Friday, 4 November 2011

The Magic Of Europe

I guess they call it a game of two halves. Seemingly down and out after going behind by two goals to nil in the first half; Blues’ character and determination ensured they hit the ground running in the second half and pulled off another historic comeback against Club Brugge KV.

Under the kosh for the majority of the first half, Blues lacked creativity and this allowed Brugge to play their fast-paced passing game. In fact, the first time any real noise could be heard from the Birmingham fans was in the 23rd minute of the match; which saw both sets of fans unite once again in a fitting tribute to Francois Sterchele; Brugge’s up and coming star who sadly passed away a few years previous.

No defence splitting passes nor Brazil-esque possession stats were being created by Birmingham last night and as the game wore on it was clear that Brugge were getting closer and closer to their opening goal, which they finally found just five minutes before half time. A corner was swung into the box and Thomas Meunier was given enough time to control the ball with his chest and let it drop before he volleyed it past Colin Doyle in the Blues net. Lackluster defending and failure to close the Brugge midfielder down meant Blues were chasing the game. And it was about to become even more of an uphill struggle.

Blues’ response to the opening goal was to go all-out attack. Unfortunately, this meant they left themselves open at the back, and a quick counter attack by Brugge saw Vadis Odjidja slide the ball into the path of Joseph Akpala – scorer of Brugges’ goal in the reverse fixture in Belgium – who slotted the ball home even though he looked to be offside.

Blues’ European dreams seemed to be falling on deaf ears, but the second forty-five produced an incredible fight back by Chris Hughton’s men. Adam Rooney, pairing Nikola Zigic up front, had an early chance to get his team back into the game early on and the Blues attacking threat took off at a canter from there on out. As the crowd sensed a Blues comeback, the team grew in confidence; with Jean Beausejour and David Murphy working tirelessly down the left wing and the former getting the goal that brought Blues back into the game. Wade Elliott’s cross found Zigic who controlled the ball but failed to get a shot off after a block from ex-Baggie Ryan Donk, and to Blues’ luck the ball fell straight to Beausejour who sweetly struck the ball home to produce an emphatic roar from the crowd. Game on.

Brugge, knocked a little in confidence by the early second half goal, were now on the back foot and it was Birmingham who were taking charge of proceedings. Spurred on by the deafening crowd, Blues surged forward at every opportunity, and free kicks from Elliott and Murphy almost produced equalising goals but fell just short of the target.

Hughton made a triple substitution, bringing on Chris Burke, Marlon King and Chris Wood; which turned out to be inspiring and influential changes. Both teams were now attacking with full force but defending in numbers, and another Blues chance came from an unlikely source. Guirane N’Daw found the ball at his feet 30 yards out and, being urged to shoot by the St. Andrews faithful, unleashed a fierce shot which looked to be going in had it not been for a brilliant fingertip save from Vladan Kujovic.

This fired up the fans in the stand further who sensed an equalizer coming, and they only had to wait a few minutes for the inevitable. Beausejour made a run into the box and was brought down in a seemingly soft challenge. Nevertheless, the referee made no mistake in pointing firmly to the spot: a deafening cheer went up, and Marlon King confidently picked the ball up and walked over to the penalty spot. After discussions between the Brugge players and the referee, King calmly stepped up to take the penalty and expertly slotted home to send the Blues fans into delirium once again. With Brugge shaken, Blues pressed on in search of a winner but even with the attacking threat of Burke and the firepower of Wood they couldn’t manage to find another goal. Nevertheless, coming back from 2-0 down to draw and pick up another valuable point in Europe feels like a win in what was another special night at St. Andrews.

With two games left to play Blues now find themselves on equal points (7) with both Brugge and Braga, but second in the table because of Uefa’s head to head ruling. With a tough test at Braga left to play Blues will have to hope to pick up at least a point before heading into the last game, a home fixture against Maribor, while hoping for the best result possible out of the other final group H game; Brugge v Braga.

But Chris Hughton will surely be able to inspire his team in the next two fixtures, and after picking up a much-deserved October Manager of the Month award, both him and his players will be going into both games full on confidence, and full of hope that they can pull off another two remarkable results to secure a couple more games of European football at least.

Full Time: BLUES 2-2 Club Brugge KV
Goal Scorers: Meunier (39) Akpala (44) Beausejour (55) King (74)
Star Man: Jean Beausejour for his countless runs down the left hand side, his work to win freekicks (no matter how easily he seemed to go down!) his crosses and most importantly his goal which sparked the Blues comeback
Next Up: Reading away - Championship

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