Blues 1 Shrewsbury Town 0 .. Report

Last updated : 22 August 2006 By Richard Barker

A late Sebastian Larsson goal secured Blues' passage to the next stage in a game which saw many 'fringe' players get a welcome run out.

Steve Bruce made ten changes to the team that started against Crystal Palace on Saturday, which is just about as many changes as you can make to a team, other than eleven changes. Rahdi Jaidi was the only survivor from Saturday's starting XI as Colin Doyle made his Blues debut in goal and Martin Taylor came in to partner Jaidi at the heart of the defence. There were a couple of very attacking full-backs in the shape of Larsson and Julian Gray, whilst four central midfielders made up the midfield - Stephen Clemence and Fabrice Muamba obviously won whatever competition was used to determine who could play where they wanted and took up their positions in the middle of the park, whilst Neil Kilkenny went wide right and Neil Danns played wide left. Up front Cameron Jerome partnered Mikael Forssell.

People who didn't see this game and have only seen that Larsson scored late on to secure the win may have the impression that Blues struggled and only just edged past Shrewsbury in a nervy encounter, but the truth is that Blues were as comfortable as slippers. At times they played some excellent football, and otherwise they played good football, and the only problem they had was converting this into goals. Shrewsbury were plucky, which is a word I always think means 'a bit rubbish, but tried hard', and that sums them up really. Maybe 'a bit rubbish' is harsh, as they had a few chances, but they hardly looked very threatening.

Blues started well and could have taken the lead after about 20 seconds when Forssell's shot was deflected over the bar after good work from Larsson. Blues' early dominance was helped by Larsson's excellent attacking play from right back, and by Danns taking control of the midfield - even from out on the left hand side. Gray also joined in well from left back at times.

At the back Jaidi was absolutely immense - I have rarely seen a centre half perform his duties with such ease for 90 minutes. Ok, it was only against Shrewsbury Town, but they still have decent enough players, and Jaidi cruised through the game. Credit must also go to Martin Taylor who nearly matched Jaidi's effortless performance, but whose gangly-ness and flailing arms and legs just don't quite give the same impression. He did well though.

Shrewsbury got themselves into the game a little more as the first half progressed, and Ben Davies maybe should have done better when one-on-one with Doyle, but the young Irish 'keeper saved well with his legs. Blues were still fairly comfortable though, and Danns, Jerome and Muamba all went close before the break.

Jerome and Forssell toiled up front with little reward. Forssell's play around the middle of the park still wasn't up to scratch at times, and he was caught in possession on occasions. However he did look to have a little more sharpness in and around the penalty area - he was shifting the ball into positions to unleash sharp snap shots a lot quicker than he has been of late, which was encouraging. Jerome put himself about and showed some neat touches, but looked a little raw on occasions. Still, he'd only played 4 minutes of football for Blues before tonight, and these things take time.

Shrewsbury had their best real spell of the game early on in the second half as the lively Derek Asamoah become more of an influence with his pace and skill. Again though, they were hardly threatening. They were a bit like one of those small yappy-type dogs who bark and bark and bark, and whilst you appreciate the effort they're making and can pat them on the head in a patronising matter, you've got more chance of being hurt whilst wearing a helmet on a bouncy castle.

Blues clicked back into life a little more once Nicklas Bendtner and DJ Campbell came on to replace Forssell and Jerome. For all the effort of the latter duo, Bendtner and Campbell offered more pace, power and purpose to the Blues attack - Bendtner in particular, who was excellent. Campbell was again impressive too.

Neil Kilkenny - who at times in the first half had looked to overplay things - became more of an influence on the game with the introduction of the more lively front two, and started to take control of the midfield. Stephen Clemence wasn't as impressive, but was alright. Excuse the film reference - if you've never seen 'Zoolander' this will go over your head - but Clemence suffers from the same problem as Derek Zoolander in that he can only turn one way (in Clemence's case onto his left foot) and this limits him quite often deeper in midfield, as he fails to pick the better passes to people by turning his back on the space and turning into trouble.

Blues got their winner shortly after their final substitution was made, with Stephen Kelly replacing Muamba who again looked a mixed bag. I described him as 'raw' after his debut at Sunderland, and I'd stand by that - at times he looks excellent, but at times he looks pretty poor. Anyway, Kelly's introduction meant that Larsson moved upfield to wide right and Kilkenny went into the centre of the park. Within minutes the duo had combined well with Bendtner who found Larsson again superbly and the Swede knocked the ball past Chris McKenzie to make it 1-0. It may have been harsh on McKenzie who had made some good saves, but it was thoroughly deserved by Blues who will have been relieved to have avoided extra time.

After this Blues could well have scored more, with Bendtner, Campbell and Kilkenny taking advantage of the space provided by Shrewsbury chasing the game, but it wasn't to be.

So that was that really - no slip-up, and despite the tight scoreline, no real threat to Blues from Shrewsbury. Their impressive travelling support acknowledged their players' efforts at the end, and they'll probably do well in League 2 this season. Still, in the Championship Blues will also be looking to do well, and such a decent and pleasing-to-the-eye performance without the likes of Nafti, Dunn, McSheffrey, N'Gotty, Sadler, Johnson and with Campbell and Bendtner only starting on the bench bodes well for the future.