Thursday, 13 December 2012

Blues v Palace: an Eagle-ly awaited clash

Saturday’s game sees perhaps the biggest underachievers of the Championship season so far, ourselves, play host to undoubtedly the biggest overachievers, Crystal Palace. Neither side would have been too surprised, or even indeed, disappointed if they were to be midtable at this point in time, however the Eagles are flying high in 2nd place, a few points clear of the play-offs, whilst Blues linger in 19th and our season is yet to really get going, if it will at all.

So how are Palace doing?

Ian Holloway is so far unbeaten with his new side, having taken an impressive 17pts from his first 7 matches in charge, though they failed to hold onto another win last week, when they conceded a late equalizer against the Bristolian’s former club, Blackpool.

Few Palace fans would have believed me if I told them they’d be in this position now, at the end of August. They had in fact lost their first 3 games, whereas Holloway’s club Blackpool, had won their first 3- the idea of Holloway swapping seaside for South London seemed preposterous.  What’s more, after a bright start to the previous season, the Eagle’s slumped to a 17th placed finish last year, so a relegation dogfight looked on the cards.

Oh how things have changed. After the 3 defeats, Dougie Freedman managed the team to a 10-game unbeaten run that took them until the end of October, before he attracted the attentions of Bolton and headed up north. Coming down the other side of the motorway was Holloway, who had won just 2 of the 10 games since the 100% record in August, and many of those 10 games ended in defeats for Blackpool.

However, since the switch Holloway has never looked back. He has guided the Eagles up to 2nd place and with a 3pt gap between them and 3rd place, his side look good odds for promotion, though trips to Cardiff and Nottingham Forest won’t make it easy for them to stay there in the new year.

Who are the dangermen?

Let’s have a look at Palace’s dangermen. Wilfried Zaha is the obvious name on everybody’s lips at the moment, including Ferguson and Wenger’s, but I believe that it is Glenn Murray whom us Blues fans should fear most. The 29-year-old made a brave move swapping Eagles for Seagulls two seasons ago, but appears to be ruffling a few feathers this season as he is by far Crystal Palace’s top scorer with 17 goals. He’ll be a threat.

The talented Zaha is probably worth a bit of a mention too, because the teenage prodigy won the Championship young player of the month in October and has earned an England call-up from Roy Hodgson recently. An impressive achievement though that is for one so young, he’s contributed (goals and assists combined) to just 7 of Palace’s 41 league goals this season, and my personal opinion is that he is being marginally overrated by pundits, and blatantly Holloway to increase his price tag. Murray is the man I shall be most worried about. Cue the Zaha hat-trick.

Have we met before? 

Another memorable encounter against Crystal Palace was an early top-of-the-table clash back in August 2006. A last-gasp 2-1 victory for Blues saw them go to the top of the Championship table, but to do so they had to come from behind against a Crystal Palace team with a 100% winning record that season.

Maik Taylor couldn't hold onto Jobi McAnuff's early long-range deflected strike, but Blues soon had an answer to it as Nicklas Bentner's cool finish found a way past Gabor Kiraly. In the second half, Damien Johnson didn't react well to being substituted by Bruce, but a great piece of play by David Dunn in injury time set up Sebastien Larsson to score his first league goal for the club and clinch a brilliant winner for Blues. We'd taken 10pts from our opening 4 matches, making a swift move to the top of the league. We were to stay there, or thereabouts, for the remainder of the season before finally clinching promotion in May.

My prediction

With Palace in such good nick under their new manager, it would take the most ardent Birmingham City fan not to be satisfied with a point. I’ve got a feeling we can put in a strong performance on Saturday, because despite our disappointing start, we’ve developed a habit of bouncing back quickly from defeats. However, if I was to predict this match completely as a neutral, I would say that Crystal Palace need the win for their promotion ambitions more than we do, so I’ll say they’ll come away from a tight match with a narrow win.

My prediction: 0-1

Where were we at this point in time: 10 years ago?

Demember 2002. Steve Bruce lead the team to a steady 5pts from 5 games that saw Blues keep some distance between themselves and the relegation zone in a reasonable month for the Blues.

It started in controversial fashion at Southampton, when Beattie converted a dubious penalty award for an alleged handball from Darren Purse, and at the other end, Jeff Winter denied Blues a penalty in a similar circumstances, before Beattie completed a brace to wrap the game up late on.

Blues weren’t to feel hard done by though, as they won 1-0 at Fulham, thanks to a wonderful early effort from American Jovan Kirovski, who scored his first goal for the club after signing the summer before- handily from today’s opponents, Crystal Palace. Darren Purse’s red card in the second half for a clumsy challenge on Luis Boa Morte slightly overshadowed a 6th win of the season for Blues.

Two satisfactory home draws followed. Firstly, it was a bit of a rescue job against Charlton. A poor kick up field from Nico Vaesen, gave Charlton the chance to attack and some neat football unleashed Claus Jensen to put his side ahead before the break. Into the second half, crowd favourite Geoff Horsefield was rather harshly dismissed for a mistimed tackle on Luke Young. To our credit, we battled on with 10 men in search of an equalizer, forcing our play down the right hand side through Paul Devlin. Devs converted a penalty with just over 20 minutes to play, levelling things up, and we were to finish the match with a point.

The draw against Everton will be most remembered for teenage sensation, Wayne Rooney ending Steve Vickers’s career. There was some more drama in the game though, heading towards half-time, we looked to be going into the break goalless but Tomas Radszinski latched onto Thomas Graveson’s pass to put the Toffees into the lead amidst supsicions of offside. However, Blues had an immediate reply just as fans were going for their half-time pies despondently. Lazaridis cut down the left flank past Yobo and whipped in a cross for Jovan Kirovski to score another goal for the club and level things up. Rooney’s challenge on Vickers lead to his sending off and meant Bruce had to invest in his defence in January. Still, two points gained from two established Premiership clubs in coming from behind is no mean feat, and will have given the fans some heart going into the new year, and what a new year it was to be.

However, Kirovski's goal in the 1-0 win at Fulham proved to be the team's last victory until late February due to an injury crisis. In fact, Geoff Horsfield was forced to play as an emergency defender in the 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford at the end of the month.

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