Saturday, 3 August 2013

One down, forty-five to go..

Birmingham’s Championship campaign failed to get off to a winning start this afternoon, with last year’s play-off finalists Watford running out 1-0 winners thanks to Brummie-born Troy Deeney’s first half strike. Yet there are positives a plenty for boss Lee Clark to take from the opening fixture, after an encouraging performance from his side.

Remembering Chucho
Before the off, however, it was time to pay respects to Christian Benitez, who tragically lost his life earlier this week. The impeccably observed minutes silence made the tragedy hit home further, and watching the montage of Chucho’s finest moments in a Blues shirt it was hard to believe such a young person has been so cruelly taken way before his time. Rest In Peace Chucho.

A minutes silence for Chucho. Image:

Starting on the front foot
Last season we failed to get into first gear early on in games meaning before we knew it we were either 1-0 down or being outplayed, especially at home. But today saw a change; although Watford had most of the early possession we looked really up for it. We chased down every single ball, with Matt Green doing some superb running up front. We got right up in the faces of Watford and the crowd responded duly, making for a decent atmosphere at St. Andrew’s throughout the game: if the players look like they want it, the crowd will always respond.

The Visitors
There’s no denying Watford's class, and they will definitely be vying for a promotion place this season. They cut us apart at times, especially in the first half, and their early goal was cruel but a reward for their precision in the final third – something which we desperately need.

However, their time wasting and various other antics put a slight dampener on their otherwise great performance. They’re an enjoyable team to watch, but no one wants to see drama queens, time wasting or moaners – and unfortunately that’s what we saw from them today.

This all culminated in their bench getting very heated after a throw-in mishap, and players from both sides ended up squaring up to one another – not something you expect to see in the first game of the season! However the six minutes added time at the end of the game was justified, and I’m sure that won’t be the first time we see that this season in a Watford game.

Back to Blues
On the Blues front, as I said, there were many positives to take from the game. Darren Randolph looks like an astute and confident number one to replace Jack Butland, making some smart saves and controlling his area well.

Dan Burn and Paul Robinson also looked very impressive; with the former being awarded man of the match and the latter putting in some real crunching tackles. I was worried about Burn’s height and giving away fouls with his long legs; but he certainly knows how to use his height to his advantage and manages to time it well.

Both Andy Shinnie and Wade Elliott were also two players who impressed me today. Despite a wayward pass early on in the game, Elliott commanded the midfield well and picked out some brilliant passes, whilst Shinnie looked excellent going forward and a really strong player to boot.

The new number one. Image: Getty Images

Picking Faults
It’s hard to pick a fault any of the players today as for me they all played well and deserved something out of the game. I think you’d have to be quite the pessimist to complain too much after what we saw today.

Nevertheless, our finishing – or lack of it – must improve. Green and Lee Novak ran the front line well, but we didn’t look sharp in front of goal and that was one of our only downfalls in what was an otherwise positive performance.

As well as this, the formation isn't ideal. 3-5-2 looks to be favoured by Clark, but it means leaving out Chris Burke, and surely one of your best players cannot be sacrificed for the sake of a formation.

Which brings me onto the wing backs. Playing a team with the attacking threat of Watford meant both Shane Ferguson and Neal Eardley had to keep one eye on their man all the time, meaning they didn’t get forward as much as they could have and therefore our attacking play wasn’t as good as it could have been. 4-4-2 with Burke in the side, for me, is a more ideal formation when playing a team of Watford’s caliber. But then again, I’m not the manager, and I have faith in Clark that he's making the right decisions.

Clark now has his stamp on the team. Image: Getty Images

Shaping up for the season
All in all it was a very positive performance by Blues and a huge improvement from last season can be seen already. This is completely Clark’s team now; he has built a strong, youthful squad with a great team spirit – something which we seemed to lack a little last season, which bodes well for us enduring another season in what is an incredibly tough division.

The players showed today that they are a team of real fighters, who will work not just for the shirt and their place in the team, but for each other as well. If we can just get it right in the final third I can see us improving on our 12th place finish last season.

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