Thank you for being a Friend

Adrian at the Carling Cup final at Wembley in 2011

Nottingham Forest 0 – Birmingham City 0

Saturday 26 December 2020

There are games which live long in the memory – cup finals won with 25-yard bicycle kicks, last-minute tap-ins to topple giants, unlikely great escape saviours deep in injury time. But, truth be told, the majority of the games are unremarkable. This was one of those, probably best filed under, ‘Instantly Forgettable’.

I’m of the opinion that any football is better than no football. But this was another of Blues’ games this season that tested that theory to the max. And it’s made worse by banishment to the settee to watch these game on the box.

If you’re actually at a boring game there are all kinds of activity to distract from the dullness of what is being laid before you on the pitch – Statler and Waldorf grumbling away in the row behind about how poo-er both the game and our players are, tutting at early risers for a half-time skanky burger or beat the traffickers at the end of the game, risible attempts to get a rise out of opposition supporters equally comatose. Instead, there’s only a vague thought that time might be better spent wandering to the kitchen to put the kettle on once again.

I’m not a great one for stats, I prefer to trust what I see with my own eyes and remain unmoved by the fact that this is the third quickest that a Man U player has made it to fifty goals since the prem started. But I would like to see if there’s been an increase in dull games without crowds. Does the lack of cries of, ‘Gerrit forward’ as it’s tippy-tapped around midfield or as teams regularly indulge in a bout of giving the ball to each other in some kind of gentleman’s excuse me lead to more dull games?

I’m not sure that Blues would get away with lack of attacking ambitions quite so often if they had a full St Andrews or away end bellowing at them. And maybe a stirring rendition of Keep Right On is what’s needed to wake everyone up.

Here, Blues’ initial mission was accomplished – they steadied the ship after three increasingly bad defeats. It was no coincidence that steady and calm returned with George Friend, his leadership has been sorely missed.

I suspect that it’s that steadying of the ship that saw Clayton play rather than Kief, who has been the forward driving force for the team since his recall from the wilderness.

Clayton, though, is a sitter. It wasn’t until Sunjic started breaking forward and Gardner was introduced, both in the second half, that Blues posed any threat to Forest’s goal. Brice Samba isn’t the first goalkeeper this season who’s gone through a full half against Blues without a save to make.

Gardner was introduced for debutant Halilovic who tweaked summat just before the break. The Croat had already shown one bit of skill followed by a crossfield pass that would have had the Football Managers and Fifarites wetting themselves. He also showed the Achilles heel of most number tens we’ve had recently, giving the ball away in a dangerous position for the opposition to break on us. We’ll have to wait and see if we get enough of the former, with a bit of end product thrown in, to outweigh the risks of the latter.

Forest had the best of the first half, Blues just about edged the second as they came out of their shell a bit, confidence returning and having convinced themselves that Forest didn’t pose so much of a threat that we couldn’t take a few risks going forward in search of a goal.

“I’m for Gardner having a run in the team.”

Sanchez started to show up better when he moved to ten to take Halilovic’s place, with Gardner taking his. Sanchez had the best of Blues’ chances, wriggling through the Forest before letting fly with shots which should have troubled Samba more than they did.

I’m for Gardner having a run in the team. We all know that he’s not necessarily the most technically accomplished player, although he’s better than a lot give him credit for, but his enthusiasm, drive from midfield, goal threat and, most importantly, his consistency are deserving of a regular start. Gazzer’s a 7 out of ten player most weeks. It’s that sort of consistency you need to balance the in and out of a player like Bela, poor here again today, to flatten out the ups and downs of a team like Blues this season.

Overall this was a game between two out of sorts teams more intent on not losing than winning. As the away team, Blues will be the happier of the two.

Joys

  • End of losing streak
  • Regained defensive solidarity
  • Etheridge back to his best
  • Hogan leading the line better

Sorrows

  • Another dull game
  • Bela’s inconsistency
  • Shot-less first half
  • Score-less again

Player ratings

Etheridge – 7

Put his Middlesbrough horror show behind him to show why he’s one of the best in the division.

Colin – 6

Fine. Nothing spectacular but played his part in much improved defensive display.

Friend – 8

I was going to say that his influence on the team was immeasurable. But as I’ve just given him 8 our ten, that’s not true. Anyway, you get my point. With Friend – solid and calm, Friendless – running around like chickens with heads cut off and likely to suffer a crisis of confidence any moment.

Dean – 6

Much the better for having Friend around. Much more focussed on doing what he does well.

Roberts – 5

A worry in this game. Curiously ambling around in the first half to allow Forest midfielders shots from distance rather than closing them down. Injury in second half reduced mobility leaving us vulnerable when Forest piled on the forwards.

Clayton – 6

Steady.

Sunjic – 6

I like it when he gets forward as well as doing his day job. He’s a good runner from midfield. Needs to work on his finishing, though.

Sanchez – 6

Much better when he moved to ten and was able to run at the heart of the Forest defence.

Halilovic – 6

Wasn’t around long enough to form much of an opinion. Couple of encouraging moves.

Bela – 5

Poor game. In the first half, gave the ball away in good positions. Anonymous in the second half.

Hogan – 6

Better channel-running and holding up of ball. No chances created for him.

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