By the skin of their teeth

Adrian at the Carling Cup final at Wembley in 2011

Blues 1 – Derby 3

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

As predicted, Blues were unable to save themselves from relegation, relying on others’ inadequacies to get them over the line as Derby ran out undeserved winners in the last game of yet another horror season.

As the dust settled and Blues had got away with it for the umpteenth time in the last few years, the narrative changed and became about the tears of the boy wonder. Jude Bellingham bade a lengthy and emotional farewell to his home since the age of seven ahead of his record breaking move to Dortmund. 

Blues selling their prize asset for a record fee? Back to the seventies and eighties and Bob Latchford and the original boy wonder, TF.

It was Bellingham who was the main driver, particularly in the first half, for an improved display which was ultimately undermined by basic errors by defenders, a common theme of post-lockdown Blues. In this he was ably supported by fellow midfielders, Crowley, having his best and most effective performance since the early days of the season, Sunjic and Gardner.

The fifth member of the bolstered midfield, Bela, flitted in and out of the game in the way he does, disappearing for long periods of the game. Bela is an undoubted talent, but we’ve got to find a way to get a consistent ninety minutes out of him – one for the coaching staff.

Another deja vu experience, the good start undone by an early goal for the opposition after a defensive mistake, reared its head as Roberts’ shockingly cack-handed, or footed, clearance fell to Graham Shinnie to sweep home past a helpless Camp on six minutes.

Blues reacted well to the set back, up to the drinks break they took the game to Derby, and every move seemed to feature Bellingham, either as creator or potential taker of chances. And there were plenty of good positions and chances created, but it wouldn’t go in. With any other team than Blues, you’d have said it was only a matter of time until the pressure was translated into goals.

That did eventually happen when Sunjic scored on 56, firing home through a sea of bodies after Wayne Rooney, of all people, decided that anything Marc Roberts could do, he could do better, as his weak clearance from a cross landed at the Croatian’s feet. hold my beer, Marc.

But much like the resumption after the lockdown break, the goal was a signal for Blues to down tools believing that the job was done. All urgency went out of their game and basic mistakes crept back into their play which Derby, who hadn’t seemed particularly bothered either way, took advantage of.

After Bellingham had left the pitch in his first flood of tears of the evening after an attack of cramp, Pedersen replicated his consistently dreadful defending since the resumption, allowing himself to be easily shrugged of the ball, in a foot race with the Derby winger who was then able to pick out Whittaker in the box who duly scored his first goal for the Rams. 

Pedersen’s been playing like a man who knows his immediate future lies away from St Andrews. And if we can command a decent fee for him then that’s all good, as his level of commitment, along with many others, has been shocking of late.

Sibley added another almost on time with a nice curling effort past Camp for the edge of the box, after more defensive inadequacy. 

There’s a reasonable argument that the whole of the back four needs to be replaced. But how have decent defenders, like Roberts and Colin, become so bad at their jobs? A combination of bad management and lack of pride in personal performance. Many of the Blues’ squad don’t have the right stuff. And loanees Jake Clarke-Slater and Scott Hogan both went missing when they were needed most.

The whistle went on a game which was a microcosm of the season as a whole. Promise early on, ruined by technical and tactical deficiencies and Bellingham as the only stand out.

But of course Bellingham’s not with us next season. We have a thin and weak squad. We need to spend the Jude money wisely. But the crucial decision is the appointment of the next manager/head coach. 

“Rowett, Zola, Redknapp, Cotterill, Monk, Clotet. You could argue that the appointment or dismissal of each of those has been the wrong decision.”

As I’ve mentioned before, TTA’s failure hasn’t been the amount of money they’ve put into the club, it’s their decision making. In particular, their decision making on the manager front has been dreadful, and is the main element that has led us to where we are now – a club continually in the lower reaches of the second tier, looking over their shoulder as League One beckons.

Rowett, Zola, Redknapp, Cotterill, Monk, Clotet. You could argue that the appointment or dismissal of each of those has been the wrong decision.

We’ve had our best periods when we’ve had a coach who starts by making us hard to beat, Rowett and Monk, and is able to communicate to players what their jobs are within the system. 

Of the candidates being bandied around at the moment, Karanka fits the bill best to replicate the little success we’ve had since TTA took over. But he’d need to be able to get on with his on-pitch job with minimal interference from TTA.

Oh and the communications need to be sorted out. Genuine messaging about the plans and strategies of the club, rather than just the vacuous window dressing of social media.

Blues 1 – Derby 3

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