Blues Res 0 Man City Res 1

Last updated : 09 January 2006 By IPFreely

To be honest, the die was cast from the moment the teams were picked. Manchester sensibly and intelligently used the game to give a run-out for occasional first teamers Bradley Wright-Phillips, David Sommeil and Lee Croft, whilst Birmingham yet again overlooked the chance to give the likes of Forssell, Dunn and Pandiani a sharpener, instead opting to flood the team with Academy kids.

From the outset, Manchester were quicker and stronger. Birmingham’s central midfield pairing of Kilkenny and Alsop battled manfully, as did Barrowman and Till up front against the physical pairing of Sommeil and Richards. The opening was a pretty competitive affair until Manchester scored after 12 minutes when powerful left sided midfielder Ishmael Miller burst through to fire in a shot which Vaesen got a hand to but couldn’t keep out.

The game in the first half was fast moving and competitive but chances were at a premium, largely due to the speed with which both defences snuffed out attacks. Not much to report in terms of attacking flair but plenty of firm tackles, good closing down and pretty decent short passing. I entertained my self by studying the characteristics of individual players; for example, Lee Croft’s an interesting player – he gets stuck in when it benefits him personally but when it needs to be done to support a team mate he often can’t be arsed to bother. I don’t think he’s the kind of player you’d want at your side in a relegation battle, so probably not best suited to Birmingham! He also has a pretty good line in whinging when a decision goes against him. Superficially, a pretty tough player but basically a bit of a girl. More Lara Croft than Lee Croft, I suppose.

Half time: 0-1. I had to queue for a Bovril, which was well worth the wait. No Belly Buster Burger for me this week, owing to the fact that Ms. Freely has moved in with me, disrupting the idyllic middle-aged bachelor existence which I had hitherto enjoyed and replacing it with a semblance of domesticity. She’d cooked my tea for me tonight and so I was brimful of poached salmon, grilled peppers and baked potato, with sadly no room for a greasy gristleburger. I fear this may signal the end of an era for you and I, dear reader. I’ll have to think of something else to write about.

The second half started with a bit of a nasty injury to Birmingham’s right back Chris Cottrill who lunged into a tackle with Manchester’s Ishmael Miller and got an accidental kick in the face in the process. A bit of blood from the mouth and nose was supplemented by an impressive swelling which suggested a fractured cheekbone to me (based on my experiences of fracturing quite a few cheekbones back in those long-ago days when I was a lot harder than I am now, or ever will be again!). Anyhow, Cottrill went off to be replaced by Oliver Allen. For me, this was a mysterious substitution, I’ve only ever seen Ollie play as a striker before and he certainly doesn’t look like a full back to me, he dives in too rashly and doesn’t hold a line particularly well. The mystification ended when I remembered that this, of course, is Birmingham City we’re talking about, so Ollie had obviously won the pre-match ‘play at full back sweepstake’ in the dressing room. The winner gets to play at full back and wear an Oliver Tebily tee shirt for the week.

As the second half progressed, Manchester got on top and began to create more chances. They really deserved to win by two or three goals. Miller was really impressive, he’s a big strong lad, very direct and with lots of pace. Up against the inexperienced Ollie Wright he was having a field day and so Sam Oji was having to come across to cover, using his own pace and strength. This left gaps in the middle and so Bradley Wright-Phillips was finally getting to see the ball although he failed to do much with it. Birmingham were defending desperately with numerous last ditch tackles, saves from Vaesen and clearances off the line.

After 74 minutes, Birmingham replaced the ineffective Carl Motteram with promising youngster Jamie Price (17, I think). I haven’t really seen Motteram play well since he came back from injury. He’s adopted a 1950s style National Service squaddie’s haircut which I reckon has affected his form. I have a theory that a pudding basin on your head is not at all conducive to playing good football. Maybe he could try a Mohican, like Legal Bluenose? Speaking of coming back from injury, Mat Sadler’s starting to look the part again. He never put a foot wrong tonight.

Manchester were dominating – they looked fitter, stronger and generally better conditioned than Birmingham. I suppose a club which has been managed by characters like Keegan and Pearce who both, as players, more than compensated for a lack of genuine ability with shedloads of hard work, attitude and physical fitness is sure to have the edge over a club like Birmingham which seems amateurish and sloppy by comparison. The Blues players were doing their best to compete, but the Manchester players always had more in the tank, and it showed. There WAS a comical moment after 85 minutes when Croft tried to play keep ball in the corner and Price, who has the physique of an anaemic kitten, virtually picked him up and threw him off the pitch! The kid must be a lot stronger than he looks.

And so the game settled into a pattern, with Manchester well on top, first to almost everything and always looking more likely to score. Special mentions to Kilkenny, Alsop, Oji, Till and Barrowman for battling gamely against the odds. The star of the show, though, was undoubtedly Manchester’s Ishael Miller. I’d like to see him play at Centre Forward, rather than out on the wing, he looks a real prospect. Even more, I’d like to see Birmingham become as professional as Manchester in their approach, achieving the same levels of fitness and conditioning whilst using games like this to give struggling first teamers a good work-out in unpressurised games. The best team won and, as a club/squad gained a lot more from the exercise. Depressing, really.

Blues: Vaesen; Cottrill (Hall 52), Sadler, Oji (Aluko 81), Painter, Alsop, Birley, Kilkenny, Barrowman, Till, Motteram (Price 71).

Manchester City:
Schmeichel, Logan, Ward, Richards, Sommeil, Laird, Bermingham (Johnson 69), Haapala, Croft, Miller, Wright-Phillips (Sturridge 76).