Blues 3 Charlton Athletic 2 .. Ron's Report

Last updated : 16 November 2008 By Richard Barker

Blues led, fell behind, led again and held on with ten men in a game that had a bit of everything.  Well, not so much "everything", but it was certainly entertaining.  Any neutral would have got their money's worth, had any crazy neutrals decided to waste their afternoon watching Birmingham City against Charlton Athletic.
After the last three disappointing games, Alex McLeish made changes to the side, as you'd expect.  Franck Queudrue returned after illness, meaning that Liam Ridgewell could go back to where he's more "comfortable", at centre half.  James McFadden played wide left, with Marcus Bent partnering Kevin Phillips up front.  Nigel Quashie again started in the middle alongside Lee Carsley.
Increased tempo, more excitement and better football were all promised during the week, following Blues' recent poor form.  Well, from the start of this game, you could tell they were promises that weren't going to be kept.  Blues were poor from the off.  There was little or no tempo to their play, and whilst Charlton weren't much better, it looked like there'd be more of the same from Blues.
Then there was a moment of inspiration from one of the few Blues players able to produce such moments - James McFadden.  Following a failed corner that was eventually cleared, he brought the ball under control, clipping it past a defender in the same movement, and curled a fine effort past Nicky Weaver in the Charlton goal.  It was a fantastic strike, and not in keeping with the early exchanges of the match at all.  Hopefully it would settle everyone down...
Well, no, of course not - it's not that simple, is it?  As Blues searched for a quick second, they won a free-kick towards the left.  The defenders that are good in the air (and Ridgewell) went forward, and so Seb Larsson and Quashie tried to be clever and take a quick little free-kick.  They did so appallingly, Charlton broke with verve, and before you could say "QUASHIE, YOU IDIOT!!!", Hameur Bouazza had almost broke the back of Maik Taylor's net to make it 1-1. 
Not long later, Charlton were in front, courtesy of a Ridgewell-inspired goal.  A long ball was pumped forward and Ridgewell got himself into a right mess and hit an air shot as he tried to clear the ball.  Andy Gray, being rested from his Sky commentary duties, capitalised and finished expertly.  Credit where credit's due, Charlton took two gift-wrapped opportunities bloody well.  Both goals were superb finishes.
A month or so ago I was at Wembley where an Ashley Cole error gifted European powerhouses Kazakhstan a goal.  After that, some moronic home fans proceeded to boo Cole's every touch.  Well, here Ridgewell's next touch was greeted with a clearly audible chorus of boos from some moronic home fans.  Luckily it only happened the once, and didn't become the pantomime event that was the Cole incident at Wembley, with there being boos and cheers every time he got the ball.
Now, don't get me wrong, booing Ridgewell in itself isn't a bad thing.  I come home from work of a weeknight, set up my computer, Google Image "Liam Ridgwell" and boo all the photos on there.  I have a Liam Ridgewell voodoo doll that I stick pins in and burn parts of and generally abuse.  I get my girlfriend to put on a Liam Ridgewell mask, and I boo her before slapping her.  But I do all of those things in the privacy of my own home, knowing that it'll have no effect on him whatsoever (unless of course Liam's reading this now, in which case, sorry Liam...) 
I cannot though get my head around people who boo their own players during a game, when it's clearly going to have some sort of adverse effect on their performance.  My thoughts on Ridgewell are well documented - I don't think he's very good.  However, I'm sure that under the bad bumfluff, dodgy moustache and mullet that he knew he'd cocked up and he didn't need several thousand fans booing him to remind him.  There was probably about an hour of football to go and Blues were a goal down - it was a time to get behind the team (which the fans actually did well second half), not to boo individuals.
Conversely though, back to the error itself, it's the kind of thing that Ridgewell does too often, for my mind.  The only difference here was that he was punished for it.  Had Gray been someone hopeless in front of goal - say, Cameron Jerome - then he'd have blazed it wide and people wouldn't necessarily have remembered Ridgewell's awful attempt at a clearance.  He was punished this time though, so people picked up on it.  Don't think that his error is an isolated incident though (in fact, watch the last ten minutes of this game and his shift at left-back - you'll see a load more there, but they were, thankfully, unpunished).
The other key incident of note in the first half was a bad tackle on Quashie by a random Charlton player (I remember the days when I knew at least four out of eleven Charlton players - they're really heading back to their insignificant days now though).  Quashie jumped up and confronted said player, and appeared to sort of chest him but with his head moving forward too.  I'm not suggesting that it was a headbutt, but it was certainly the kind of reaction that we've seen red cards shown for before.  Indeed, Quashie's running away from the incident, feigning of injury and then slow walk back to the referee indicated he felt that he'd be walking.  The referee, however, seemed to consider it armless (pun very much intended) and only "brandished" a yellow card.  Whilst not necessarily violent, it was a stupid reaction from a so-called experienced professional.
So, to the second half, and now surely we were going to get that increased tempo and all the rest of it that we were promised.  Well, no, Blues started poorly and Charlton managed to somehow not make it 3-1 by hitting the post, missing the target and generally being useless in front of goal in one 10 second spell.
Then Blues found some inspiration of their own, in the form of Charlton 'keeper Nicky Weaver.  First, Quashie (who was heavily involved in the game, but generally for being rubbish) looped a pathetic cross into the six-yard box that would be described by all sorts of commentators as "just catching practice for the goalkeeper".  Weaver, however, who as a youngster was ridiculously over-rated, managed to slip over and punch the ball up into the air for Kevin Phillips to loop a header into the far corner of the net.
Then, not long later, Blues took a short corner and Quashie did the only useful thing he did all game by hitting a decent shot from an angle, which was straight at Weaver.  Weaver, however, gaining in confidence after his assist for Phillips' goal managed to parry the ball right down in front of him in the middle of the six yard box for Queudrue to fire in his first Blues goal and make it 3-2.
It was richly deserved for Queudrue who is something of a talisman for Blues these days.  His performances at left-back have generally been excellent, he's probably the best passer of a ball that Blues have got, and all of this after he was basically called "a pile of rubbish" by the owner of the club, "fat" by the manager of the club, was fined for missing the start of pre-season training and was made to play reserve games with a bunch of spotty 16 year olds.  Respect to Mr Queudrue.
And then finally there was some of that tempo we'd been promised!  Wahey!  Clearly though we didn't want much of that, so after about a minute of Blues looking like they wanted to go on to win 4-2 or 5-2, Quashie got sent off.  Now, I think there was an element of him slipping in his challenge of Nicky Bailey, but the fact is that he was lucky not to have been sent off in the first half (I thought he should have been substituted then) and so any foul that he committed from then on risked the chance of him being dismissed.  Therefore, it seems to make sense that when a Charlton player is facing his own goal, about 30 yards from his own goal, rushing in to challenge him from behind (even if you do slip a bit) is stupid.  To the referee, on the one hand it may have seemed a small indiscretion, but on the other hand it was a big one, and Quashie was unsurprisingly sent off.  People then applauded him off - it's nearly as moronic as booing Ridgewell.
Blues were therefore forced to hold on for quite sometime, but did so fairly comfortably.  The sending off seemed to focus the minds a little, and but for a few Bailey long-range efforts (at which he's very skilled), Blues weren't really troubled.  Special mention to Marcus Bent who led the line well on his own for quite some time and held the ball up well, and to Mehdi Nafti who came on and steadied the ship somewhat.  Also to Alex McLeish for making it much more exciting by throwing on Martin Taylor for Queudrue and shifting Ridgewell to left-back.  With Ridgewell there and Taylor at centre half, there was some cracking entertainment.  I can only assume that Queudrue was struggling.
Hold on Blues did, so what can you read into the game?  Well, not a great deal, as it was one of those crazy ones where logic, etc goes out of the window and you just have to say, "well, that happens once in a while - you get a game like that, let's not over-analyse it".
At the same time though, first half Blues were poor - and after all the promises of being much improved.  Then, at the start of the second half, Blues were still poor, and were gifted their equaliser by Weaver.  Really and truly, Blues' comeback in this game (and the win) was more by luck than judgement.  Maybe that's what was needed, but don't let this fool you into thinking everything's ok - on another day Blues could have lost 3-1 here.
I said it last week, and I'll say it again, but for me Blues have this strange issue that they're not missing enough chances.  I know that sounds bizarre, but there's just not enough being created.  You can't really point to any strikers and say, "God, he's missed a hatful this season".  Blues were lucky with two of the three goals here (and the other was a moment of inspiration), and so whilst yes, it's three goals, it wasn't necessarily all of Blues' doing.  They continue to look devoid of creation and inspiration, and whilst they're not creating a lot of chances, there'll be games when they don't score.  And when you don't score, we all know you don't win games... 
A more positive result?  Certainly.
A more positive performance?  Possibly slightly.
Still areas for concern?  Definitely.
Right, I'm off to put the Ridgewell doll in the microwave...