So wrote Jane Austen in Emma. And it’s probably a view to which the Tiger Nation, doubtless setting off for St Andrews more in hope than expectation (and not too much hope if truth be told), might justifiably have subscribed. Small Heath hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds for City as a whole over the years, and not even the heady heights of the past couple of weeks would have done much to change that view. At half-time, with City trailing by a couple of goals courtesy of defending (I use the term loosely) that would have graced a Laurel and Hardy film and the Blues’ supporters unable to believe their luck, that view had become even more entrenched. After a mini-revival we were now back to the error-strewn, uninspiring, aimless farrago of mediocrity that had pretty much been the first fifteen games of the season, right?
Er, no, actually. Supporting City for any length of time has always been a bit of a roller coaster, and among the most memorable times have been the periodic realisations that, unexpectedly, we have stopped being shit. It would probably require a bit too much of leap of faith to conclude that we’ve reached such a stage just yet but boy, after much of the tripe that we have been forced to witness so far this campaign, the last three games have been a very welcome surprise. OK, so we might not have won yesterday, and in fact failed to win from a winning position, but it seems pretty, but for the aforementioned comedy defending, we would have won this fixture convincingly too, against a team who are notoriously difficult to beat at home. It’s also hard to deny that this wouldn’t have happened two months ago, especially after having been 0-2 down at half time.
So why has our spiralling plunge down the plug hole been – for now – halted? Hard to say, really: it’s been as inexplicable as it’s been unexpected, and it’s not as though the manager has hit upon a system or game plan to which he has religiously stuck. Most probably it’s just that the bunch of journeymen, misfits and children foisted upon him have just started to crank up a bit of a head of steam and a measure of understanding. There were glimpses of it against the Blunts, Preston and Bristol but it now seems to have flowered. We were decidedly Not Shit in this game (well, if you don’t count some of the defending) and, while we are far from out of the woods yet, if this improvement is maintained to any extent we ought to be picking the twigs out of our hair before many more weeks have passed.
Making us dare to hope were the following:-
Burke Elphick De Wijs Lichaj
Bowen Batty Henriksen Irvine Grosicki
Subs: Martin (for Batty, 45 min), Keane (for Campbell, 78 min), Kane (for Grosicki, 81 min)
After a rendition of the Last Post, with the beginning of the minutes’ silence that was supposed to ensue being disturbed by some individuals applauding (what is it about people these days that everything has to be treated as though it’s a broadcast of the X-Factor or something?), the Blues attack the end at which the possibly 600 or so City fans were gathered and start much the livelier. Jota ought to do better on 6 minutes when Elphick backs off instead of attempting a challenge but his shot lacks direction or conviction and goes behind fir a goal kick. We trade corners as City slowly work themselves up to cohesion and the home side’s early vim and vigour start to fade. In this opening spell we don’t seem to be getting a terribly square deal from referee Ward and Elphick’s name is unlucky to go into the book when similar challenges from the home side go unpunished.
When Bowen fires just wide at about the the 20-minute mark we start to anticipate a spell of City ascendancy but soon regret that when Elphick, shepherding a harmless-looking through ball, flicks the ball far too nonchalantly instead of steering it back to Marshall with conviction and Adams nips in, rounds the City custodian and makes a bit of a meal of tucking the leather away, but in it goes. Adams then hares away to the corner and kicks the corner post in twain in celebration, causing a delay of some minutes while a replacement is found and goes unpunished, prompting me to go off on one, telling anyone around me who cares to listen that any City player finding the net should snap the corner post across his thigh and openly dare the ref to book him.
This setback fails to knock us out of our stride and we press forward with conviction, flair and purpose. Bowen forces home netman Camp to go down low to push his fierce low drive past the post and Henriksen fires wastefully over just after the half hour. Brum have their moments, though, especially on 37 when Dean’s teasing cross from the right evades the City defence but Jutkiewicz’s header from a narrowish angle only finds the side netting.
Five minutes are added to the 45, largely due to Adams’ antics with the corner and, as if to rub it in, in the fourth of those five minutes de Wijs plays a square ball right into the path of the Birmingham number 9. Elphick again backs off and Adams advances unchallenged into the box and gently strokes the leather past Marshall’s right hand. A horrible piece of football from de Wijs, to be sure, but the situation was hardly irretrievable at that point. Inexcusably rank poor defending, and behind me the Goole contingent are justifiably apoplectic.
So that’s it. or so we think. Bubble burst, another false dawn, City flattering to deceive again. The cooling afternoon air as darkness beckons just exacerbates the chill in our hearts.
Not for long, though. Five minutes into the second half Campbell nods the ball out to Grosicki on the left. Our Polish internationalist crosses low and Fraizer, haring to the corner of the goal area, stabs the leather high into the net.
OK, so that’s the one we conceded just before half time chalked off. But our tails are up now and we are after the Blues’ blood. As the hour mark approaches Grosicki chases well to prevent the home defence from breaking up a City attack and fires a shot in the crowded box. The defence fails to clear, the ball falls to Bowen whose shot from five yards out is blocked by Camp but Campbell, following up, makes no mistake. Scenes.
Our hosts are spurred on by this and we find ourselves soaking up a bit of pressure, nearly falling behind again when Jutkiewicz again gets onto a cross at the far post and Marshall fubles the ball against the post before it is hacked to safety.
The pressure only eases when Grosicki cuts inside and fires powerfully a foot or so over. Jutkiewicz once more heads wide but we are soon heading back up the field when Gardner fouls Burke in a central position getting on for thirty yards from goal. Grosicki lines up to take it, I’m wishing that Stan McEwan was playing, my neighbour and fellow TigerChat reporter Paul Atkin assures me that this is Grosicki’s perfect distance from goal. And Paul was proved right as our Kamil hits an absolute belter into the top right-hand corner. Even wilder scenes.
That made it a trio of City goals in 23 minutes. Who’d have thought a month ago that we’d ever say anything like that again in the foreseeable future? If we scored with that prolificity all the time we’d score 12 goals a game. So think on, world of football.
For a while we press forward and Bowen shoots over after more fine work from Grosicki on the left (Birmingham really didn’t know what to do with Grosicki yesterday: what a revelation he is when he’s interested), but inevitably, when Campbell and then Grosicki himself are subbed in quick succession and replaced by Keane and Kane, the sting is really drawn out of our attacking play. It did seem an odd decision to remove both the guy who is scoring most of the goals at the moment and the one who had caused Brum the most problems all afternoon, as it was obviously going to lead to the home side putting pressure on us at the other end, although there was some suggestion afterwards that Grosicki had tweaked a hamstring. Unless that issue manifested itself for the first time in the three minutes after Campbell had gone off, you do still have to question the wisdom of Adkins in removing Campbell, especially with no game for a fortnight.
It’s probably wrong to say that the Birmingham equaliser on 83 minutes was inevitable: we had coped well with their attack on the whole and given them very few chances (well, apart from the ones with which we had chosen to present them on a silver salver and bound with only the best purple ribbon, of course) but it was kind of inevitable from the way things panned out on the day that the home side’s third came from another supreme act of generosity. It should have been a routine clearance for de Wijs as the ball is knocked down in front of him – indeed, had my dear old nana been alive and playing I would have been sorely disappointed in her had she not dispatched the leather 50 yards up the field in her carpet slippers – but all he can offer is a fresh air shot which allows Adams to scramble the ball over the line to complete the easiest hat-trick he’ll ever get even if he plays till he’s a hundred. For genuinely the first time all game, the home supporters (well, those who hadn’t sodded off after Grosicki’s goal, to the unbridled glee of the City support) awaken from their torpor.
In the remaining six minutes plus six of injury time – one more than the advertised five – the home side have the initiative as you might expect but don’t really cause us any problems, and it’s in fact City who come closest to bagging all the points as Keane works his way to a defender’s left and fires powerfully from 20 yards bang on the end of the 90, but he hasn’t got a totally clear view of the goal and the shot goes maybe a couple of feet high and wide of the angle.
So, a lot to think about and work on in terms of the concentration of individual defenders, although you have to remember that, had we been resourced properly over the summer, it’s most unlikely that either of those particular individuals would have found their way into a City shirt: as I saw someone comment on social media during the week, Adkins really has had the last pick in the playground. Despite that, we are one of the most improved sides in the division over the last month and if that kind of form can be maintained then we should easily be alright, and if the supposed takeover happens (still a massive “if”: don’t want to bang on about this but there really isn’t any kind of different feel about this: all that’s being said about the likelihood of it happening this time was all said in pretty much identical detail on the previous occasions we were supposed to be getting sold) there might even be some money for players in City’s stocking come Christmas and we might even be genuinely decent over the second half of the season.
But, whatever will be will be, and none of it will detract from an immensely enjoyable game of football yesterday afternoon.
Ian Thomson (via Tiger Chat)