Saturday, 20 August 2022
Blues fell to home defeat against ten-man Wigan in a game which set all the relegation alarm bells ringing again.
Before the game I wondered, after the positive midweek performance against Watford, whether this squad could buck the Blues’ trend of playing well against the better sides and failing against those around or below them. On the evidence of this showing, the answer is a resounding no.
The manner of the defeat laid bare the thinness of the squad. Eustace had little to play with when it was clearly not working and he needed to change things. If anything, his options have been reduced further with the sale of Woods, especially with the continued absence of Gardner and Bielik. The over reliance on kids means that the whole side are going suffer the inconsistencies that you usually get from the young players themselves, particularly when they first come into the team.
Of equal concern to how many we’ve got is the quality of those we do have. Goalkeeper and defence seem sound, midfield should be okay if injuries clear up. It’s in the last third that we’re really struggling. With a set of ageing forwards, the lack of quality and skill really showed up yesterday as we increasingly looked less able to break down a stubborn Wigan as the game wore on.
I’ve mentioned our over-reliance on Bacuna before, and this was another case in point. Like the team, Bacuna had an inconsistent game. He and they started off well. But by the time we’d reached the midpoint of the second half, passes were going astray, he was turning into trouble, he was trying to do too much himself. As a seasoned Blues watcher this was the point when I realised that not only were we going to fail to break down Wigan, but the inevitable sucker punch was incoming.
It wasn’t just on Bacuna. There were plenty of times when we got ourselves into good positions, particularly down the flanks. But, apart from a couple of occasions, the ball in was woeful or non-existent. Both the wing-backs were culpable, as was Leko when he came on for a bit of a horror cameo near the end, replacing young Williams who hadn’t had the best of days going forward.
On the one occasion when good quality did come in, Juke, in for Deeney from the start, didn’t do what Juke used to be able to do regularly and instead tamely popped the ball into the keepers’ arms around the hour mark.
Juke had been prominent in a promising start, he was being used to play off rather than just lumping it in his direction to fight for. The Blues centre forward was involved in the crucial incident of the game. Put through on goal with a one-to-one beckoning on the keeper, Jutkiewicz appeared to have his heels clipped by Bennett. At least that’s what the ref saw, and Bennett was dismissed. Replays showed that Jutkiewicz had taken a dive, unlike him, and maybe what came after was karma.
From that point forward, Wigan took every opportunity to break up the rhythm of the game and waste time at every opportunity, and who can blame them? Especially knowing that the ref wasn’t going to penalise them for it, despite the directive to clamp down on time wasting.
Wigan’s tactics worked. What had been fluid from the Blues up to that point, became laboured, bitty and progressively more desperate as the game progressed.
Blues did resist the temptation to hoof it until late on and kept trying to play across the back and switch play looking for an opening. Partly due to Wigan’s excellent organisation, the openings dried up and it ended going from left to right across the back without so much forward. When they did get it forward, it was only for the poor final balls to result.
“By this time, it was a case of one lump or two.”
Juke faded out of the game, older lump being eventually replaced by younger lump, Cosgrove, and another, Deeney, added into the mix. By this time, it was a case of one lump or two. The only sense of movement came from Hogan, who worked hard to no avail throughout.
Nothing doing going forward, that inevitable sucker punch arrived on 82, when the substitute, Wyke, got Bacuna to cough up the ball and released Broadhead to run at what was left of the Blues defence, many of whom had pressed forward in support of the attack. Broadhead made himself enough space to hit a shot past Ruddy to cap a dispiriting day at St Andrews.
So, what’s the solution? Simple, more and better players. But this is Blues, so nothing’s simple. For all the talk, there’s still more going out than coming in. We have no idea if there’s anything in the pot to change this situation, but it seems unlikely with the current regime who seem intent on spending as little as possible on everything, including players.
And there’s no guarantee that if the Richardson/Lopez consortium do get their first stake in the club that there will be any kind of cash injection. And even if there is, the spectre of FFP hangs over us, meaning that having money to spend and being able to spend it are two different things.
It’s not a great time to be a Blues supporter, but you can say that about the vast majority of the last ten years. Games like Watford let you forget for a while the dreadful state of the club, games like yesterday’s bring it back in all too vivid detail.