Blues 1 Bolton Wanderers 2 .. Ron's Report

Last updated : 26 September 2009 By Richard Barker

He referred to the rushing of a throw-in at Spurs when Blues needed to kill the game off for no more than 20 more seconds or so, as well as the failure to pick up Gabriel Agbonlahor late on in the previous home game against Villa. McLeish's point was that such naivety and lapses in concentration will cost you at this level.

Well, as if to prove his point, there was this game...

Formation formation formation. That's all people are going to be talking about after this. I actually think that's a little naive, however, as it's not quite that simple. Blues started with a 4-5-1 formation again, with Christian Benitez alone up front. In the second half, there was unrest among the fans, chants of "Four four two!" and eventually a change to that, before a change to more of a 3-4-3. Anyway, more on that later.

Now, I'll admit that I was hoping and expecting Blues to go 4-4-2 from the off in this game. However, I could understand (to an extent) the decision to stick with a 4-5-1 formation. Blues have played fairly well this season playing that system. Yes, the goal at Hull came after reverting to 4-4-2, but Blues have been solid and created chances in a 4-5-1 formation. If you have your midfielders supporting the forward in a 4-5-1 formation, it can be as attacking as a 4-4-2 formation. It's not so simple that you can say, "ah, but it's one less striker, so it's more defensive".

Sometimes, as painful as it may be, you have to give the opposition credit. In the first half, Bolton made Blues play as they did. It was down to Bolton that Blues had no option but to hitting long balls up at Benitez who was being marked by Zat Knight, someone who is at least seventeen metres taller than him.

Blues' midfield intricacy has been a feature of their play this season, but Bolton closed them down superbly. The likes of Barry Ferguson, Keith Fahey and Teemu Tainio simply didn't have the time or space to pick out little passes to one another and clip the ball into Benitez's feet and build from there. That was to Bolton's credit.

Another key facet to Blues playing in the way that they have this season has been Joe Hart's insistence on knocking short balls to his defenders rather than lumping the ball forward. The defenders have then found Ferguson, who in turn has set a move in motion. However, both Kevin Davies and Ivan Klasnic pushed on and covered the Blues defence to stop this from happening, and Hart was forced to boot the ball at Benitez and Knight, where there was only one winner.

So, yes, perhaps Blues got it wrong, but let's credit the opposition for once. They forced Blues to play the way that they did. I have no doubt that Blues didn't want to bang long balls up at Benitez, but they had no other option early on, due to Bolton's pressing and Bolton's formation.

Then Bolton took a long throw, Blues allowed the guy who in the past five years has pretty much comfortably established himself as the most dangerous and the strongest in the air in the Premier League (Davies) a flick on at the near post, and Tamir Cohen simply nodded the ball past Hart. Naive defending.

Blues then pushed on some more and had the best of the rest of the first half. However, once again, as is so often the case, it was after going 1-0 down. Now, I know this is probably pervasive across all clubs, that they kick on when they go behind, but it's been a common theme at Blues for a long time.

I said after the Villa game that sometimes, when you're the home side, you need to recognise that a game is there for the winning and take the initiative yourself. Blues didn't do that from the off, and didn't force Bolton back and pile on the pressure, and the result was that they were 1-0 down before they got going. Now, the formation may well have impacted upon that. Whilst I can understand why Alex McLeish went with 4-5-1, I still think it was the wrong choice. It again smacks of ultra-caution. It's more a case of, "well, Bolton will pack the midfield and we need to match them" rather than "if we get men forward, we'll give Bolton something to think about".

Between Cohen's goal and Kevin Phillips' equaliser with about five minutes to go, there's no doubt that Blues were the better side. They created a lot of chances (admittedly, none were edged with gilt) and dominated possession. Bolton created a few chances of their own on the break, but Blues were on top.

Phillips' goal was exellent. When he came on he offered control and nous that his fellow striking substitute, Garry O'Connor, wasn't able to offer. Phillips cut in from the left, exchanged passes with Benitez (whose little touches and flicks really do highlight him as a fine player), before taking a touch to take the ball away from the defender and firing past the goalkeeper with loads of Js, As and Ns in his name. It was a fine strike.

Still, more naivety was to come.

At that point, you sensed Blues had nicked the point, but could possibly go on to get all three. However, they were absolutely all over the place at the restart. It was shocking.

I remember sometime in the early to mid nineties, Blues played away at Nottingham Forest who included a fairly new signing from Southend United in their side; one Stanley Victor Collymore. Forest kicked off and Collymore ran at the heart of the Blues side and they parted, scared of his pace, power and skill.

Well, Bolton's restart was reminiscent of that in that Kevin Davies noticed that Blues hadn't regrouped whatsoever and just ran straight at the heart of the defence. He exposed a sleeping Blues horribly and passed to Park Ji Sung, who was fouled on the edge of the area. It was set up for Matty Taylor. You just knew he'd score. It was the perfect distance for him.

However, he failed, but his excellent effort came back off a combination of Hart and Hart's left hand post, and Lee Young Pyo was on hand to take a touch, sit down, drink some tea, eat a dog, and tap the ball into the unguarded net to win the game for Bolton.

Blues then had a restart themselves, but Bolton, not being naive, took their time getting back, got into position to defend and Blues couldn't break them down. It really was a sorry lesson for Blues to learn.

Overall, Blues weren't bad again, but some of the naivety and some of the caution is hard to take. Bolton had a game plan, and it worked. It was the kind of away performance you try for when you're one of the crapper clubs in the Premier League. I don't mean to disrespect them with that, but the likes of Blues, Bolton, Wigan, Hull, Blackburn, Wolves, Burnley and Portsmouth aren't going to win many away games. In away games, they'll all try to do what Bolton did here and hope it works. It did for Bolton, so fair play to them.

For Blues though, after being so strong defensively thus far this season, there was some horribly naive defending and they really lacked concentration at times. There's also a little bit of a feeling of deja vu in that, again, Blues have welcomed a team to St Andrews for a game that you really should be taking to the opposition, but perhaps a little bit too much respect has been shown and perhaps the shackles should have been thrown off a little earlier and it could have been so, so different.

It's a disappointment. It's not a disaster. Even so though, lessons are being learned week after week, and you have to hope that those lessons are sinking in.

On a final note, the day itself was a low key send off for David Sullivan, Ralph Gold and Karren Brady. I ignore all the press and publicity leading up to the day, but there was no great fanfare on the day, and the footage on the big screen was tasteful, I thought, and covered the clubs joys and sorrows over the past sixteen years, rather than focussing on the individuals. Personally, I felt that was right.

I would personally like to wish the outgoing board members all the best for the future. Their PR of late has been shocking, and I agree with most people that the time for a change has arrived. However, I like to view any kind of relationship in it's entirety, as a whole, rather than in smaller segments. It's an indisputable fact that Blues will be better off on the day that these people leave than on the day that they arrived. That cannot be argued.

Yes, perhaps it could have been so much better, and yes, perhaps more should have been invested, and yes, things of late haven't been great. Ticket prices are (generally) obscene and fans have been alienated and there's a bit of a sourness and bitterness around now. I think that's a shame, and the board are at fault for that as much as any fans.

People point to the fact that they're leaving the club with a profit and have made money out of the club. Some of those people are waving them off and welcoming Carson Yeung and Grandtop and all the rest of them with open arms. I'm afraid that naivety comes into it again, because if you think that these people are buying Birmingham City Football Club with anything other than profit in mind, you're as naive as the Blues players who stood and watched as Kevin Davies ran at them from the kick off in the 86th minute.

Those people leaving have profited from the club and have done well out of the club, but going back to what I have said above, I think that the club have done pretty well out of them too. I appreciate that people will refer to their spin and their "lies" as being the straw that broke the camel's back in the relationship, and as I say, their PR has been poor.

However, their tenure at the club certainly can't be described as dull, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for what they've done for Birmingham City. I won't shed a tear at their departure and I am excited about the future, but I do think it's worth remembering just where we were as a club in March 1993. Good luck to them all.

In their absence, the club remains though, and that's the main thing. For the club to remain in the Premier League, whilst there are some positive signs, there's equally an awful lot that the management and the players need to work on.