It was the game all Blues fans had been looking forward to - an opportunity to lock horns once again with city rivals Aston Villa in a top flight League encounter.
|The whole nation was taking an interest in the first Second City derby that the Premiership had ever seen, and they were not disappointed following a thrilling and sometimes controversial meeting at St Andrews. Ultimately though, it was the Blue side of the city that was smiling.
Blues made just one change to the side that started in their impressive 2-2 draw at Anfield last wednesday, with Aliou Cisse returning to the side in place of Bryan Hughes who dropped to the bench. Darryl Powell also made it on to the bench in the place of the desperately unlucky Darren Carter. The likes of Cisse were needed though when looking at a Villa midfield that included central defenders Gareth Barry and Ronny Johnsen and hardly the most attacking of players, Mark Kinsella.
Blues started the game in the more impressive fashion, with Paul Devlin and Damien Johnson both looking to get at the Villa defence, and Stern John and Clinton Morrison linking well up front again. Devlin was the first player from either side to test one of the goalkeepers, with a tame left footed effort straight at Peter Enckelman after cutting inside on the right. Cisse himself went close minutes later firing a first time shot over the bar following good work by Morrison.
St Andrews erupted, however, just after the half hour mark, as Blues took a deserved lead. The Villa defence stood still as the ball bobbled in the area, and as Robbie Savage touched the ball on, there was Morrison to finish calmly when left in on goal with just Enckelman to beat. This was what Blues fans had been waiting 16 long, hard years for.
Blues continued to impress in the opening period, not willing to sit back on 1 one goal advantage. However, prior to the interval, it was Villa who went closest to scoring with the pacy Ulyses De La Cruz rattling Nico Vaesen's crossbar. A heated first half also saw bookings for Martin Grainger, Darren Purse and Alpay. When the half time whistle came from referee David Elleray came, it was met by cheers that would normally greet a Cup Final victory from the Blues faithful.
Villa made two substitutions at half time, replacing the quite frankly useless strike force of Marcus Allback and Juan Pablo Angel with the rather more dangerous pairing of Dion Dublin and England man Darius Vassell. Johnsen also dropped into defence as Villa switched from 3-5-2 to 4-4-2. It had the desired effect, as for 20 minutes Villa bossed the game. In saying this, however, but for a J'Lloyd Samuel effort, Vaesen never had to make a save, as Barry, Vassell and Dublin all missing the target as Blues struggled - Vassell having a goal ruled out for offside too.
The home side did manage to get back into the game, with Grainger forcing Enckelman into a save from a typical Grainger free-kick, and as the Blues fans urged their team to re-establish their foothold on the game, the players obliged. Geoff Horsfield replaced Morrison, and gae the likes of Alpay and Johnsen something different to think about. On 77 minutes, Blues doubled their advantage with what must truly be one of the most bizarre goals ever scored.
There genuinely appeared little danger when Olof Mellberg prepared to take a throw in deep inside his own half on the right. He turned and threw the ball towards his keeper, Enckelman, and all the players turned expecting Enckelman to control the ball and clear it upfield towards the towering Dublin. However, Enckelman failed to control the ball, and it slowly ran into the back of the net. As confusion reigned, the Blues fans celebrated, whilst players from both teams converged upon Elleray and his assistant who were convening to decide what to do.
The issue was simply whether or not Enckelman had touched the ball. Had he, then the goal should stand. Had he not, then it would not be a goal. Elleray awarded a goal, and whilst there is still debate as to whether or not Enckelman did touch it, it matters not a jot, and his reaction (apparently he wasn't aware of the rules) hardly helped his cause.
Darryl Powell came on for his debut replacing Devlin, and just 6 minutes after their second, Blues sent their fans into heaven with a third. Alpay made a terrible mistake when he should have simply cleared the ball, and his slip let in Horsfield who advanced on Enckelman and struck a sweet shot inside the Finns near post. As the Villa fans piled put of St Andrews with their tails firmly between their legs, the Blues fans celebrated like they never have before as, after nearly two decades of inferiority on the field, Second City Supremecy returned to St Andrews.
At the final whistle, only a handful of Villa fans remained in the ground, as the Blues players took the praise that poured down on them from the terraces. Robbie Savage even took the opportunity to conduct the fans chorus of 'Super Robbie Savage' following his man of the match performance.
Evidently this was a lot more than three points, as Blues well and truly put one over their fierce rivals. However, on a purely footballing perspective, it was another impressive performance that took Blues into the top half of the Premier League - above even Manchester United. Equally, following a tough opening 6 games to the top division, Blues are now 4 games unbeaten, including games against Liverpool and Leeds. Things really are looking good.
Vaesen - Did everything required of him.
Kenna - Solid and good going forward.
Grainger - Mixed fortunes.
Purse - Solid yet again.
Cunningham - Excellent.
Devlin - Threatened.
Johnson, D - In and out of the game.
Cisse - Strong and uncompromising.
Savage - Superb, never stopped.
John - Very good.
Morrison - Took his goal well.
Horsfield - Good finish.
Powell - Got stuck in.
Hughes - Fleeting appearance.