Blues 1 Preston North End 2 .. Ron's Report

Last updated : 07 May 2009 By Richard Barker
How could I justify actually expecting to win a home game to ensure promotion, thus leaving Blues with a meaningless game on the last day of the season for the players and the fans to go out and enjoy?

Blues' task was simple. Win the game and be promoted. No relying on other people. It was a simple equation. As is standard with Blues, however, the equation was the only simple thing about it. Nothing else was going to be simple.

Blues weren't desperately awful or anything, but there were still a number of things that I feel can be questioned.

Firstly, why, after Watford, was Garry O'Connor selected in the starting eleven? At Vicarage Road, O'Connor had been awful. I know he's put in a few good performances this season, but I do agree with the old adage, "you're only as good as your last game". Well, take it from me, his last game was piss-poor. At Watford, when O'Connor was replaced by Cameron Jerome, the game turned, Jerome scored and Blues held on to win. Jerome has been in good goalscoring form of late. I am all too aware that Jerome has his faults and his limitations, and he showed some of these when he came on here, but he still makes things happen.

The selection of O'Connor over Jerome to my mind sums up a lot of Blues' games this season. They seem content to know that they'll have to do the work late on in games, and there seems a reluctance to go at teams from the off. From the early stages of this game it became apparent that Blues were likely to be biding their time and that nothing much would happen until Jerome came on. At Charlton I commented that the first half, because of the team selection, could have effectively been written off. It seems to have been the case in an awful lot of games this season - I'm not sure if it's deliberate, but Blues never seem to really go at teams from the off. There seems to be a resignation that "well, they'll be tough to break down so we'll throw substitutes on late on and pile forward then". I've mentioned in a recent report that fact that when Wolves were at home to Southampton recently they were 3-0 up after 18 minutes and had the game won. I know it's not as simple as I'm making out, but there has not been one game this season where Blues have raced into an early lead and effectively killed the game off. Again, I'm not saying that they should have been 3-0 up after 20 minutes here, but in recent games there does seem to be this attitude and approach adopted that we'll bide our time and use the full 90 minutes, even in not selecting the right personnel to do the job from the start.

Anyway, Jerome did come on and not long after his introduction he held the ball up for James McFadden who used a superb Stephen Carr run as a decoy, cut inside onto his left foot and drifted a ball to the far post that Keith Fahey met expertly to put Blues 1-0 up. I have to admit, when that happened, I thought "that's it - we've done it now". With the tension evaporating and the sun (and beer) drenched fans letting out the nerves from the previous few hours, you did feel that Blues were, well, on their way.

They weren't, however. Not long later Lee Bowyer and Lee Williamson had a little scrap in the middle of the pitch and were both issued with red cards by Phil Dowd. Like most people in the stadium, I didn't really see what happened until the whistle went and everyone ran over to the centre circle to separate them. What I would say though is that Bowyer had already been booked in any case, so even if a red card is/was thought to be harsh, you're always going to at least get booked for getting into a scuffle like that. As such, he'd have been sent off in any case. The other point I'd make is that both players seemed to accept their punishment quickly, without too much fuss before jogging off down the tunnel, so the suggestions would have to be that they didn't have too many complaints.

So, here comes another issue that I had with this particular game. After the sending offs, both teams stuck with a 4-3-2 formation, leaving two up front. Preston were chasing the game, so fair enough. Blues, however, left Jerome and O'Connor up front, tucking Keith Fahey infield slightly and effectively foregoing a wide left player as McFadden continued to roam on the right. Preston suddenly had plenty of space to attack down their right. Now, I'm all for being positive and not going too defensive, but Blues were 1-0 up with about 25 minutes left to play in a game that, if won, carried a huge reward. On the bench you had Lee Carsley who, again, for his faults would have been perfect to bring on, stick in the middle of the park and go 4-4-1, by taking Garry O'Connor off, who'd been hopeless. It seemed to be a blatantly obvious move to make. It wasn't made though, and with ten men a side the game opened up (which, in the circumstances was the last thing Blues wanted or needed), and, well, the rest, as they say, is history.

I would personally question Maik Taylor on the first goal, whereas for the second Ross Wallace showed his quality - I've long been a fan of his. Blues had blown it and really, honestly, was there any surprise that they had? Did people genuinely expect anything else, deep down?

I have to say, it's difficult to be positive now, although Reading's game at Norwich takes on great significance. In truth, every club other than Wolves would still trade their position for Blues', so that's something, and it is still in Blues' hands. They have one game left and if they win it, they're promoted, regardless of what anyone else does.

My worry, however, is that the recent result against Wolves apart, Blues still have an awful record under Alex McLeish is the real big, crunch games. There were a number of games against relegation rivals last season that Blues failed to get a result in, and with the Reading home game, this Preston game and arguably the Wolves home game in the FA Cup, when Blues have had a pressure game, they've failed to deliver. That's going to have to change next week, and if it doesn't, Blues are likely to find themselves in the play-offs. With the pressure that's on in the play-offs, I know I wouldn't be backing Blues to succeed then.