Sunday, 19 February 2012

"Birmingham, from the Championship, did their club proud"

The mid-week game between promotion pushers Birmingham City and Hull City was well-matched, toughly fought and, ultimately, it came down to two great defences not letting much past them. A point is a point, and it was time to turn attentions elsewhere: to the FA Cup tie at Chelsea.

If there is ever a good time to play a team like Chelsea, it’s now: a certain air of mutiny is about the Bridge, with manager Andre Villas-Boas certainly not a fans’ favourite. Yet, compare them to high-flying Blues; a team who are all pulling in the same direction and a manager who has a strong relationship with the fans, yesterday’s cup tie turned into a battle of spirit and guile: and if anyone came out on top of the 1-1 draw, it was Birmingham City.

Backed by a loud following, it was the away side who surprisingly drew first blood in the tie. Although Chelsea had the majority of possession, which was to be expected, Blues saw the counter attack as a weapon in their arsenal and their second corner of the game, thanks to some lacklustre defending from the London Blues, meant David Murphy fired his side into the lead with a well-struck shot.

The home fans were stunned; the away fans, all 3,000 of them, quite the opposite. Still in delirium and after celebrations that were as loud and as chaotic as scenes from a few months ago in Brugge, Blues shot themselves in the foot just two minutes later when Wade Elliott gave away a penalty.

Colin Doyle, who was dropped in 2007 after a poor game at Stamford Bridge, was completely in the zone. He resembled Joe Hart as he shouted at his players and waved his arms about, using distraction tactics to warn off Juan Mata. And it worked. Mata’s well struck penalty was equaled by the right hand of Doyle who pushed the shot on to the post before it was eventually cleared, much to the delight of the Birmingham fans to the left of that goal who celebrated the save as if it were another goal for their own team.

A resilient Blues held off the Chelsea possession and pressure, and played some brilliant football their selves at times. Morgaro Gomis in midfield particularly impressed, breaking up play and brilliantly slotting into a midfield that he doesn’t often get into as if he played there every week. It is a testament to manager Chris Hughton that his players can so easily do this; he can utilize squad rotation and make it effective, which is why our Europa league campaign and our continuing FA Cup run this season have been so successful.

An extremely agitated Chelsea began to get restless as the game wore on, with fans growing ever impatient with manager AVB. But, the first time Chelsea actually got the ball on the wing and sent in an inch perfect cross, was the first time Chelsea looked like beating Doyle – and they did. Daniel Sturridge rose and curled in a beautiful header, beating the Ireland shot stopper and relieving some of the pressure off the shoulders of his manager.

After some nervy final moments and a late Nathan Redmond chance that he should have done better with, the full time whistle was blown and was met with boos from the home fans but, in the corner of the Shed End, a magnificent noise erupted as the travelling Bluenoses reveled in a fantastic performance by their weakened Championship side against a Chelsea team fit to grace the Premier League. Blues fans saluted first players and then manager, serenading the latter who has now lead Blues on a fourteen match unbeaten run and made sure their name is in the pot for the FA Cup quarter final draw for the third season in a row.

Although we now have an extremely congested fixture list, which will become almost unmanageable if we beat Chelsea and have to play a quarter final tie and have another match postponed, no one is going to say no to a replay against one of the Premier League’s top teams in England’s greatest cup competition.

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