Better, but still not good enough

Adrian at the Carling Cup final at Wembley in 2011

Birmingham City 0 – Blackburn Rovers 2

Saturday 2 January 2021

Blues were better, if not good, in a game where they were unlucky on the balance of play not to take a point.

Mass changes to the team from the awful home defeat to Derby signalled Karanka’s displeasure, with the whole of the defence, including Friend moving postion, changing among seven changes in all.

With Armstrong in the Blackburn line-up, you worried about San Jose alongside Clarke-Salter at centre half. You felt there might just be some space for Rovers’ top scorer to work in behind the Blues backline.

These worries were confirmed on ten minutes. After a reasonable start, Blues were left appealing to the referee for a good shout for a pen when Sanchez appeared to be clipped in the box.

Trouble was Blues were still appealing as Rovers broke on them. The ball was played swiftly forward to Armstrong who was already yards ahead of San Jose. There was no prospect of the Catalan catching Armstrong as the forward first drew and then beat Etheridge.

Expert finishing from Armstrong and worth comparing and contrasting with Hogan’s effort late in the game when Toral’s expert through ball left him one-on-one with Blackburn’s under-utilised goalkeeper. At no stage did it look as if Hogan was going to score.

“Get a new player in or change the system.”

If you’re only going to play one up top, you need that player to be confident and firing on all cylinders, like Armstong is at the moment. Either through lack of form or lack of ability, none of our forwards has looked remotely comfortable as the lone striker this season. Not since Donaldson has there been anyone who can play that role successfully. Get a new player in or change the system.

At least Blues didn’t cave in after conceding a goal as they have done regularly this season and in both the preceding home games. They wobbled and it looked like Blackburn would exploit that space behind our defence again as they poured forward trying to kill us off before half-time.

We made it to the break without further damage, more by luck than judgement, but as the half progressed Blues stabilised and started coming back into the game.

This momentum, with Leko looking lively, was carried on in the second half.

The second period was mainly Blues, seeing most of the ball and spending the majority of the time in Blackburn’s half. Kief and Friend drove them forward, Sanchez was looking the best route to an equaliser, but a lack of confidence and quality in the last third meant that the pressure never converted into goals.

Blackburn finished us off with yet another self-inflicted wound. After some great work by Friend down the left, Toral received the ball in a dangerous position in the box. Instead of picking out one of his well-positioned teammates in the box, Toral played the ball behind them all to a Blackburn player who was off and at us on the break in an instance.

With most of our team caught up the park, the remaining defenders tried their best to repel the Blackburn break but the ball eventually broke to Dack on the edge of our box. He then unleashed an unstoppable one past Etheridge. Game over.

So, five without a win. New year, same old result. Better, but still nowhere near good enough.

Joys

  • Marginally better than of late
  • Flashes of good stuff from Leko but, boy, his passing leaves a lot to be desired
  • Toral’s through ball for Hogan’s miss
  • Another ‘didn’t let us down’ performance for Dacres-Cogley
  • More energy going forward provided, mainly, by Kieftenbeld and Friend

Sorrows

  • Defending against the quick break abysmal
  • San Jose playing centre half and then attempting to play a high line against Armstrong and co for most of the first half
  • Continued ineffectiveness of centre forwards
  • Not choosing Toral over other available number 10s

Player ratings

Etheridge – 7

Kept us in it in the first half as the defence went AWOL. Didn’t have to deal with any crosses as Blackburn targeted the centre of our defence.

Dacres-Cogley – 6

Did alright.

Friend – 7

Looked better at full back than he had done at centre half against Middlesbrough. Showed leadership and energy to drive the team forward in the second half.

San Jose – 5

All at sea, particularly in the first half. With his lack of pace, he has to rely on positioning and this was all over the place.

Clarke-Salter – 6

Nowhere nearer what we’ve seen from him in the past, seems to have been bought down to the level of the other defenders when we know he’s better than that. His tackle on Dack after the second Blackburn goal was better than any before it.

Kieftenbeld – 7

Rightly restored to midfield and showed the energy and drive that made you wonder why he hasn’t been a regular in the last couple of weeks.

Sunjic – 6

OK. Nothing special.

Leko – 6

Really frustrating at the moment. Shows glimpses of something special and then can’t pass the ball six yards.

McGree – 5

How many of these lightweight number 10s who can’t impose themselves on the game have we seen at St Andrews in the last few years? I’m guessing it’s in the hundreds now.

Sanchez – 6

Always looked like he might do something, but didn’t.

Juckewitcz – 5

Won’t even have a shot when well placed at the moment. Confidence totally shot by lack of decent service playing in a system that doesn’t suit his strengths.

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