Date:Thursday January 29 2009
Tense? Nervous? Is the pressure mounting? What better than a game against good old Derby County.
It was two years ago, after the Norwich debacle, when Steve Bruce`s job was well and truly on the line as Blues travelled up to Pride Park. That day went down in Blues folklore as the day when Stephen Clemence`s deflected strike saved Bruce`s job and set Blues on a run which would see them lose only twice in the following 15 games, as Blues amassed a massive 32 points (one game was a cup victory over Sheff. United) which sent them 9 points clear at the top of the table heading into the New Year.
While Blues are not in such a comfortable position now, the absolutely vital victory over Derby could prove to be the game that sets Blues back on the road to promotion to the Promised Land.
Going into the game, Blues did not need a performance. After the Blackpool game, Blues simply needed to win to lift some of the pressure that was mounting on manager Alex McLeish. Out went Rahdi Jaidi, Franck Queudrue, Scott Sinclair, Cameron Jerome and the injured Stuart Parnaby as they were replaced by Martin Taylor, David Murphy, James McFadden, Keith Fahey and Kevin Phillips.
Seb Larsson filled in at right back with Lee Bowyer on the right wing and Bouazza on the left. The team started nervously, as they set about with a backs-to-the-wall mentality. Derby had some quality chances to take the lead, with none easier than the chance given to Rob Hulse after Martin Taylor`s woefully under-hit back pass.
Bowyer looked abysmal on the right but after switching with Bouazza, Blues improved...slightly. Bouazza looked a threat with his energy and willingness to run at defenders while Bowyer chose to take his foot off the gas and play more intelligent balls when he received possession. However, it was clear that the crowd were on edge. The crowd seemed to be waiting for it to all go wrong, but let`s be honest, who could blame them?
As half time came and went, you did get the feeling that things might fall apart, as we have seen so often this season, but not today.
Blues started the second half with renewed vigour and the lively Bouazza was heavily involved in the goal which brought relief to thousands of people inside St. Andrews, and in particular a Scottish man called Alex. Bouazza fired in a free kick from the right hand side and captain Lee Carsley reacted well to flick the ball on towards the far post. The ball seemed to take a year to move towards the goal, but eventually it did and when it hit the back of the net there was a giant roar from the fans inside St Andrews who realised how monumental this goal could be. Every single outfield player rushed over to celebrate with captain Lee, including James McFadden who claimed to have applied the final touch, but in the words of our manager Alex McLeish, "I don`t know who got the final touch, and to be honest I don`t care."
Blues then went on to close the game out, though they do owe a debt of gratitude to Lee Carsley who cleared the ball off the line after a Miles Addison header. Kris Commons then went close to drawing Derby level but eventually Blues managed to scramble clear and close out the game.
All in all, the performance was not great, but that does not matter one bit because Blues walked away with 3 priceless points which kept up the pressure on the top 2.
Maik Taylor looked okay. His collection was poor but his distribution was good as he looked to use his full backs to throw the ball out, starting attacks much more quickly. Larsson gave his all for the cause, as you would expect, but he did not looked completely assured at right back. On the other side, Murphy did well, although he seemed a bit nervy but that is expected after his last outing at St Andrews. In the middle of defence, Ridgewell was decent while Martin Taylor did what Martin Taylor does...
In midfield, Bowyer struggled out wide, and I for one was bemused by the selection. When you have Damien Johnson AND Scott Sinclair on the bench who can both play down the right easily, why Bowyer? Maybe McLeish felt pressured into giving Fahey a start whilst not ignoring another January signing in Bowyer. Carsley was much better after a poor performance at Blackpool and Fahey was probably our stand out player. I really am impressed with this kid; he gets the ball, he looks up, and he passes it. It sounds so simple, but it is also extremely effective. Bouazza was also bright down the left (and right) wing as he looked to provide the creative spark that Blues have been crying out for.
Up front, Phillips was impressive. He held the ball up nicely and played some intelligent balls alongside the mercurial James McFadden. It was a shame that McFadden was injured, as he is key to this team. If he is out for 4-6 weeks as reports may suggest, then it will be a massive blow to McLeish and Blues.
Let me be straight with you...we are not world beaters. This performance was not one that Brazil would be proud of. However, it was a performance full of grit, determination and one which eventually brought just rewards of 3 points. We may not know for definite who scored, but I do not care. Blues are back up and running as the chase for promotion goes on...
Date:Thursday January 29 2009
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