Burton Albion 0 - Blues 4

Burton Albion 0 Birmingham City 4

A crowd of about 3,500 (sorry 1,952 for tax purposes) turned out to see Blues kick off their 2003/2004 Premiership campaign at Burton's tidy and friendly Eton Park ground this afternoon.

The only main abentees for Birmingham were Michael Johnson (with Jamaica) Christophe Dugarry (played Thursday) Clinton Morrison (shoulder injury still) and Aliou Cisse (turned up late and missed the coach - or whatever).

Blues lined up .......

Bennett
Kenna Tebily Purse Clapham
Dunn Savage Clemence Hughes
Horsefield John

and kept the same team for the entire first half. The match was played at about three-quarters pace with only sporadic urgency. As run-outs go however it was probably perfect for cleaning out a few cobwebs before the team head off for Malaysia tomorrow morning.

Most players were their usual selves though Tebily looks back to full fitness (as strong as two oxen) and for the best part managed to keep his concentration. David Dunn played anywhere on the right of midfield from the centre out to the wing and looked eager to impress. He has a natural ability to go past players and hit one perfect crossfield pass so nonchalantly it seemed he could probably do it in his sleep (or while driving to Burger King).

Stern John scored the first goal after about 6 minutes followed by two from Dunn before half-time. The first two goals were well worked moves with some crisp interchanges around the oppositions penalty area - the third was a penalty after Dunn himself was tripped. Burton, meanwhile, had an effort cleared off the line by Purse (after Bennett missed a cross - surprise!) and Tebily almost broke one of the Burton players in two with what might be conveniently called an "over zealous" challenge.

Half-time Burton 0 Blues 3

The 15 minutes interval , as usual , gave us time to check out the facilities. Burgers were large, hot and fairly good (though a lack of ketchup and mustard was a disappointment) whilst the trays of chips were excellent and served with gravy, mushy peas or in a butty. Two large cheeseburgers with onions and large tray of chips came to £4.50 for the lot - so no complaints there ! Burton (the locals told me) are run at a profit and are thinking of making the players full-time next season as well as moving to a new stadium. So good luck to them and best wishes for the future.

Oh yes, back to the match.

It was "all change" for the second half with Blues lining up

Bennett
D.Johnson Tebily Upson T.Williams
Devlin Savage Clemence Lazaridis
Fagan John

and mighty impressive indeed was Damian Johnson charging forward at every opportunity from right back, whether it was linking up with Devlin outside him or cutting in himself. Tom Williams on the left though looked strangely hesitant and lacking in confidence and at times positively confused by Lazaridis's positioning.

After five minutes of the second half Savage left the field injured after receiving attention in the centre circle for what looked (to my untrained eye) like a groin strain. Darren Carter, of course , was the obvious replacement.

Stern John bagged his second , and Blues' fourth, from close range after a poor clearance from the Burton defence, and though Stern once again frustrated with his apparent lack of effort he DOES have that knack of being in the right place at the right time inside the box.... and he doesn't miss many, blasting this one between two defenders and the keeper from about 5 yards out at quite a difficult angle.

Craig Fagan looked sharp and full of tricks and obviously has loads of pace but seems to sometimes lack that killer touch that John has, though he was unlucky to see one effort fly back off the post after he ran through the Albion defence.

After about 70 minutes Kenny Cunningham replaced Clemence ......... with Cunningham and Upson going to centre-half, Tebily moving to right back, and Damian Johnson going to centre midfield. Also young Colin Doyle , an 18-year old, 6'5" ex Gaelic football player took over in goal from Benno, and though his only real tasks were "tidying up" he seemed competent enough. He certainly looks the part too.

After much discussion during the close season of which formation Bruce will favour this year it was noticeable that Blues stuck fairly rigidly to a 4-4-2 despite there being plenty of opportunity to experiment with 3-5-2.

Burton are a well-organised, well disciplined side who hold their shape well and should perform well at this level again this year. They've bought sensibly during the break (mainly it seems from Morecombe) but perhaps need one player with a bit of vision in midfield to really have an impact. Nigel Clough himself came on as a substitute with about 15 minutes left and it was good to see he had lost none of his "lack of pace" since he played at the very top level.

So there you have it. An easy but worthwhile pre-season workout for Blues, a good day out for the fans and a fair few quid in the kitty for Burton who also play Stoke and Nottingham Forest in the next few weeks.

Pre-Season 2003