Fifty years is a long time to wait for European football, but Birmingham City began their much awaited European campaign tonight at the Estadio da Madeira against C.D Nacional, in the first leg of the play off to gain entry to the group stages of the Europa League.
Chris Hughton lined his side up in a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Liam Ridgewell playing just in front of the back four and Chris Wood starting as the lone striker as he did at the weekend against Coventry.
Admittedly not knowing too much about the Maderia outfit, I was not too sure how much of a threat Nacional would pose and although the early chances were had by the home side Boaz Myhill wasn't tested too extensively, saying that, they would have had a great chances early on were it not for a brilliantly well timed tackle by Curtis Davies, preventing the on-coming danger in the form of Mateus, who was through on goal were it not for the defender's intervention.
The hundreds of dedicated Blues fans who made the journey to Maderia didn't stop singing all night, and almost had something to cheer about early on when Davies - who had a fantastic game - uncharacteristically broke with the ball. With Chris Wood waiting eagerly in the middle, Davies decided to go it alone and saw his shot tipped behind. Steven Caldwell connected with the resulting corner, taken by Jean Beausejour, and saw his header rattle against the inside of the post.
Nacional were on the back foot, and as the game neared half time Blues had the best chance of the game yet, when Chris Wood agonisingly hit the bar from inside the area: Beausejour's freekick sailed into the box and, with the Nacional keeper under pressure from Davies, he flapped at the ball leaving it free for Wood to pounce on who hit the woodwork.
With Nacional making two half time changes - both met by a loud 'WHOOOO?' from the travelling Blues - the visiting side were sent out for the second forty-five with an unchanged side; manager Hughton clearly impressed with what he had seen so far: and he had every right to be. Early on in the second half Wood again came close for Blues; first Nathan Redmond's shot was well saved by the Nacional keeper and, as the save found its way to Chris Burke, he managed to find team mate Wood who saw his header hit the woodwork again! All three involved in the move put in a brilliant shift for their side tonight.
Playing with more urgency in the second forty-five, Chris Hughton's charges appeared comfortable on and off the ball, with Myhill hardly being troubled all game having only a few long distance shots and the odd corner to worry him. Curtis Davies again showed why he is a more than worthy replacement for Roger Johnson with another strong and well timed challenge to prevent a promising Nacional attack.
As the mist descended on the mountain top stadium as the clock struck the hour mark, both sides had periods in which they dominated, but Blues were the side with the major chances, and the side who should have been in front. Winger Burke had a promising run and an impressive shot which looked to have caught the uncertain Nacional keeper off guard, however his shot flew just past the far post.
Blues looked happy with the 0-0 draw and comfortably saw the game out. The same could be said for the travelling Blues fans, who ended the game singing "don't wanna go home, this is the best trip I've ever been on." Surely it is advantage Birmingham City for the second leg, and the group stages look like a real possibility now.
Full Time: C.D Nacional 0-0 BLUES
Goal Scorers: None
Star Man: Curtis Davies - Roger Johnson who?
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