Blues 0 Portsmouth 2 .. match report

By Richard Barker
Last updated : 24 November 2007
There have been some striking comparisons between following the respective two teams lately, and not just that twice in four days I've found myself shouting "he's going to have a dig!" as Niko Kranjcar has lined up 30 yard efforts, prior to both such efforts finding their way into the back of both England and Blues' net.

On Wednesday night, following some unconvincing performances by the two first choice goalkeepers, England threw in a goalkeeper without the requisite experience for such an occasion. That goalkeeper subsequently made an early blunder, and England were up against it from then on it. Today, following some unconvincing performances by the two first choice goalkee... well, you get my point.

Last summer I was at England v Portugal in Gelsenkirchen - a World Cup Quarter Final. After that game, the England manager left his post following a disappointing defeat and questions over his tactics in previous games, and after a general sense of disillusionment from fans in the general way he was moving the team forward, or not, as the case may be. Two weeks ago I was at Blues v Villa at St Andrews - a big local derby. After that game, the Blues manager left his post following a disappointing defeat and questions over his tactics in previous games, and after and general sense of disillusionment from fans in th... well, you get my point.

Following that England manager leaving, there was hope of a fresh start, but the job was actually entrusted in his sidekick - the first-team coach who had presided over all of the failures of the oh-so-heavily-criticised manager. Following that Blues manager leaving, there was hope of a fresh start, but the job was actually entrusted in his sidekick - the first-team coach who had presided ove... well, you get my point.

I could go on...

The champions of Eric Black's cause cited his "extraordinary" efforts as Coventry City manager over about a twenty game spell, and talked of attacking, free-flowing football and a clever tactician being freed from the shackles that Steve Bruce had so cruelly placed on him. The realists pondered, "hang on a minute, this guy was first-team coach for about three years under Bruce anyway - why will it be any different?"

Black's first team selection was always going to be an indicator as to which way it would go. Fabrice Muamba and Mehdi Nafti were the central midfield, there was a centre half at left-back and Olivier Kapo - at best, an enigmatic, ball-playing midfielder, and at worst, a luxury - was up front. Seb Larsson - probably the best all-round midfielder at the club - was on the bench, whilst the hopeless Gary McSheffrey was in the side This was Eric Black's team, but it was a Steve Bruce selection in all but name.

Add to that the fact that substitutions were used diabolically (another Bruce hallamark), with Garry O'Connor being introduced far too late, and he being the only substitute used, with Larsson sat getting splinters in his backside whilst Muamba again demonstrated that he's not good enough for the Premier League yet.

The performance? Utterly dreadfful. Uninspiring. Inept. Disappointing. Woeful. Desperate. Passionless. Uncommitted. Second-rate. Pathetic.

All of the above could be used, to be honest, but I have to say that the word I'd use ahead of any other is "sad". This display and this afternoon and this whole situation, for Birmingham City Football Club, is sad. Everything at the moment is sad.

The backdrop to the footballing side of things has descended into a sorry mess, with current owners appearing to want out, potential future owners not appearing to want in, and the club being left in a state of limbo.

Then to the footballing side of things, and one thing you could always say was at least there was some stability with the management there. Well, the long-serving manager - love him or hate him - upped and did one to Wigan Athletic. Wigan bloody Athletic, formerly of Springfield Park which had a grass bank as one of its stands. He left to go there for more money and better job security. He left his assistant, the aforementioned Eric Black, whose intentions remain unknown - a man who has expressed no long term committment to the football club was left in charge of the team for a winnable game. As for the future, well, bids are being made for this manager, that manager and the other manager, but it seems that the resolution is no closer to being found. It needs to be, desperately. This club will sink without a fight this season if it is not.

As for Black, I have no particular feelings for the man one way or another, but he was part of the Bruce era which we need to move on from, so in my mind, let him follow him to the JJB Stadium. Let's start afresh and bring someone in, and quick. I tend to feel the same about the situation at board level, but if the hunt for a new manager can reignite a flame for messrs Sullivan and Gold, fair enough.

The fact is though that at present, there is a rotten core to the club, and that's worrying. Optimists (and mad people) felt that Bruce's departure would lead to a full house today. The fact was that there were about 8,000 - 10,000 empty seats. It's depressing.

I said above that this was a winnable game, and people may feel that that's a silly thing to say. True, Portsmouth have been impressive this season, but they weren't today - I'm sure their fans would admit that. They didn't need to be though. They were energetic and alive to opportunities and they got their rewards. Fair play to them. This was probably one of their poorer performances of the season though, and Blues got lucky, because had we caught them on a day when Kanu had been fit, and John Utaka had had a decent game and Sulley Muntari had bossed midfield as he can, this would have been embarrassing.

About 18 months ago there were two teams fighting moreorless head-to-head for Premier League safety, and on one Saturday afternoon one of those teams, blessed by a fully fit squad for the first time in a while, disposed of the other team 5-0 and humiliated them. It wasn't enough though, and the other team, aided by some excessive window shopping stayed up at the expense of the 5-0 victors.

18 months on, those two teams met again today, and the team in black are now light years ahead of the team managed by Black. It's sad and it didn't need to be the case, but it is, and the sooner something is done to redress the balance the better, because these are dark days for Birmingham City Football Club, and the more worrying aspect is, they really don't need to be. There are poorer squads in the Premier League this season, and this Blues squad could stop up comfortably. They can't compete with Portsmouth, Blackburn, Manchester City and Everton (which, in its own way, is sad), but they could stop up, but unfortunately this current rotten core is threatening to erode all that is good and positive at the club, and Blues could be in one fine mess.

To me, there's a simple metaphor for the above - the fact that Blues are letting a good squad of young, talented players be hung out to dry by off the field circumstances that threaten to ruin everything that is positive at the club. It's the sight of Sebastian Larsson as an unused substitute as the team chase a game.

Birmingham City Match Reports


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