Goals from Gary McSheffrey and Neil Danns were enough to earn Blues all three points against a poor Barnsley side. Blues did make hard work of it though by not taking early chances, allowing Barnsley a foothold in the game and not netting the all important second goal until injury time.
Seeing as the Liverpool game was such a non-event in every sense of the word, think back to the Blues team that started against Plymouth last week. Now think of that team with Seb Larsson wide on the right instead of Neil Danns. There... you're thinking of the Blues team that lined up today. Steve Bruce had said in the build-up to this game that he'd welcome playing Barnsley as they'd play more than one striker, and that Albion and Liverpool had been the only teams to do that at St Andrews this season (conveniently forgetting Colchester's front two, Hull's super-attacking front two/four, Ipswich's front two, Leicester's front two and the three man attack utilised by Norwich) and sure enough, Blues' Yorkshire opponents set up with Tommy Wright and Marc Richards up front, with two out and out wingers in Michael McIndoe and Martin Devaney on the flanks. No 'ten men behind the ball' excuses there then - except that it's been incorrectly used in the other games I've highlighted, I suppose.
Blues started brightly and could have been in front within a minute when McSheffrey released Nicklas Bendtner whose speciality is rounding goalkeepers. Sure enough, he rounded Irish international Nick Colgan, but took the ball too far wide and the moment passed. It was an early sign of intent from Blues though.
Blues went on to dominate the first half, but didn't create too many chances. Up front Bendtner was trying far too hard and consequently making mistakes and Larsson and McSheffrey couldn't really get into the game. As if to prove me wrong though, in the 35th minute both Bendtner and McSheffrey made telling contributions for the first time in the match. The young Danish striker did well in the penalty area and squared the ball to McSheffrey who stopped, looked up and picked the slightest gap between Colgan and the post and calmly curled the ball into said gap to make it 1-0.
Blues continued to enjoy plenty of possession before the break but couldn't add to their lead despite some glorious oppotunities. Cameron Jerome created one himself with a fine run down the left, but his low shot was saved by Colgan - Jerome may have been better off squaring the ball to a team-mate. McSheffrey was similarly guilty moments before half-time when he hit the side netting when superbly placed and again, he probably should have looked for a pass. It was a bit like the closing stages at Coventry when Blues poured forward and tore their opponents apart before everyone refused to pass to one another and seemed to adopt a "well he had a shot last time and didn't pass to me, so I'll have a shot this time and not pass to him" mentality.
Anyway, 1-0 at half-time and the second half started in much the same fashion and it wasn't long before Bendtner copied Jerome and McSheffrey and failed to pull the ball back to a team-mate when well placed. Barnsley did raise their game a little in the second half, but still couldn't make much of an impact.
Midway through the second half Jerome was replaced by Danns, and McSheffrey went up front with Bendtner. (Danns went wide right and Larsson shifted to the left.) Now, I know the McSheffrey/Bendtner combo late in the game is flavour of the month at present, but it doesn't mean you have to do it in every single game, regardless of what's actually happening on the pitch. What was happening in this game was that Jerome was enjoying his finest performance in a Blues shirt and McSheffrey - whilst suffering from the Bendtners a little bit and trying too much - was providing a useful outlet on the left as Barnsley threw men forward. It was working fairly well, Blues were looking fine, no one was injured and all three (Bendtner, Jerome and McSheffrey) are young and fit and none of them looked like they were tiring at this point.
However, it seems that regardless of all of the above, we just HAVE to take Jerome off and put McSheffrey up front because it's worked in previous games. Other teams don't do that - they'll make substitutions based on what's actually going on in the current game, but no, not Blues. Sure enough Blues lost their only real outlet in midfield, left Bendtner and McSheffrey isolated up front and now had Danns and Larsson out of position. Genius. You'll be shocked to learn that all this coincided with Barnsley's best spell of the match. Former Manchester United youngster Daniel Nardiello who had come on as a substitute looked very lively and went close twice, and Andy Ritchie also threw on Paul Hayes (of putting Scunthorpe 1-0 at Stamford Bridge last season fame) on too as Barnsley searched out an equaliser.
Blues were pretty poor second half, and had to rely on superb performances from Martin Taylor (again), Rahdi Jaidi (again) and Fabrice Muamba (again). Even Maik Taylor helped out by claiming loads of crosses (again). At the death Blues finally got some opportunities to kill the game off - Bendtner had a shot saved before Larsson blazed the rebound over, but shortly afterwards the pair of Arsenal loanees combined to set up Blues' second. Bendtner cushioned a fine through ball to Larsson whose cross was side-foot-volleyed into the back of the net by Danns in injury time to make it 2-0 and seal Blues' win. Whilst Bendtner for the most part had a poor game, he still set up both goals... Blues have been crying out for someone that poor for quite a while.
So, that was that - a job well done, if not a job done well. At various points there were grumblings from a tense crowd though and people seemed very dissatisfied, and I have to say, it got me thinking... (don't drift off - as Shakespeare's Sister once said, stay with me)...
When we got promoted last time, am I right in thinking it wasn't through sheer breathtaking football and spanking teams 5-0 every week? I'm sure back then we were regarded as a team of 'battlers' and we ground out results with a solid defence as a foundation. Everyone was delighted back then, but it seems that to lots of people (including many who stayed away again) that this time around it's not good enough.
Blues' success during Steve Bruce's first three or four years in charge wasn't down to stunning football and high-scoring games - it was always down to battling and out-working the opposition. Blues are doing that well now (five wins in a row without conceding a goal is no mean feat) and have even thrown in a bit of class too (I emphasise the words 'a bit'), but it seems that some people have forgotten that we didn't cruise our way through this division last time (winning the play-offs after finishing fifth) and don't realise that we're not going to run away with it this time around either. A win is a win is a win at this level, and Blues are racking up the wins at an impressive rate at present.
The expectation levels are high this season, and understandably so, but it was never going to be easy at this level, and Blues do seem to have found a method (I'm still wary of using the word 'tactic') that's bringing them success, and whether it's pretty, ugly or pretty ugly, if it means that they finish in the top two come next May, I'll be happy. I can only hope that the people who still weren't satisfied after today are going out with Albion and Wolves fans tonight, so they can get a little more perspective.
On a final note, I'd like to mention the sterling work that Tony Mowbray is doing over in Smethwick. Taking a team that everyone was practically handing the title to and moulding them into a 'one point out of a possible twelve' unit in the space of a fortnight really takes some doing.