Sheffield Wednesday 1 Blues 1 .. Ron's Report

By Richard Barker
Last updated : 01 February 2009

They were comments that people who regularly watch Blues have been making most of this season - a season which seems to have been blighted by negativity, criticism and seen most people around the club apparently on a bit of a downer.

At the same time, I like to think that I'm fairly fair and that I give credit where credit's due. I'm sure that I have done in the past - it just seems a long time ago now. It's the truth that there hasn't been a great deal to be overly positive about this season, despite the reasonable position in the league.

Still, after this game though, I think it's time to give some of that credit, as I think credit is due. At this level, I generally view anything that's not a victory as a negative. However, football's not necessarily as simple as that. Here Blues drew having trailed for quite some time, but I actually think that they played really quite well.

Sheffield Wednesday aren't a bad team. They're not a great team either, but their record at Hillsborough this season is fairly impressive and they have some decent players in their side. When you go there, you're always going to have your backs to the wall for periods of the game and you're not going to have things your own way. Overall though, I thought Blues were the better side and were more composed, if lacking in front of goal.

If I had a pound for every time that I've said this season that Blues' play has lacked pace and purpose, well, I could probably afford to buy myself a DVD. A new release too - not one out of the bargain bucket. However, in the first half at Hillsborough, Blues did play with pace and they did play with a purpose. This was aided by an attacking team selection, with Scott Sinclair and Hameur Bouazza on the flanks and Cameron Jerome and Kevin Phillips up front.

Wednesday had plenty of the ball, but when Blues earned possession, they used it fairly well, played at pace, got the ball to the players who can "make things happen" much quicker and all in all looked fairly good. Sinclair looked to be trying a little too hard early on, but Bouazza's direct play and Jerome's pace were being utilised well, and Blues looked like we all hope that they'll look at this level - like a top team who can soak up pressure and then break with confidence and, dare I say it, a certain arrogance.

The first half, I felt, was good. As I've said above, it lacked the goal that it probably deserved, and the failure to really test Lee Grant given the ball that Blues had and the positions in which they had it will still be a worry. Overall though, I thought Blues did well. See, there you go, I can do it.

It was a fairly open game which meant that both teams did plenty of attacking. Neither team though really tested the opposition goalkeeper too much - Maik Taylor's main contribution was his ever-worsening kicking. The second half continued along a similar theme, until Wednesday took the lead.

Now Hillsborough's a bloody big stadium (a good old fashioned football ground that it's a pleasure to visit), so with Wednesday's goal being at the opposite end to that which I was sat in, it was a little hard to analyse what happened too much. It did seem though that Blues should have had ample opportunity to avert the danger and clear the ball, but that, as is often the case, people left it to one another and suddenly the ball was in the back of the net. Blues had been doing well, as I've said, and it was a kick in the teeth. Moments before Jerome had missed a great chance after he used his pace and power superbly to engineer a great opportunity, but then when he just needed to slow down and be calm, he continued at 100mph and fluffed his chance.

Then, for ten minutes, it appeared as if Blues were reeling and Wednesday were boosted by the goal. Wednesday hadn't really been on top for any period of the game until their goal, but suddenly they were flying and Blues were hanging on. Jermaine Johnson was Bouazza-esque in his directness and his air of unpredictabilty, whilst as at St Andrews, Leon Clarke was strong up front.

Blues did manage to weather the storm, however, and got a grip on proceedings again and the game reverted to type. It was open, with both teams breaking on one another, but Blues appearing to be a little more composed and confident.

As the game wore on, two substitutes had a real impact for Blues. One was Keith Fahey who was unlucky to have been dropped from the starting line-up anyway. He replaced Lee Carsley and he and Lee Bowyer (again excellent) immediately set about driving Blues on. Fahey is energetic and gets around the pitch, but like Bowyer he's talented on the ball and keeps play ticking over at a high tempo, unlike Carsley (who, by the way, was better himself). Fahey also has that talent that Blues have so lacked for so long - the ability to pick a pass that's not obvious. On several occasions he threaded a ball through in between the Wednesday centre halves and full backs for an advancing Blues wide man to get themselves into a good position towards the byline. As well as Blues had played previously, they hadn't really been able to totally unlock the Wednesday defence. Suddenly they could. Fahey did it a number of times, including finding Sinclair to set up Kevin Phillips' equaliser having done the same moments earlier for (bizarrely) Liam Ridgewell whose driven volley across goal wasn't attacked.

The other substitute who had an impact (although some may argue) was Marcus Bent. It's becoming increasingly obvious that Bent is the current boo-boys favourite. However, with Blues chasing the game they needed to be a little more direct and Bent gave them that option. That's not to say that Blues resorted to "hoof ball", but sometimes you need to cut out the midfield, get the ball into a forward earlier on, hope for him to hold it up so you can get midfielders around him, and then move on from there. Bent's introduction meant that Blues could do this and get the likes of Fahey, Bouazza and Sinclair in and around him.

Blues' equaliser was certainly deserved, and despite another generally poor display from Phillips, he again reminded you why he was there - that's what he does. Every game I think, "why don't we take him off? He's doing nothing" and sometimes he does nothing and you almost feel cheated. However, that's not what he's about, and when he scores as he did here, it's almost a reminder to you. I used to moan about Darren Purse and still moan about Liam Ridgewell for being great for 89 minutes, then doing something so costly that you wonder why they ever get picked. Phillips is the opposite. For 89 minutes you wonder why he gets picked, then he does something and you nod knowingly to yourself and think, "ah... that's why".

Sinclair deserves credit too for his cross for the goal. In the second half he really came on (as I said earlier, he appeared to be trying too hard in the first half) and put in the best display of his loan spell so far. He was helped by the Fahey/Bowyer midfield too, as they were both picking him out in more space, which is what he needs.

Don't get me wrong, all is not rosy as yet. There were plenty of positives here though. It was, in my opinion, a very good away performance. Not everything went Blues' way, but at least they played with some confidence, with some pace and with a purpose. The defending, at times, still left a lot to be desired, and although Maik Taylor looked for his full backs much more, his kicking continues to get worse. It's also a concern that Blues don't seem to create as many chances as they should - especially in a performance like this. I don't think it's a coincidence that they opened Wednesday up as much as they did late on after the introduction of Fahey for Carsley. I do think that the more forward-looking players you can get in the side (without sacrificing too much defensively), then obviously the more creative you become. I would like to see a Bowyer/Fahey midfield, but am not sure we will. Neither neglects defensive duties (in fact, Bowyer sat in quite nicely after Fahey came on, but still drove on from that position, which Carsley is unable to do), and so I don't consider it too much of a risk.

So there were a few negatives still, but for once I'm happy to look at those a little more fleetingly and try and concentrate on the positives for once - it makes me feel better.

If Blues play like this for the rest of the season, then I think they'll be promoted automatically. They do need to build on this display though (if not the result) and work on the performance. There's plenty to take from it, but now that they've shown that they CAN do it, they've set the bar - they need to keep playing in such a way, and that's the test for them now.

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