Saturday, 12 March 2011

So Close

First off I just want to say how immensely proud I am of the players today. It was a make-shift team somewhat - not that I'm using that as an excuse - and they took a strong Bolton team right down to the wire and we were unlucky not to get a replay, or even win. The battle and persistence they showed today proved that we have got more than enough to stay up; we just need to replicate that in our Premier League games now, starting with Wigan next weekend.

All of the changes made for the game today were forced upon McLeish, but that's not to say their replacements were poor - far from it. With early chances from Blues and Bolton, and with both teams having their fair share of the ball, it was a pretty even game until the away side managed to take the lead. Elmander was fed the ball in the six yard box and with no oncoming pressure from the Blues defence, he neatly shot past Foster to give his side the lead.

Another two changes had to be made soon after with Ferguson picking up a thigh injury and Jiranek also having to go off - so on came Redmond and Ridgewell in their place.

Blues picked up the pace and after a positive amount of pressure, they finally found the equaliser. Cameron Jerome - who has been getting better and better in the last few games - was persistent, and eventually brought the ball down well and shot hard past Jaaskelainen to level the score.

It was Blues who were in the ascendancy for the remainder of the half, and at half time there were many positives that could be taken from the first forty-five minutes, even though we had sustained two injuries to key players.

Blues kept up the pressure at the beginning of the second half, and could have had a penalty when Jerome was one on one with Jaaskelainen and fell to the floor, however it seemed to be the right decision from the referee who only awarded a corner.

The St. Andrews crowd were really getting loud now and could sense a goal to put them ahead in the tie, and that almost came when a corner was swung in by Larsson from the right, which found its way to Phillips who would have put his side in front were it not for the goal line clearance from Lee Chung-Yong - with his first touch of the ball after coming on as a substitute!

Blues almost rued their missed chance a couple of minutes later when Kevin Davies found the back of the net, only to be flagged offside. Blues fans and players were relieved, but a short while later Bolton found themselves ahead again when they were awarded a penalty after Davies (of Blues) seemed to foul his namesake, and Davies (of Bolton) shot hard down the middle and sent the Bolton fans crazy.

With just ten minutes left Matt Derbyshire - the forgotten man in recent games- stepped up to the side of the pitch, presumably to come on in place of Kevin Phillips. But Super Kev, just outside the area, saw the ball come over his head and stuck a foot out. He just got contact and the ball looped over the head of the Bolton keeper; it really showed the never say die attitude of not only Blues, but of Super Kevin Phillips who truly is one of the best finishers English football has ever been graced with.

This really put more and more belief into a Blues team who had it in abundance already. As the fans rose to their feet, applauding and singing "that's why we're champions," the players kept on fighting and trying to win the game. Unfortunately, Blues were to concede a cruel last minute goal from Lee Chung-Yong and there was no way back for Blues this time.

It was a valiant effort by the side and all the players put in a great performance. Jordon Mutch, Seb Larsson and Cameron Jerome particularly impressed me; Larsson especially as he was absolutely everywhere on the pitch today, showing that he does love the club and that he does want to stay here. Even though we lost there are many positives to take from this game. If a make-shift team can put in that performance then there is no reason why our fully fit first team can't replicate it. Another positive being Jordon Mutch and Nathan Redmond who are most definitely the future. Also, when was the last time our two strikers scored in the same game?!

I'd like to finish this by congratulating Bolton; thank you for a great game today: end to end, exciting, and I hope you have a great day out at Wembley. Hopefully we can beat you in the league now as a little consolation for today - just like we did against Portsmouth last season!

It would have been great to get to Wembley again but not we can concentrate on the league and hopefully kick on and win a few - whilst emulating this performance. Plus, it's saved us a bit of money, which can go straight into the 'European Tour' fund...

Full Time: Birmingham City 2-3 Bolton Wanderers

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