New Year...New Start...Same old Blues
All the adverts carried the same message.
"Get behind the Blues as they begin their New Year...New Start Campaign at home to Cardiff City..."
This was meant to be it. This was meant to be the day when everything clicked together and the team finally started to play exciting, quality football.
And this did happen...For 10 minutes.
Blues started the game with a determined approach and the whole team seemed to be up for the fight. With the team buzzing around and looking good, the crowd were given a sense of false belief that finally things had clicked into place. Scott Sinclair looked to have a bit of quality about him, and on the other side, Hameur Bouazza buzzed around efficiently.
Blues played the ball around nicely and looked to carve open the Cardiff side. After appeals for one penalty was turned down, Cameron Jerome was put through but was unlucky that the ball just did not bounce for him. Moments later Jerome was through again and Peter Enckelman (the one and only) produced a quality save to deny the former Cardiff man.
Cardiff then started to settle and Jay Bothroyd went close from 20 yards but Blues still seemed to be on top. It was from a Cardiff corner that Blues broke brilliantly and Scott Sinclair inadvertently set up Kevin Phillips whose shot was just about smothered by Enckelman.
As we approached half time, Cardiff started to take control but Blues were denied what seemed a clear cut penalty when Rahdi Jaidi was completely taken out by Gyepes, the Cardiff centre back. The referee, 'M Jones` from Cheshire seemed to disagree with the majority of those inside St Andrews as he waved away all claims for a penalty.
Jerome had already been thwarted in his attempts to get on the scoresheet by Enckelman twice, but Jerome was a man on a mission and a matter of minutes after the Jaidi incident he sprung the offside trap and placed the ball effortlessly in the corner, only for the goal to be chalked off by the linesman. Apparently Jerome was offside...Apparently.
At half time, the general consensus was not overly positive. Yes, Blues had started the game brilliantly, but as the half wore on, Sinclair seemed to play one too many poor balls and Cardiff had a bit too much of the game. Sinclair hadn`t been given enough of the ball and some of Maik Taylor`s kicking was simply atrocious. And apparently Kevin Phillips was playing...could`ve fooled me. Phillips had about as much effect on the pitch as James McFadden had sitting in the stands.
After 63 minutes, Cardiff took the lead with a quite brilliant strike from Joe Ledley. The young star has been linked with a move to many 'bigger` sides than Cardiff City and he showed exactly why with this finish. The ball bounced up to Ledley who was 15 yards out, and the Welshman met the ball with a sweetly struck shot which flew past the despairing Maik Taylor and into the top left corner of the goal.
The fans became restless.
McLeish took off Sinclair and brought on Super Seb Larsson who was met with rapturous applause from the fans who hoped that Super Seb could once again come to Blues` rescue. He certainly looked match fit - something that has not been true of recent performances. He wanted to make an impact to show McLeish that he should not have been left on the bench and he most certainly did that.
However as time moved on, Blues continued to struggle as Bouazza struggled when it came to delivering the final ball which was desperately needed. With 7 minutes to go, McLeish gambled by bringing on the Irish player Keith Fahey for Lee Carsley. Immediately Fahey had an impact as he got the ball down and looked to play intelligent passes which impressed the Blues fans no end.
However, the fans frustration continued to grow as the team lacked invention (haven`t heard that one before) and their frustration was aimed at David Murphy who did not have his best game. Murphy struggled and after a series of bad passes the crowd got on his back.
Deep, deep into stoppage time, a hopeful punt forward fell at the feet of the impressive Lee Bowyer who finished expertly to rescue Blues a point to the delight of those watching on.
All in all, this was another poor performance by the Blues, who got back on level terms via an unlikely source. It was a mixed day for the debutants. Scott Sinclair seemed to promise so much but he delieverd so little. On the other wing, Bouazza put the effort in but things just didn`t seem to work for him. His crossing was poor and an improvement is needed from the left sided player. Coming off the bench, Keith Fahey seemed to impress, suggesting that there was more to come from the Irish midfielder but the pick of the debutants was Lee Bowyer. While he has been the most controversial of the signings to date, he was the most impressive against Cardiff. He was everywhere and did the job asked of him expertly.
For me, the man of the match award however must go to Cameron Jerome. Against his old side, Jerome tried his hardest to influence proceedings and did well, but he was not ably supported by the rest of the team. The young man deserved much more than what he got, and on another day he could`ve scored a hat-trick.
All in all, not so good, but Blues now have to put this result out of their minds and they have to look to the Blackpool game next weekend as a real opportunity. Win, and we return to 2nd place in the division. Lose, and our advantage of a game in hand over Reading and Wolves will disappear and automatic promotion will seem as unattainable a task as ever.
If McLeish includes the likes of Queudrue, Sinclair, Bouazza, Jerome and McFadden (if fit, if not, then Larsson), then Blues should be too strong for Blackpool...
If only the game was played on paper...