Thursday, 29 September 2011

First Europe Points

Obafemi Martins in the 89th minute of the Carling Cup Final. With a little help from Wojciech Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny, the Nigerian striker made history with that famous goal and sent us soaring into the Europa League. That’s why we are where we are this evening; in Europe. Winning away.

Against the champions of the Slovenian league we appeared to fare well in the opening stages of the game. Marlon King playing up front caused problems early doors, with his headed shot from captain for the night Liam Ridgewell’s cross falling into the arms of the Maribor shot stopper. In the ascendancy early on Blues found themselves with another great chance, after Wade Elliott’s deep corner found the head of Steven Caldwell, and Ridgewell was involved again however his weak header fell straight to Jasmin Handanovic.
The home side began to get a foot-hold in the game however their attacking threat, although prominent, was handled with well by the Blues back-line and covering midfielders, namely Keith Fahey, with his first start since returning from injury, and Jean Beausejour and Morgaro Gomis who assisted with defensive duties too. But the resurgent defence almost conceded eighteen minutes into the game with goalkeeper Colin Doyle, getting a chance in the side after his impressive display against Manchester City, diving brilliantly to his right to keep the game at 0-0.

But luck was to change for the Ireland-born shot stopper when he failed to clear a bobbling back-pass from Jonathan Spector, playing at right-back in the absence of Captain Stephen Carr. He watched in agony as the ball bounced over his foot and into the path of Dalibor Volas who comfortably slotted the ball home to give the home side an undeserved lead, to give the excellent Maribor fans something to really cheer about.

Severely dampening Blues’ spirits, Maribor played with an air of confidence for the majority of the first half, however they still struggled to break Blues down further. Likewise, the Championship side were frustratingly kept at bay, with Chris Burke’s powerful effort being saved by Handanovic, and Spector’s cross into the box also being saved by Maribor’s goalkeeper. Beausejour particularly impressed down the wing causing problems, but still not being able to cause Maribor any distress.

The second half continued in the same manner with Blues unable to break the Slovenian outfit down. That was until just after the half hour mark, in a fantastic move by the away side to put them on level terms. King slipped a perfectly timed ball into the path of Burke who set off on one of his runs which finished in the ball ending up nestled in the back of the net and the Blues fans going mental to the left of the goal.

Nikola Zigic was immediately introduced for King who up until his involvement in the goal had no joy at all in the second half. The tables were then turned in what was previously a more even game. Blues were playing with confidence again and Wade Elliott almost put the Blues ahead but was denied by Handanovic, who was on top form. But he didn’t give up there. With just ten minutes left on the clock the man who sent Burnely into the Premier League hit a magnificent strike, which crept past the keeper and into the corner of the net to put the determined Blues side 2-1 up.

It was a waiting game then as the clock was run down by the away side, and although the mobile Maribor front line continued to press, Blues remained resilient. Finally, the referee blew the full time whistle and a massive roar could be heard from the one corner of the ground that housed the travelling Brummies. A brilliant turn around, a fantastic away victory… and all in Europe!

Just seven months ago we were cheering a Carling Cup Winning goal, and tonight we cheer three points in Europe. It might be a completely different team with new management, but it still feels just as sweet and still feels just as unbelievable.

Full Time: NK Maribor 1-2 BLUES
Goal Scorers: Volas (29) Burke (64) Elliott (79)
Star Man: They all put a shift in but I was particularly impressed with Jean Beausejour who more than made up for poor performances in previous games Nex Up: Nottingham Forest away - Championship

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