A draw at St. Andrews on Saturday saw Birmingham move four points away from the relegation places, while Blackpool remained fourth in the table. The young and spritely Jesse Lingard opened the scoring for Birmingham in the first half, before the more experienced Ricardo Fuller levelled for Blackpool ten minutes later. In a relatively high-tempo and game, a draw was the fair result.
Birmingham started the match on the front foot, pressing high up the pitch and looking to get the ball forward quickly. Zigic was the only recognized striker, but playing behind him was an attack-minded trio of Burke, Novak and Lingard, who often looked to break forward. With Blackpool playing a five in midfield, our central duo of Reilly and Adeyami were forced into a more direct passing style, because if they tried to pass the ball short and patiently, they would have been outnumbered in the centre. My criticism of the trio who played behind Zigic, therefore, would be that they didn’t quite track back enough and offer the easy option for teammates. Over the course of the match, this led to a few misplaced passes from Callum Reilly and Tom Adeyami, who are hardworking players yet they cannot be relied upon for creativity in midfield.
In the first 20 minutes, Blackpool did not threaten at all. They seemed to play very deep, almost negatively, and it left many wondering why they were so high up in the table. At times Ricardo Fuller looked isolated on his own up front, and at 34, it was unclear whether he would have the legs to play as a lone striker.
On 27 minutes, the first goal came through Jesse Lingard. Capitalizing on a very poor backpass from Kirk Broadfoot, he tucked the ball in with a crisp finish to mark his sixth goal for the club since joining on loan from Manchester United. A goal fully deserved, because Birmingham had had the majority of the play at that point.
We then saw the best and worst parts of having a young, academy graduate in your side. Birmingham’s left-back Mitch Hancox had been having an excellent game so far. He had kept one of the best young English wingers in Tom Ince quiet, was strong in the challenge, which often earned him a roar of support from Blues fans, and he showed some decent skill on the ball as well. His passion for the club shone through. However, 10 minutes after our goal, he was caught out of position on the left and the talented Ince ran past him, and drilled a low cross for Ricardo Fuller, who placed the ball home with an assured finish. Hancox’s commitment to the cause has never been in doubt, yet his young age makes him liable to making costly errors in terms of defensive positioning.
After the goal, Blackpool found some momentum, and began to look very strong on the counter attack. Ince, who had failed to impress for most of the first half, suddenly looked his menacing self, as a man who had once attracted the eye of Sir Alex Ferguson, amongst other elite managers. He seemed to have rediscovered his confidence and ability to beat a man with raw pace and strength, yet also showing great intelligence on Blackpool’s breakaways, which he was often at the centre of. He cut inside from the left with just one Blues defender back, and picked out Fuller for a second time, whose fierce shot into the near corner drew a reaction save from Darren Randolph.
The half-time whistle sounded with the score at 1-1. Though that did not reflect our slight superiority in the time leading up to their equalizer, Blackpool looked extremely dangerous in the last 10 minutes of the half, leaving some Blues fans pondering whether they would take a point.
Shortly after half-time, Lee Clark brought Callum Reilly off for Dariusz Dudka to make his debut. The ex-Poland international had signed for Birmingham City on a two month contract a few weeks ago, although Clark had been keen to wait for him to regain match fitness before fielding him. Dudka’s performance gleaned mixed reviews from Blues fans. To some he looked slow, and a little bit of a lightweight in the centre, although his technical talent came to light, hitting a sweet volley from outside the box minutes after coming on, which flew just over the bar.
Both sides had their chances in the second half. It took a heroic clearance off the line from Dan Burn to deny Ricardo Fuller, whose shot looked to be trickling into the net. A Blackpool pass across the edge of the box looked to create a big opportunity, though it was Neal Bishop who had the task of scoring. He couldn’t do better than hit it straight at the keeper, as a less attack-minded player.
There was a scrappy phase in play until the last ten minutes, when Birmingham battled to try and capture a win. There were brief moments when Blackpool’s penalty area became a game of ping-pong, Novak threatened to score with a left-footed effort, while late substitute Demarai Gray hit his shot straight at Matt Gilks with a half-chance before the end.
All in all, the draw was a very reasonable reflection on the balance of play. In a game of plenty of chances, particularly in the second half, either side could have nicked a win. A point apiece does not do much to change either side’s respective causes. Birmingham keep some distance between themselves and the relegation zone, although they havea potentially important match at Barnsley next week. For Blackpool’s play-off ambitions it is a decent point too. None of the three teams who were below them prior to kick-off won, and the Tangerines next face two of the current bottom three sides in Sheffield Wednesday and Yeovil. A draw was a respectable result for both clubs, and it was a fair one.