Huddersfield Town 0-1 Birmingham City: Yet another poor performance
Although Lee Clark has now left Birmingham, Birmingham are always a team that interest me, a team that had won the League Cup in 2011 and had been a self-sustaining Premier League outfit however with the controversies of Carson Yeung`s ownership and the legacy left by him, Birmingham have been in disarray however they`ve proved to be a bogey team for Town at the John Smith with Birmingham winning 3-1 last season and the season before without a superb last minute solo effort by Adam Hammill, they`d have won that game 1-0. I was hoping for a different outcome to this game however Town once again were unable to beat Birmingham at the John Smith Stadium.
There was going to have to be changes following Murray Wallace`s dismissal last week and I wasn`t surprised by there being multiple changes with Lee Peltier, Anthony Gerrard and Harry Bunn coming back into the side for Tommy Smith, Murray Wallace and Nahki Wells as Town persisted with a more conventional 4-3-3. Birmingham on the other hand made no changes with a more defensive-minded 4-2-3-1, they came into the game on the back of thrashing Reading 6-1 at St Andrew`s which led to the sacking of Nigel Adkins.
Tale of the Tie:
Town started very quietly and tentatively which was understandable coming off a 5-0 defeat to Norwich the week before, the changes compensated that with Lee Peltier being a more defensive minded and experienced full-back as with Gerrard although it was an enforced change due to suspension and Harry Bunn was a more natural candidate for the wide role than Nahki Wells who`d been fairly ineffectual when implemented on the wing. Birmingham came into the game with a very clear game plan to frustrate town and it worked. Davis and Gleeson acted as a shield in front of the defence which meant that Town were unable to break down the stubborn Birmingham defence having said that, Town looked void of ideas from the very beginning. This is shown by the three Town midfielders` performances, although Jonathan Hogg isn`t known for his creativity and passing ability, 16 of his 51 passes went backwards. As for Conor Coady 19 of his 59 passes went backwards but most worryingly for Jacob Butterfield 35 out of 72 passes went backwards. This meant that town lacked any creativity or a driving force from midfield. The midfield was lethargic and ineffective and it questions why the likes of Radi Majewski and Duane Holmes (despite being more of a raw talent than the experienced Polish International) are excluded from the squad when they offer something entirely different. Butterfield, Coady and Hogg are currently all playing as box to box midfielders and the lack of variety is hurting Town. Also when Town were playing their best, they were pressing high and causing mistakes however there was only glimpses of that today from the three midfielders (it doesn`t help when Holt isn`t contributing to closing down) and until they do it for long sustained periods of a match, they won`t have the success they had against the likes of Forest and Blackpool.
It took until the 18th minute for the first chance and it was a key one, following a corner, Grant Holt found himself in space and he had time however his volley from close range was swatted away by Rudolph. It was a key moment in a scrappy game, the two sides were evenly matched and it was always going to come down to who could take their chances. Harry Bunn had looked sharp coming back from his injury and he showed what Town had been missing with a number of decisive runs that led to shots and free-kicks being earned, some questionably by diving however the referee didn`t produce a yellow card for simulation when he probably should have. At the other end, Davis and Cotterill both had shots from distance but neither side were really capable of breaking down each other and it meant that the two teams just cancelled each other out.
At half-time I was hoping for a change and possibly a change in formation. Birmingham were there for the taking, in the first half, Scannell and Bunn had both put in good balls into the box but there weren`t enough men in the box to capitalise on it however Powell didn`t make a change and this worried me. Town had not played well in the first half and he didn`t make a change until after the goal which leads me to believe that Powell is taking a more reactionary approach than a proactive approach. Grant Holt was the player that I thought needed replacing, he was struggling to hold the ball up and he was also unable to win any 50/50 aerial duels causing him to be invisible apart from the chance in the first half. I would have brought Wells on, as there was an alternative of playing balls behind the Birmingham back-line for Wells to chase onto however Town continued to play at a slow lethargic pace which Birmingham took advantage of winning multiple corners. However Town got back into it and won corners of their own, Jacob Butterfield was putting in some wonderful balls however Town couldn`t react to it and when they could the likes of Anthony Gerrard were unable to make the most of it.
Unlike Grant Holt, Clayton Donaldson had proved to be a nuisance all afternoon, Birmingham sat back in the second half and their only out-ball was to ping it to Donaldson, it proved effective with him winning 6 aerial duels, with Mark Hudson and Anthony Gerrard winning only 7 combined, which puts it into perspective however it was the raw pace and his anticipation which was rewarded as Town continued to be lazy on the ball and as an over-hit cross-field ball reached Robinson, he headed it back inside without looking as it landed at Donaldson`s feet, he shrugged off the poor excuse of a challenge by Robinson and knocked the ball round Gerrard however it appeared that Donaldson had merely ran into him but the free-kick was given. It proved costly as David Cotterill managed to put the ball into the net from 25 yards, initially I thought that this was a moment of magic that had won Town the game however having watched it back, Smithies should`ve done a lot better, it was at head height and fairly central and the only real save he needed to make in the entirety of today`s game, he managed to make a mess of. This caused the Town faithful to be rightly disgruntled and Harry Bunn proved to be a threat as he took on his full-back before cutting back onto his favoured right foot but his shot went wildly over the crossbar. It was clear that Harry Bunn wasn`t fit and when Powell reacted to the goal with substitutions, himself and Holt were substituted for Vaughan and Wells. The desired changes had no effect and it wasn`t until Lolley came on for Hogg that Town found some more directness and the tempo raised, a free-header was wasted by Vaughan after being picked out from the left and Rudolph made a tremendous save from Lolley to keep Birmingham in front. More crosses and corners flashed across the face of goal however Town were unable to get the three points, Birmingham ran out victors with a very professional away performance, something Town should take note of before they go to the New York Stadium.
Man of the Match:
Although Scannell won it again officially, I once again didn`t agree and although I could`ve easily given it Joe Lolley for his 5 minute cameo performance at the end, instead I think Harry Bunn deserved it. Coming back from injury it`d be understandable that he was lethargic and not as effective as when he was fully fit however there wasn`t anyone sharper than him when he was on the pitch and he continues to impress me and when fit, he`s one of the first names on the team sheet.
After last week`s performance, despite losing 5-0, I wasn`t worried. Town`s away form had been bad for a while and I was willing to accept that performance as long as we secured the 3 points today. We didn`t, we were unable to get anything out of a game against a rival who will also be at the wrong end of the table come May and this worries me. In the previous two seasons, our inability to beat the teams around us, dragged us into a relegation scrap and the same could be happening again.
The game itself was one to forget, Town were creating a lot of chances but like usual, they were unable to make the most of them and if they`d played the way they did the last 5 minutes then they would`ve won. Which is why investment is needed, Nahki Wells is short on confidence and James Vaughan is nowhere near what he used to be and having picked up 5 needless nonsensical bookings in 5 performances (3 of which were off the bench) means he`s picked up a needless suspension.
In the short term, I`d like Town to change formation to the 4-2-3-1 with Butterfield playing in the number 10 role, I think that if Butterfield played in the number 10 role then he`d be a lot more effective, he makes decisive runs and also has the imagination and vision needed as a creative midfielder however at the moment he`s playing too deep, there`d also be Bunn and Scannell providing the width. The other option would be to try Sean Scannell in the number 10 role with the freedom to roam and run at defences which would also accommodate the inclusion of Lolley. Either way, the current 4-3-3 (4-5-1) is not producing good performances or results or change is needed fast to avoid another season of fighting relegation.
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