A tale of two cities

Birmingham City 0 – Coventry City 0

Saturday 17 September 2022

Blues went into the international break on the back of a three-game unbeaten run following this stalemate at home to former tenants Coventry City.  

The game never threatened to reach the heights of Wednesday’s exciting win against the Baggies. Coventry had the best of the first half, although Blues has the best of the chances. Second half, Blues were marginally the better team and could have snatched it at the end with a couple of goal-line clearances after the Sky Blues had been reduced to ten men. 

One enforced change from Wednesday. The hamstrung Roberts made way for the returning Graham, resulting in a bit of a shuffle across the back line. Young Williams returned to his more natural right side at wing-back, Colin and Sanderson took a step to the left as the right-sided and central defenders respectively. Only Trusty stayed where he was as Graham slotted in at left wing back. 

Unlike Wednesday, Blues started off in a very sluggish manner, allowing Coventry to take the game to them. 

In their early dominance, Cov targeted Graham down our left side, with their right wing-back, Dabo, prominent. Graham didn’t have the best of halves, regular roastings by Dabo interspersed with an unhandy knack of giving the ball away even when he wasn’t under pressure. Like the rest of the team, Graham improved in the second half. 

For a twenty-minute period, Coventry were continually peppering Ruddy’s goal from twenty-five yards. Hamer, in particular, seemed to be having a personal duel with the Blues keeper. But, as he has done all season, Ruddy was more than up to the task, not only keeping the shots out but displaying faultless handling to make sure that none bounced off him and into the path of onrushing forwards. The former Wolves ‘keeper has been a tremendous signing for Blues when a few doubted him because of age and lack of recent match time. 

Despite Coventry’s dominance, it was Blues who had the best chances of the half, both for Bacuna. Having been so good on Wednesday, it was unlikely that the Curaçao international would be able to replicate that level of performance. If he was that consistently good, he probably wouldn’t be playing for us at the moment.  

As well as consistency, the other main thing that Bacuna could do with working on is his finishing. And this wasn’t clearer than when he blazed over on eight minutes after good work from Chong. It’s amazing that some players who are so composed on the ball in other areas of the field completely lose their heads when faced with a gaping goal. 

Along with Ruddy, Chong was the stand-out player for Blues in the first half. The main attribute that Chong brings to the team is his ability to travel with the ball and run at the opposition. He’s often able to do this after creating the space for himself to move into with close skills that get him out of tight spots. Like his former Man U colleague, Hanibal, he doesn’t mind a tackle either. 

With the addition of Chong, incredibly, like Bacuna, on a permanent for comparatively little money, and Bielik, there is no doubt that there has been a considerable upgrade on last season’s midfield. Bielik’s positioning, intelligence and ability to choose the right pass are something to behold, as I did for long periods of the first half when it got a bit dull. 

Throw Gardner, James and Hall into the mix and it’s clear that midfield is Blues’ strongest department. 

Likewise, central defence is strong, albeit as a result of loans. Even allowing for injuries to Roberts, Dean and Gordon, yesterday’s was still a strong defensive performance, particularly in the second period. Famous last words, perhaps, but Max has looked nothing but solid when he’s had to play centre half this season. 

Wing-backs are still not sorted, and this has been going on for a long time. With no sign of the young West Ham lad appearing, in the continued absence of Placheta it’s square pegs in round holes all the way at left wing-back, and even he’s really a winger. I bore myself repeating what a strange idea it was to get rid of Seddon at the start of last season, maybe not a world-beater but a natural left wing-back. 

Upfront, the desperate attempts to get a striker through the door in the last moments of the window, acknowledges that everyone knows that we are lightweight up front in the goal-scoring department. Hogan’s renaissance is great, but what if he’s crocked at any time? 

Another Bacuna effort apart, a weak header straight at the keeper that he should have done better with, it was Coventry’s half, and it wouldn’t have flattered them to go into the break two up.  

Second half was better. They’d obviously got a talking to at the break and for the whole of the second half they pretty much controlled midfield without translating that into the clear-cut chances of the first half. 

“Hanibal came on … and added an energetic, feisty presence and yet more hair to an already impressively hirsute line-up.”

Hanibal came on for Bacuna, who disappeared from the game as the half went on, and added an energetic, feisty presence and yet more hair to an already impressively hirsute line-up. 

Hanibal certainly got under Hamer’s skin. Eleven minutes from time the two went to ground in a midfield tussle to which Hamer reacted petulantly, a flick of the boot in the direction Hanibal’s face, enough to earn the Coventry midfielder his marching orders. 

This, and the introduction of Juke in place of Deeney, was the signal for Blues to use the overload and go more direct to get the ball into the box quicker. It almost worked, both Juke and Trusty having efforts stopped on the line.  

Given the relative balances of the halves, a draw was probably a fair result. While it would have been nice to go into the international break with three wins on the spin, seven points out of the last nine is not to be sniffed at, particularly for a side that had already been written off as relegation fodder. 

Likewise, 12 points from the first 10 is a decent enough return. Although a big problem still exists when we’re at home and have to take the game to the opposition, Eustace is to be praised for moulding what is a ragbag of players into a coherent whole while instilling a will to play for each other and the club back into the team. 

While the ownership issue seems as murky as ever, on the pitch there is cause for optimism. In the first part of the season, as well as a couple of clunkers, we’ve seen games where the team has not only won but played some really good football into the bargain.  

The international break might allow us to get a few more players out of the treatment room and into the team. We can then, hopefully, carry on in the same vein until the next window opens, with hopes of a striker and a left-sided defender through the door on permanents. Maybe then we’ll see Craig’s much-maligned three-year plan to become competitive in the division again come to fruition, but, then, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. One game at a time and all that. 

And before I go for my own international break, one more thing for you to consider:

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