Plymouth Argyle 0 Blues 1 .. Report

Last updated : 05 November 2006 By Richard Barker

Radhi Jaidi's first goal for the club separated the teams as Blues once again demonstrated a real steely determination and togetherness in order to graft out three points from a tricky encounter against Ian Holloway's men.

This is the paragraph where I normally describe the changes to the Blues team, but there were none. I can't remember ever writing that before. God, people thought Rafa Benitez was bad... I'm sure we have fielded an unchanged team in the past 100 games, but I can't recall when. I'd check, but I can't be bothered.

Anyway, to the football...

Holloway once famously compared the pursuit of three points in a football match to going out on the pull. This charming man mused that sometimes the woman would be attractive and sometimes she'd be ugly, but it was all about getting her in a taxi and back for coffee. Well, today would be a prime example of the unglamorous bloke putting in all the leg-work, working hard to get his prey into the taxi, before some more glamorous bloke with a fatter wallet, nicer car and better haircut turned up and swept the three points off her feet. Or something. You get my point anyway. Plymouth did well and worked hard, and then Blues completed something of smash-and-grab raid to seal the the win.

In truth, that could be the end of my report because there wasn't a great deal of quality on display and it moreorless sums up what happened, but I know how much you all love reading my thoughts, so I'll carry on. For you. I'm considerate like that.

Blues started ok, but this was more down to the fact that Plymouth started pretty poorly - they looked a little overawed by the occasion. Once they settled down though and looked around and thought "actually, it's not Steven Gerrard in the middle there, it's only Stephen Clemence, and it's not Fabio Cannavaro at the back, it's Martin Taylor" they began to take control of the game.

Akos Buzsaky went close with a drilled free-kick, whislt up front if Nick Chadwick and Barry Hayles had actually brought their shooting boots with them, Blues could have found themselves in trouble. Blues did very little in the first-half, but they survived it, and whilst Argyle did have plenty of possession, they didn't create many real clearcut chances.

The second half started much as the first half had ended, with Argyle having plenty of the ball and Blues being forced into a battling, defensive display. The home side did begin to create some more chances too, mainly through Chadwick and the lively David Norris from midfield. Maik Taylor was forced into a few saves - though nothing too challenging - and, shock horror, actually helped out his team by coming and taking the majority of Plymouth's corners out of the air.

Following similar performances by Blues in recent times I always had it in my head that if they could get to about the 70th minute with things still level, the extra quality in the Blues side and the options that Blues had from the bench would have an impact. As with most things, I was right.

Neil Danns was replaced on the right by Seb Larsson and Cameron Jerome (who ran himself into the ground again, and actually performed a little better than strike partner Nicklas Bendtner) was replaced by Julian Gray. Gray went wide left, meaning Gary McSheffrey could go through the middle with Bendtner. Both Bendtner and McSheffrey had been pretty anonymous up until this point, but their blossoming partnership that has been seen lately meant that they suddenly both sparked into life. This sort of approach, of wearing teams down, looking to switch things around late on, clever use of substitutions and the like, well, dare I say it, but it could be considered to be 'a tactic' - one of those things we've all heard supporters of other clubs talk about.

Shortly he went up front some fine work by McSheffrey meant Blues won a couple of corners. From the second, McSheffrey's superbly flighted delivery was met equally superbly by Jaidi whose bullet header flew into the back of the net. It was a fine finish from a centre half who poses a real threat from set pieces. That goal had been coming from him, and I'm sure it won't be the last.

Plymouth obviously rallied and continued to pressure Blues, but with Jaidi again something of a rock at the back, Blues repelled the home side. One notable moment of danger was Blues conceding a free-kick some 25 yards out. Plymouth have one of the best free-kick specialists in Britain in Paul Wotton, and his fierce low drive took a deflection before Maik Taylor reacted superbly to smother it. Following that despite the pressure Blues held on to the three points to prompt more ecstatic celebrations from the players in front of the travelling fans. The players are certainly enjoying their victories at present, and once again Fabrice Muamba and Neil Danns were chief cheerleaders, prompting images of short skirts and pompoms that you probably don't want - not involving those two anyway.

Five straight wins cannot be knocked, and whilst those firmly in the 'anti-Bruce camp' will probably clutch at straws such as Plymouth having plenty of chances and Blues creating very few, that's really irrelevant, as once again Blues worked hard to secure their win. Of the five consecutive wins, four have been away from home - that's a hell of an achievement. They've all been tough games too - even the home game was against Albion who at that point everyone was handing the title too. Tony Mowbray seems to be doing a fine job of making the top of the table more competitive now though. Every one of those five games Blues' opponents could possibly point to feeling hard done by, but each time Blues have taken the three points (or their place in the next round of the Carling Cup), and you can't keep saying they've been lucky - they've worked very, very hard for it.

If we ignore the Liverpool game for now (as is best with recent home games in cup competitions against Liverpool) then the next game at home against Barnsley is going to be a real test for Blues. In each of the past five games you could argue that Blues were always going to up against it in the face of opponents who would come at them, whereas against Barnsley, Blues will be overwhelming favourites and be expected to really take the game to their opponents, and it'll be interesting to see if they can change their game slightly from this 'backs to the wall, war of attrition' type performance that's served them so well lately. In fairness to Barnsley, they're a bloody attacking team, so the bigger test may even be Wolves at home the following week, because they really will come to set up shop and try not to get beat, and Blues will have to try and break them down.

Either way, these two home league games coming up for Blues are huge now, because they've closed the gap at the top of the table, opened a gap between themselves and the teams behind them, and they've done all this following an absolutely harrowing night against Norwich City, and against some pretty tricky opposition. They now have to kick on in games that they'll really be expected to win.

On a final note, I'd like to give a special mention to the three officials who were on duty for this game. I'm not one for criticising officials normally, because it is an impossible job, and I generally think they do ok. These three though... good God - they were shocking, and for both teams too. (I feel more comfortable saying it after a win, as I don't look quite so much like Jose Mourinho with a huge barrel full of the sourest of sour grapes.) If ever there was a set of officials who hadn't a clue what they were doing and were just relying on guess work, then it was these three. As a Blues fan, obviously incidents in which Blues were wronged stand out in my mind more - I'd hazard a guess that there were at least five offside decisions given against Blues that were wrong, including one where McSheffrey scored. (I think the one where Danns scored may have been right.) Like I say, those stand out in my mind more, but there were plenty of decisions that went against Plymouth that were equally baffling. They were dreadful.

Anyway, Blues won, so did Liverpool - bring on Wednesday night when the two most in-form teams in the world clash horns at St Andrews. Blues will win too... you heard it here first. Predicting the score is a little more tricky, but I'm 99.9% sure it'll be 2-1. Put your mortgage on it.*

*I accept no responsibility for you having no house on Thursday morning.