Blues 4 Boltchester Fulbrough Unitederers 5

Last updated : 02 January 2008 By Richard Barker
Generally over the festive season, my life gets pre-occupied by the ample opportunity to go to the pub, etc, and so these reports get put on the back burner. Regular readers, geeks and insane stalkers may recall that last year I tied two match reports into one, and offered my thoughts on Blues versus Southend Park Rangers. Well, this year there's four games to cram into one, so bear with me...

Goals by Stewart Downing, Mikael Forssell, Gary McSheffrey and Seb Larsson weren't enough for Blues, as strikes from El Hadji Diouf, Nicolas Anelka (twice), and the Carlos's Bocanegra and Tevez were too much...

No, no, that's going to be too difficult. I'll do one at a time, but please bear in mind that this is four games over ten days, during which I've had one year's recommended alcohol consumption, eaten approximately 17 animals and been to about seven different cities. I may get the odd thing wrong...

So, to Bolton, and the first half was possibly the worst half of football I've ever seen. Bolton had a couple of shots, and Blues had a cross. It wasn't helped by a negative team selection from Blues, with Johan Djourou, Fabrice Muamba and Damien Johnson making the most defensive midfield trio in history. I think Blues wanted to big it up a bit, and I don't mean the kind of "bigging up" you do when you phone Tim Westwood's rap show on Radio One, but I mean the kind of "bigging up" you do when you pick tall players to combat Kevin Davies. Radhi Jaidi also came in at centre half.

At half-time, Mat Sadler was finally put out of his misery like a dog who should have been put out of his misery three weeks previously, but the rearrangement contributed to Blues' downfall. Combine the following four defenders into a balanced back four: Radhi Jaidi, Rafael Schmitz, Johan Djourou and Stephen Kelly.

Now, I'd go with Kelly (a right back) at right back, with Djourou and Jaidi (two centre halves) as the two centre halves and Schmitz (a left footed centre half) as left back. However, Alex 'Steve Bruce' McLeish went with Djourou (a centre half) at right back, Jaidi and Schmitz (two centre halves) as two centre halves, and Kelly (a right back) at left back.

Anyone watching Blues at Wolves last season will know the mess that Kelly can get into when played at left back (he's doing well at right back though), and sure enough, goal number one came about because of that. Goal number two was Johan Djourou showing us what he'd learned from his favourite Christmas present, "My Book Of Throw Ins" by Olof Mellberg (foreward by Peter Enckelman)... and yes, pedants, he'd been allowed to open one present early. Goal number three was scored by Anelka, but I'd left early because it was THAT bad and I had to drive to Newcastle and I was hungover and fed up and bored.

I think I remembered that one fairly well...? The biggest cheer of the day was some lazy Danish kid scoring the winner for Arsenal against Spurs, showed on plasma screens in the concourse shortly before Blues and Bolton got their "classic" underway.

Who was next? Right, Middlesbrough. Well, Blues were probably flattered somewhat by the 3-0 win (as had Bolton been against Blues, as they were rubbish too). Blues probably deserved it (as Bolton had) and were helped by some appalling defending (as Bolton had been).

Franck Queudrue came back in to replace the now deceased Sadler (if we're continuing the "put down dog" analogy) and played well. Now, people who know me or read any of this garbage I write will know where I stand on the Sadler v Queudrue issue, and basically, if you think Sadler is a better bet as a Premier League left back at present, you too should be put down. We're not Chelsea or Arsenal or Manchester United, so we're not able to attract someone of the quality of Ashley Cole or Gael Clichy or John O'Sh... sorry, Patrice Evra. We have to make do with what we can get, which is likely to be someone with a downside. If we weigh up those downsides in the Sadler v Queudrue debate, it's basically "lack of any footballing ability, brain, distribution, nous or anything" versue "lack of pace". Now, to me, I'll take the "lack of pace" option for my team, and take the positives which are the ability to play football, brain, etc, ahead of someone who can run (a bit) faster but is otherwise pretty poor.

If that doesn't make it clear, then Queudure = good and Sadler = bad.

Other performances of note? Well, McSheffrey looked ok, for a change (but that might have been because the standard of the opposition was barely above Championship level) whilst Jaidi showed that he looks a very good centre half when a clueless team lumps long balls up at his head all game. The one time Boro had a clue, Tuncay ran him and showed him up, but chief saviour Stephen Kelly was there to save Blues with a last ditch challenge as usual.

Fulham now, and it was so windy, and with the strong gusts blowing towards the Tilton Road End, when they got an early corner at that end, you KNEW that they'd drift it in across the face of the goal, putting Maik Taylor under pressure. And so it was... Bocanegra's close range, near post header wasn't defended at all well, and Blues were 1-0 down early on.

In the first half Fulham were the better team, quite simply because in Simon Davies, Steven Davis and Danny Murphy they have midfielders who are comfortable on the ball. Blues looked like the ball was a hot potato. Second half, Blues were better and deserved their equaliser, but it wasn't exactly thrilling stuff, and another home game that could and possibly should have yielded three points had passed.

It was a strange game and atmosphere, to be honest, and now I'm going to say something that may sound a bit ridiculous, but bear with me...

It was the kind of game that, under Steve Bruce, I think Blues may have lost. You know the kind of game - under Bruce there were matches when very early on you sensed the atmosphere and sensed the way the game was going, and you knew you were going to lose. I'm not talking about Manchester United or Arsenal, but games like THAT Norwich game of last season, the Boro home game the season before, etc. There was always that feeling - it because quite predictable. Well, I had that feeling early on in the Fulham game, and it was that kind of atmosphere too, but Blues did get a point. Are you following me?

I guess what I'm trying to say is that the top teams talk about the importance of winning 1-0 when they don't play well. Well, we're not that good, but there's still an element of not getting beat when you don't play well, and Blues managed that in the Fulham game, and I'm not sure they would have under Bruce. It's purely hypothetical, but it was that kind of atmosphere, and it's just a gut feeling I have. I might be mad though.

And finally, to Old Trafford, and I have to say, I thought Blues were superb, and I don't say that too often. Yes United went close on occasions, but they're always going to - they're bloody good. In the first half Blues did pretty well, and in the second half, well, they were the better team. The only disappointment was that the final shot/pass wasn't quite there, so Blues couldn't capitalise. McSheffrey and Jerome should both have done better on occasions (McSheffrey in particular) and when Mikael Forssell came on the ball didn't quite drop for him, and once he should have played Larsson in, but failed to.

Garry O'Connor came in from the cold to start, and I felt he did pretty well. He wasn't spectacular, and he did tire (but he's barely played more than ten minutes at once in four months), but he won a fair bit in the air in the first half and linked up quite well with Jerome and the supporting midfielders.

So, what did we learn over the four games? Well, Blues did ok, but possibly could have done better. McSheffrey isn't good enough and Taylor's kicking is nothing short of dreadful and I can't help thinking some of the defensive frailties shown by Blues lately are down to a lack of confidence in the 'keeper behind them.

McLeish has plenty to work with, but he also has plenty to work on. With Djourou off back to Arsenal (I can't help thinking that in years to come we'll consider how we wasted a decent talent on loan, just like Michael Carrick) it's imperative that we get a centre half, and hopefully one with some height, as Jaidi is off to the African Cup of Nations for a while and isn't the answer in the long run and Ridgewell and Schmitz are too short (plus Schmitz isn't ours either). Blues also need a striker, as in Jerome, Forssell and O'Connor they don't have enough firepower and need a bit of help. Probably a left back too. Otherwise, an attacking central midfielder, a left winger and a goalkeeper would be nice, but aren't crucial, unlike the other ones.

So, there you go... if you're still reading this, fair play, and happy new year.