So, here we go again! With the climax to last season being the World Cup, which is actually still going on, Blues' new season started before last season finished... as someone who follows England and Blues, that means that last week in was in Gelsenkirchen for a World Cup Quarter Final and seven days on I was at the Pirelli Stadium in Burton Upon Trent to watch Burton Albion take on Birmingham City. Effectively my pre-season was one week, during which I watched two football matches on TV. These overpaid players get an extended break if they're involved in a World Cup, but do the fans?! No chance... from the disappointment of Blues' relegation I moved straight on to the disappointment of England's World Cup campaign and now have moved straight on to, well, who knows...?
Blues started with a fairly strong team - certainly offensively. Maik Taylor was in goal, with a back four of Stephen Kelly, Martin Taylor, Marcos Painter and Matt Sadler in front of him. The midfield had captain for the day (and the indication must be that captain for the start of the season) Damien Johnson alongside Neil Danns in midfield, with Jermaine Pennant and David Dunn on the flanks, and there was a strike pairing of Cameron Jerome and DJ Campbell.
Anyway, the game as a whole was like a pre-season friendly between two teams who'd only been back in training for about a week, to be honest. It was all pretty low key, there were mistakes from both sides, it was barely competitive (though to be fair there were one or two tackles flying in) and that was it, really.
For the record, Blues won 5-1 courtesy of four goals (yes, four - that's actually one more than a hat-trick) from DJ Campbell and a strike from Jerome. Andy Ducros scored for Burton to make it 2-1 early in the second half. Blues' third, fourth and fifth goals - all from Campbell - came very late on.
"So, how did it look?" I hear you ask. Well, obviously it was a pre-season game, so not too much can be read into it, but on a scale of 1-10, I guess it'd be up as a 7 or an 8 in terms of a start to pre-season. The football was good at times, and it was a bonus to have two strikers sharing five goals between them. Defensively Blues weren't so good at times, but I suspect Bruno N'Gotty and one other centre half will help shore up the gaps that appeared - the defence opened up for the strike from Ducros, and Burton had some other decent chances.
As for the new players, well, Kelly looked comfortable enough without particularly shining. That's no criticism of his performance, he was just steady really. He did his job ok, and did get forward and look to overlap Pennant at times. Jerome looked lively, and there's no doubt that he's very quick. He made some good runs into the channels and was often getting to the byline and looking to pull the ball back across the face of goal for a team-mate. He's certainly a handful. He did miss one chance which was effectively an open goal from about three yards out, when he blasted over, which prompted chants of 'Are you Heskey in disguise?' from the Blues fans. Steve Bruce clearly found this amusing from the bench, and in fairness, the Blues fans did then applaud Jerome and sing his name to - hopefully - let him know they weren't writing him off just yet...
The final new boy, Neil Danns, was the one who impressed me the most. He was certainly box-to-box, and although I've seen him play a few times in the past, I hadn't quite realised that he's an aggressive little so-and-so too. The amount of times he was tackled, but kept kicking away at the ball - even if he was on the ground - to try and win possession back, often succeeding was quite impressive. He got stuck in, got angry when decisions went against him, and covered a great deal of ground. There was no sign of the goalscoring side of his game (he didn't really have a chance) but his perfomance suggested there's much more to his game than that. He kept things simple when he needed to, yet still looked like he could pick a pass, and, as I say, he did cover some ground.
As for the 'old' players, well, they were all as you'd expect really. Pennant didn't look especially interested, but was ok. Johnson was Johnson. Sadler was up for it and got particularly stroppy on a couple of occasions when decisions didn't go his way. The stand-out duo were Dunn and Campbell though.
Dunn, for a start, played 90 minutes, and didn't receive treatment once. Add to this, even when Dunn has been able to play the past couple of seasons, quite often you'd see him mid-game stretching his back and hamstrings. He didn't do this once either. He looked very focussed too. There was no real showboating. At times he did tricks, but they generally came off. He played simple balls when he needed two, and a couple of his clever reverse passes set up two of the goals. He did look very focussed though, even though it was 'only a friendly'. I guess, to someone like him, every game's a bonus now, and his perfomance suggested that we (I'm crossing every part of my body as I type this, so excuse any spelling mistakes) MAY have a fit, focussed and determined David Dunn to start off the season. I think we all know that would be a hell of a bonus.
Campbell looked lively all game really, and his three goals at the end just capped off a good performance for him. He looked quick and eager to prove a point. Importantly too, it looked as though he and Jerome could link up together, and with the pair of them, you certainly have a mobile and pacy strike pairing. This is a Blues report, so perhaps it's worth re-iterating that: We had a mobile and pacy front pairing. What is the world coming to? Anyway, one criticism I made of Campbell last season was that for all his pace and eagerness, he never once looked like actually scoring. At Burton, he obviously scored four, but the real bonus for me were that all four were proper goalscorer's goals, if you know what I mean. They were all goals that you'd hope a 'fox in the box' (though not Franny Jeffers) would score. His first was a smart header from a Jerome flick-on. His second was another header (he hasn't grown, I promise you) from a Johnson cross. I personally am convinced it came off the back of the defender's head, though I'm guessing no 'Dubious Goals Panel' will be making an announcement soon, so we'll let Campbell have it. His third was a prod home following a header from a corner that was cleared off the line, and his fourth was after fine work from Dunn and substitute Stephen Clemence which left Campbell one on one, and he cleverly opened his body up and slotted it past the advancing goalkeeper. It was reminiscent of a typical Michael Owen or Thierry Henry goal. Or something like that. So, yes, positive stuff from him too.