Fifty years since the last European game at St. Andrews, Birmingham City last night proceeded to the group stages of the Europa League in style, beating Portuguese outfit C.D. Nacional 3-0, in front of a packed out St. Andrews.
Nacional began the game much like the first leg of the tie, showing their stylish passing ability, but it was Blues who went ahead in the fifteenth minute courtesy of teenager Nathan Redmond. Picking up the ball, Redmond skipped through the Nacional defence before shooting from distance, and looked on as his unstoppable shot flew straight into the bottom corner to send the Bluenoses in the stands crazy as their team drew first blood in the two legged tie.
If the first goal didn’t rock Nacional, the second certainly put the tie out of reach after just 25 minutes. It was Redmond again who provided, shooting from distance again to win a corner which was subsequently taken by Jean Beausejour and headed home by David Murphy to put the Blues 2-0 up.
And the most impressive first half display by Blues for a long time wasn’t over yet. Front pair Chris Wood and Adam Rooney both had chances to put their side even further ahead, but the intervention of first Alberto and then goalkeeper Elisson saved Nacional’s blushes.
As the second half got underway, the Nacional keeper was called upon again when Rooney was through on goal, but Elisson was able to save the shot with his legs. In not-so-true Blues nature, the best opportunities were being created by the home side, and they were unlucky not to add to their tally for the night on several occasions. Rooney had a wonderful chance to do so when he found himself one on one with Elisson; with Wood to his left, he chose to go alone and was denied once again by the frame of the Nacional keeper, and the tie remained at 2-0.
After frustrating the Nacional team all night, man of the match Redmond showed his class throughout the game at just 17 years of age, and almost scored again after a brilliant cross into the box agonizingly hit the inside of the post. But it was soon 3-0 to Blues after a delightful move which saw Wood finally get the goal he deserved: Blues broke after Nacional went on an unfruitful attack, with Carr feeding the ball into the path of the on-loan West Brom striker who made no mistake of putting his side three goals to the good, opening his Birmingham City account in a more than enjoyable night at St. Andrews.
Not only was the score-line brilliant but the performance was exceptional also. The stand out performers for me were the three goal scorers: Nathan Redmond, who has the crowed behind him all the way as the wove through the Nacional defence all night long; David Murphy who didn’t put a foot wrong all night and even chipped in with a rare goal; and Chris Wood who has deserved a goal since he came here which he finally got tonight, hopefully we can extend his loan until the end of the season – at 19 he too has a big future ahead of him. The whole team, in fact, deserves praise for giving the fans not only a win, but showing them a style of play that has been unfamiliar to the Birmingham City faithful in recent years. Manager Chris Hughton also warrants applause, and the packed out St. Andrews crowed last night showed him just that; singing his name all night long.
The draw for the Europa League group stages, as you all know, took place this afternoon. After a lengthy procedure and more than enough 'special guests', Blues were placed in Group H along with Braga of Portugal, Club Brugge of Belgium and FC Maribor of Slovenia. The European Tour starts here!