Blues 1 Portsmouth 0 .. Ron's Report

Last updated : 20 August 2009 By Richard Barker

There's really nothing for me to say, is there? I only really enjoy moaning. For God's sake, I can't even slag Burnley off...

Blues recorded their first Premier League win of the season at only the second time of asking thanks to an injury time James McFadden penalty after a clumsy challenge on Seb Larsson by David James. Blues probably deserved to win, not necessarily on chances created, but for being the team that tried to win the game, rather than their opposition who started time-wasting about 20 minutes into the game. I would say, "oh how the mighty have fallen", but, well, it's Portsmouth.

Alex McLeish surprised me, and may have surprised you, with his team selection. In the one change from Old Trafford, Garry O'Connor came in for Lee Carsley, meaning that O'Connor partnered Cameron Jerome up front and the midfield consisted of Larsson, McFadden, Barry Ferguson and Keith Fahey, with the latter in a central role. It was arguably a more forward-thinking team than was picked in the whole of last season.

The first half was a bit of a disappointment for Blues following the excellent exploits at Old Trafford. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't too bad or anything, but it was sadly lacking in certain areas. Well, a certain area. The forward line.

Defensively Blues were fairly sound, and whilst Fahey was wasteful at times, generally the midfield ticked over quite nicely too. However, up front Jerome and O'Connor were about as effective as the officials trying to make Afghanistan's elections fair.

In truth, it should be a lesson for Blues, that at this level you can't afford to use people who are unable to control a football and unable to create problems for the opposition defence. You can have all the play in the world, but if your front two are hopeless, it doesn't do you much good. O'Connor and Jerome provided Blues with precious little.

In the second half, the theme continued. Blues looked a little more urgent, and as a result left themselves a little more open, but the two up front remained about as threatening as leaves. Indeed, whilst I wouldn't wish injury on anyone (particularly not Gregory Vignal, who lasted about 137 minutes of the season in the cursed left back role before doing his hamstring), Cameron Jerome's substitution because of injury helped Blues.

Kevin Phillips came on, and whilst Blues lost the height, pace and power of Jerome, they gained the ability to control a football and hang on to it for a little while of Phillips. It helped bring McFadden into the game a little more and generally meant Blues could play that little bit further up the pitch.

Possession-wise Blues did well, and again, there was shock and surprise at just how much they passed the ball around - actually overdoing it on occasions. They just did it well in two thirds of the pitch for most of the night, but failed in the final third.

Portsmouth were rubbish, let's not beat about the bush. Had Blues not won, it certainly would have been two points dropped against a team who look destined to struggle. Sure, they had a few chances, but Joe Hart was equal to them and Blues defended quite well again.

So, just as everyone was getting ready to moan about not finishing Portsmouth off, well, Blues finished Portsmouth off. After a period of pressure, Phillips' cross from the left was flicked on beyond James' far post. The ball looked to be bouncing out of play as Larsson, in the way that Larsson does, planted his feet and waited for contact before throwing himself to the floor. James duly obliged (in fact, probably far more so than Larsson had hoped), clattering into him when there was really no need, and the assistant referee signalled for a penalty.

Yes, that's right - the assistant referee gave it. Too often the referee's assistants (or linesmen as anyone over the age of seven calls them) bottle decisions and are rightly criticised for it. They're meant to assist referees, as their name suggests, but too often they bottle it and wait for the main man to make the decision. Fair play to the assistant in this case. I think it was the right decision, but I've only seen it live. However, whether it was the right decision or the wrong decision, he still made that decision in injury time of a big game, so fair play to him.

McFadden stepped up, sent James the wrong way, and despite Blues then defending comically for a few minutes and gifting Portsmouth their best two chances of the night, they hung on to get a valuable three points.

The three points are the key thing really. I know it sounds obvious to say it, but Blues have had seasons in the past where that first victory has seemed to take forever to come around. It hasn't this time though, and thankfully (well, hopefully) Blues can kick on after getting that particular monkey off his back.

In saying that, there are still lessons to be learnt, notably in the forward positions. I said it after Old Trafford and I'll say it again now, I fear for how many goals Blues will get this season, and if they're to get goals, they need to be a lot, lot cleverer up front. You can't waste plenty of good possession by having forwards unable to keep possession themselves, or unable to create openings for themselves.

Phillips, McFadden and, on the brief glimpses we've seen, Benitez look to be the kind of forwards who will keep hold of the ball and give Blues a chance. Sure, they're not the tallest, but O'Connor and Jerome were so hopeless in the air tonight too that it doesn't really matter. Dare I say that Marcus Bent would have been as effective as those two tonight?? In fact, sod it, I will say it. Marcus Bent would have been as effective as those two tonight.

However, the signs so far have generally been good, which is perhaps better than people expected, but Blues do still have a lot to learn. Still, it's much nicer to do that learning with three points under your belt. There'll be more learning to do on Saturday.