stayed disciplined throughout. Viv Soloman-Otabor did his chances of keeping his place no harm with a pacy, confident performance after a nervous start and Maghoma on the opposite flank had one of his best games so far for us. Paul Caddis looked back to his old self and Grounds seems to have regained some of his early season form, defending well and delivering into midfield early. Robbo looked solid and assured in the centre of defence alongside Michael Morrison and was responsible for clearing the only moment of real danger for us in the 22 minute when Kuczcak parried Powell’s low shot which sat up invitingly for Gallagher following up. Robinson saw to it the danger was nullified by a brave lunging clearance. In truth apart from a wayward header over the bar in the very last few seconds by substitute Nicky Maynard this was the only time MK Dons threatened. Otherwise it was all Blues and had it not been for some sloppy finishing Birmingham could and should have won this game at a canter and by a substantial margin, a point made by MK Dons manager, Karl Robinson.
Blues started brightly and might have opened the scoring in the first 15 minutes when Gleeson shot narrowly wide when fed in by Toral. MK responded with a shot well wide from Carruthers from outside the box. Toral hit a fine free kick from 25 yards out only for Martin to smartly tip over on 17 minutes. Donaldson mishit a good opportunity which fell to him just after which Martin saved easily. Another beautiful pass to Soloman-Otabor saw Martin save the latter’s near post drive for a corner. Grounds volleyed a good corner ball from Gleeson but his goal bound shot was blocked last ditch for another corner and frustration mounted as the seemingly inevitable opener just would not come. MK Dons were under constant pressure and from another right wing attack Soloman-Otabor crossed only for the ball to be clearly blocked by Lewington with an upstretched hand. This was a clear penalty shout which was ignored by Mr Martin, the referee. The away fans had much fun at our expense crying “hand ball!” every time the ball was played from then on for several minutes. Their team were lucky to escape the penalty award and Lewington, a yellow card. The visitors appealed for a penalty of their own early in the second half when Josh Murphy was tackled by Michael Morrison but a clear contact on the ball by the defender allowed the referee to correctly wave that one away. Otherwise, the pattern of the match resumed with Blues creating and missing chances or being denied by rugged last ditch defending.
On 56 minutes the home faithful had their heads in their hands as Clayton Donaldson with a superb touch from Toral’s excellent cross proceeded to crash the ball off the bar from ten yards. It was a bad miss after excellent build up work. McFadzean then blocked Maghoma’s goal bound shot having got in behind the creaking MK Dons defence. Just as we were all wondering if it was going to be one of those days, Maghoma then broke the deadlock. Toral once again fed the winger in in the inside left position but appeared to have gone too wide as he performed Cruyff turns this way and that. Jon Toral pleaded with him to pop it off to him on the edge of the area as Maghoma was surrounded by at least five defenders but a final twist wrong footed them all before the wide man crashed an unstoppable drive into the roof of the net past Martin for 1-0.
MK Dons did attempt a late rally but it always looked more likely that Blues would score again and should have done through Gray who sent clear by quick passing from Davis and Donaldson contrived to beat Martin but not the post on 93 minutes. It is a good job that Nicky Maynard did not direct his header on target a few seconds later otherwise another two points would have been squandered. As it was, all’s well that ends well and the correct team won; Blues thoroughly deserved this one but we will have to be more precise when we take on an improving Brentford on Saturday.
The Good: The match; it was a good watch. Clearly, the result and the goal when it eventually came.
The Bad: The finishing; it looked more difficult for Donaldson to strike the bar than score and Dimmy simply has to score rather than rattle the post with his effort when clean though.
The Ugly: Can’t think of anything; it’s the season of goodwill after all. 😀
Birmingham City: Tomas Kuczcak 7, Paul Caddis 7, Michael Morrison 7, Paul Robinson 7, Jonathan Grounds 7, Viv Soloman-Otabor 8, (Demarai Gray 80, N/A) Mikael Kieftenbeld 7, Jon Toral 8 (David Davis 85, N/A) Stephen Gleeson 7, Jacques Maghoma 8, Clayton Donaldson 8.
Subs not used: Adam Lezgdins, James Vaughan, Greg Halford, Andrew Shinnie, Jonathan Spector.
Goals: Maghoma 63 minutes.
Yellow cards: Robinson.
Milton Keynes Dons: David Martin 7, Jordan Spence 6, Kyle McFadzean 7 Joe Walsh 6 (Ben Reeves 76, 6) Dean Lewington 6, Diego Poyet 6, Samir Carruthers 7, Carl Baker 6, Dean Bowditch 6, Daniel Powell 6 (Josh Murphy 32, 7) Sam Gallagher 6 (Nicky Maynard 62, 6)
Subs not used: Cody Cropper, Lee Hodson, Antony Kay, Rob Hall.
Yellow cards: Carruthers, Baker, Maynard, Murphy.
Referee: Andy Davies 7: I thought the referee and his two assistants officiated this game reasonably well and kept it flowing. The man in the middle could have dished out a few more cautions especially in the first half when MK resorted to some pretty physical tactics to stop Gleeson, Toral and the two wide men but in fairness he kept control of the game without resorting to a lot of cards so it depends on which way you look at it. One decision he did get wrong in my opinion was our penalty shout in the first half. It looked a clear hand ball incident to me.
Attendance: 19,714 (980 away fans)