Monday, 4 February 2013

Blues 2-1 Forest: Burke for good

A nice 2-1 win over Nottingham Forest and of course, Blues reject Alex McLeish takes us to 6 points above the relegation zone, and I think we can all breathe a little more safely now. The game had a touch of irony about it, as it was Chris Burke, who Alex McLeish was hoping to sign for Forest on deadline day, who scored both of our goals. I'm relieved that we've managed to keep the likes of Curtis Davies and Marlon King, who have been key for us this season, so unless we're forced into administration I now feel increasingly confident that we can avoid a second relegation in two years, after that win.

As was to be expected, when McLeish walked through the tunnel towards the dugout, he was greated by a great chorus of boos. Many Blues fans now hate him for leaving Birmingham when we were relegated to go to Aston Villa, in a move that was apparently planned months in advance. After the boos, the fans broke into: 'giner tw*t, my lord, ginger tw*t' which I thought was a bit unnecessary. It's a slightly self-refuting argument when you focus on the fact that he's ginger, rather than what he actually did. They certainly weren't calling him a 'ginger tw*t' when we were 9th in the Premiership or when we'd won the Carling Cup, so it seems a strange thing to have a go at him for.

One of the things that pleased me about the game, is that it's evidence of us becoming more of a team unit. For a lot of the season until now, the defence and midfield have been doing well enough individually, but hadn't yet become a well co-ordinated and organised team. I was convinced though, that the only way to change that would be to have a little bit of patience, rather than join the 'Clark out' brigade. 

Today, we saw encouraging signs of this improving. Caldwell and Davies intuitively knew when  their partner would go forward and challenge for a header, they would stay back and vice-versa. Caddis and Robinson did have quiet games but did their bit to make sure Forest had little joy down the flanks, and Wade Elliott's experience was invaluable in our attempts to win the midfield battle, which I felt we generally did. The team are beginning to develop a level of mutual understanding, an underrated component of a successful team in my opinion, and that's something to build on for the rest of the campaign.

Lee Clark reverted to a 4-4-2 formation, enabling him to field Wes Thomas alongside Marlon King, which is a change from the 4-2-3-1 he tends to opt for. With Burke and Hall employed as out and out wingers, it was quite an attacking line-up, but it seemed to do the trick.

We had a lot of possession in the opening quarter of an hour, Wade Elliott stamped his authority on the game by use of his tackling and dictating tempo, which played a big part in this, but we couldn't create any clear-cut chances. Rob Hall then made his biggest contribution of the match when his free-kick was headed goalwards by Curtis Davies, but Darlow pushed it away. Although Hall didn't have a great afternoon, the quality he provides from set pieces alone has made him worthy of his wages.

Chris Burke seemed to provide a much bigger threat on the right than Hall did on the left though. For starters, he slipped through a neat through ball for Marlon King. Unfortunately our 14-goal striker  was unable to add to his tally, uncharacteristically dragging his shot wide.

Towards the end of the first half, the anti-McLeish songs grew louder and this seemed to help create an intimidating atmosphere for Forest to play in. Jack Butland made a fine save from Billy Sharp's header, before Blues went down the other end to score. Chris Burke let rip from about halfway inside the Forest half. It was a rocket of a volley, with his weaker left foot (to boot), that crashed in off the underside of the crossbar to give Blues a lead at the interval. I thought it was just about deserved, because we had had a fair amount of possession.

We were able to build on this in the early stages of the second half, and were unlucky not to get a second goal in that time. With Reilly on for Gomis and Redmond later replacing the limping Hall, Blues attacked with a real purpose. Wes Thomas displayed the energetic qualities he can bring to this team by fashioning a 1 on 1 chance all by himself, nicking the ball from Danny Collins's toe and going on a long, speedy run. Unfortunately, when the chance presented itself to him, he lacked that bit of composure to get the goal.

But I have to say, I don't mind that. The financial situation at the club means we simply can't afford, or attract, the skillful prima donnas of this world, so it's better to try and get hardworking, honest players in who will create a real work ethic within the squad. It was clearly very much a hand-to-mouth transfer, seeing as we have him on loan from a club in a lower division than us, but I don't mind as long as he's totally committed to the cause. 

Butland, who had an excellent afternoon in goal in spite of his agreed transfer to Stoke, made a couple more great saves. He saved from Chris Cohen and was also equal to Henri Lansbury's effort at the near post to preserve our lead. At that point, I did sense we needed a second goal to kill the game off as Forest applied more and more pressure, because we were without a clean sheet in 15 games. One goal never seems to be quite enough with us at the moment.

Lee Clark sent on Zigic, which is usually a move made in search of a goal, but this time it looked to have had a slightly different implication. The aim was for him to help us simply hold onto the ball and provide a starting point for the midfield, in what looked to be partly a time wasting tactic.

Redmond then had a 1 on 1 opportunity, not dissimilar to Thomas's, only from him cutting inside from the left. He showed some electrifying pace to get past the defence, who were playing with quite a high defensive line as part of their quest for the second goal, but Redmond like Thomas, lacked that bit of composure when it mattered most.

However, we did get the second goal with 10 minutes to play, and Redmond atoned for that miss. It was his pace that made the second, as he went on a mazy run down the left wing before    coming inside and cutting a pass back across goal for Burke to tap in. After that goal, came a range of taunting songs for McLeish, including: 'Alex, what's the score?' before finally a rousing rendition of 'Keep Right On'.

It would have been the perfect game for us, had it not been for the late penalty to Forest. Having seen it on the football league show, I thought the penalty was harsh, awarded for an apparent push by Curtis Davies on Billy Sharp. Sharp converted though, which left us without a clean sheet in 16 games now, but on the whole it was an important 3 points for us, to cap off a pretty good week.

Aside from my satisfaction at seeing the likes of Redmond, Davies, Butland, King and Burke still in a Birmingham City shirt, it's the first time we've had back-to-back wins all season, as we've managed to build on that impressive win at Burnley. Hopefully we can now put an unbeaten run together and climb into the top half of the table, to lighten up what's so far been a very difficult season for us.

Player ratings:

Butland- would've kept a clean sheet had it not been for a wrongly awarded penalty, he made some fabulous saves that preserved the lead for us at times. 8

Caddis- made the occassional good attacking run, but other than that he was fairly quiet and did his defensive job. Blocked Forest's plans down the left quite well. 7

Davies- could have scored in the first half from Hall's free kick, and won a lot of aerial headers against Billy Sharp. Can't mark him down for the penalty when Sharp clearly dived. 7

Caldwell- seemed to press higher up the pitch than I expected to considering his lack of pace, but he won a lot of challenges and made it difficult for Forest. 7

Robinson- like Caddis, don't think I saw much of him but that's probably a good thing for a defender! Without making too many tackles, he held his position well. 6

Elliott- I was impressed with Elliott. Don't think I've seen him play in the centre too many times but the experience he provided us with was useful. He always grafted to help us win the ball back, he organised the midfield and sprayed the ball out wide nicely.

Gomis- because Elliott's skills are more linked with his football brain, we needed a physical presence in the midfield alongside him and Gomis did that job well. Provided some support, was quiet but effective. 7/10

*BURKE- aside from his 2 goals, Burke looked back to his form under Hughton when he could beat a player with ease. He was exciting to watch and took his 2nd goal very well. My man of the match. 9/10

Hall- the play wasn't down the left too much so I didn't see a lot of him, the only contribution I remember him making was the free-kick for Davies's header. Must have had a bit of a knock as well, as he came off in the second half. 4/10

King- he lead the line and held the ball up quite well, but he missed a 1 on 1 chance in the first half. 6/10

Thomas- from the 65-odd minutes I've seen of him, he looks like a hardworking, pacy forward which will be key to fashioning chances for himself. However, he seems to lack that bit of quality, evidence by the 1 on 1 chance he missed in the second half. 6/10


Reilly- came on for Gomis with half an hour to go and like many players, I didn't see much of him. Defending a 2-goal lead the aim is always going to be to keep things tight, Reilly did that well enough I thought. 6/10

Redmond- he made up for missing his 1 on 1 by making Burke's second all by himself. The pace he added was fantastic. 7/10

Zigic- coming on for Thomas, he fulfilled his duties: held the ball up, wore the clock down, defended from the front. Contributed to us keeping the 2 goal lead for so long.

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