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Morrison 23, Clemence 36, Forssell 78, Hughes 84 Match Report
This time round, it was a new year, a new competition and a totally different game - in fact only the scoreline remained the same, though it was Graeme Souness' men left with their tails firmly between their legs after this display.
The game was delayed by 35 minutes due to a power failure that resulted in the floodlights struggling to function properly. This is an increasing problem at St Andrews, given other similar circumstances over the past few years. Last season Blues welcomed then Champions Arsenal, and there was the embarassment then. A few years back a night game with Barnsley (or was it Crewe? My memory escapes me...) had to be abandoned because of the same problem. Just two weeks ago, the club were unable to get a Premiership game on against Middlesbrough because of some rain, whilst Walsall - just up the road - had no such problems. Whilst things on the pitch are the best they've been for a long time (generally), things off it need to be reviewed significantly if the club don't want to be perceived as a laughing stock.
The return to fitness of David Dunn and Clinton Morrison led to two changes from the lacklustre performance at Goodison Park. Dunn came in for Bryan Hughes on the left, whilst Morrison was back to partner Mikael Forssell up front, with Stern John - a starter at Everton - not even in the 16 on this occasion.
Blues have been worse than dreadful in the FA Cup over the past few years - not aided by constant draws against top flight teams. As if this wasn't motivation enough, however, there was that home drubbing by Blackburn in December to further generate the desire to progress to Round Four. That desire was evident from the start, as Blues went at Blackburn clearly keen to wipe out the memory of that home defeat.
In the early stages, apart from an Andy Cole effort saved by Maik Taylor, it was all Blues. Dunn - so disappointing in the previous encounter against his former club - was running things, and playing like so many people know he can. He twice went close in the early stages, and was terrorising the Blackburn defence. When not testing Brad Friedel himself, he was setting up Robbie Savage who also went close.
Blues suffered a blow after 12 minutes though, when Matthew Upson had his ankle stood on by Cole in what looked an accidental clash. Upson immediately signalled to the bench the extent of the injury, and the England defender was stretchered off. Surprisingly, Blues had failed to include any defenders as substitutes, so therefore Hughes entered the action in a wide right role, with Damien Johnson dropping to right back, and Jeff Kenna moving inside to partner Kenny Cunningham.
If Blues needed further impetus, this change seemed to give it to them. Just moments after himself curling a good effort wide, Hughes was setting up the first goal for Morrison. Hughes' challenge on Andy Todd in the 23rd minute resulted in the ball flicking through for Morrison who finished well, side-footing the ball past Friedel.
Blues were really motoring now, and Forssell and Dunn both again went close, before they linked up to set up the second goal for Stephen Clemence on 36 minutes. Dunn was played in down the left by Stan Lazaridis, and the former Blackburn man made Markus Babbel look pedestrian. Dunn's cross was just behind Forssell, but showing good awareness Forssell declined the opportunity to hit a wasteful shot himself, and teed the ball up for Clemence who finished expertly.
Despite being 2-0 up, Blues suffered another sour note just prior to the interval, when Lazaridis was also forced off due to injury, and what looked like a hamstring strain. He was replaced by Darren Carter, who came into the middle of midfield alongside Savage, with Clemence moving to left-back. Blues' backline was now Johnson, Kenna, Cunningham and Clemence - hardly first-choice.
Blackburn started the second half reasonably brightly, with former Italian international Dino Baggio coming on and making a difference. Baggio went close on two occasions with thumping drives - the second saved well by Taylor, pushing the ball onto the bar.
Sure enough though, Blues got themselves back on top, with Forssell in particular a constant menace. The Finnish striker hit the post after more good work from Dunn, before stinging Friedel's fingertips with an audacious 35 yard strike. Morrison too could have capped a good performance were his finishing not so wasteful on three occasions.
Blues were now dominating again, and after 76 minutes made it 3-0, with Taylor in goal claiming the assist. The keeper's long clearance was a target for Blackburn's offside trap - it's just a pity that no-one had told Martin Taylor (on as a substitute) that they were employing such a tactic. As three defenders ran forward with their arms aloft, Martin Taylor stayed back, playing Forssell onside. The on-loan striker took down the clearance magnificently, and then sidestepped Martin Taylor before clipping the ball home. It was so simple, but so wonderfully executed by a superb marksman.
Having scored a magnificent goal at St Andrews just a month ago, Tugay clearly felt that he was being left out of the action on this occasion, so decided to enter into a petty feud with Savage. Savage is always going to relish such a battle, and after the Welshman deliberately blasted the ball off the Turkish international's head whilst he was on the floor, Tugay was always going to get himself into trouble as his frustrations boiled over. Sure enough, moments later he was booked by Paul Durkin. As a side note, Durkin was excellent, with this the only booking of the game. More so, however, prior to the game, Durkin entered into friendly banter with both sets of fans whilst warming up, and with Savage too. Having had the one man power-trip that is Uriah Rennie in charge at Blues' last home game, it was refreshing to see a referee that has a brain, is human, and commands respect from fans and players alike.
Back to the football, and with 6 minutes remaining the rout was complete following a great move. Morrison flicked the ball on to Forssell, who played the ball back to Morrison. The Irish striker then fed a first time ball in front of the onrushing Hughes who clipped the ball over Friedel to get a deserved strike given his performance.
Following the disappointment at Everton, and disappointment after disappointment in this competition, it was refreshing to see a thoroughly comprehensive Blues performance. Every player turned in good to excellent performances, and they fully deserved the victory and the margin by which it came.
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