Sunday, January 10, 2010

For posterity

Okay, I give in. I’ve tried to not get excited and ahead of myself with regard to Blues, so this post will serve as a warning when it all goes inevitably wrong. After all, my beloved football club are not lacking in imagination and flair when it comes to reeling me in and letting me down – this latest trick, to go 12 league matches unbeaten, thereby setting our best ever record in any division, ever, will only be beaten by the club delivering me to a Cup Final that we subsequently lose on penalties. Oh, sorry, they’ve already done that… OK, make it FA Cup Final that we subsequently lose on penalties.

Anyway, last night, Blues drew 1-1 with Manchester United. When you strip away Sir Alex Ferguson’s predictable post-match rant at the officials (er, yes, it was a red card, Sir Alex. It might have been a soft, silly foul, but it was definitely professional, so worthy of a yellow card. And two yellow cards to the same player equals one red), he was actually quite complimentary towards Blues (don’t believe me? Click here and scroll to the bottom).

Sir Alex has a soft spot for Birmingham – his father used to work nearby in Small Heath and the pair of them watched a fair few matches in the 50s – and recommended the club to both Steve Bruce and Alex McLeish. And in recommending the latter, he may well have yielded us our own Sir Alex Ferguson, Brian Clough or Sir Bobby Robson for the future.

McLeish is the real deal. This 12-match unbeaten run is only a fluke in that his wheeling and dealing has manufactured a starting eleven who are greater than the sum of their parts. There’s plenty of bodies online blocking shots, defending as a unit and in numbers, but there’s no little skill involved too. For the first time in 15 years we have a central midfield pairing comfortable on the ball, and able to pass to team mates. Our weak link – our strikers – are pacy and troublesome, and nicking enough goals (with the aid of Lee Bowyer of all people) to give our defence something to lay themselves on the line for. We’ve ridden our luck in some games, but last night we definitely deserved the draw. Not for the first 38 minutes, admittedly, but after we scored we had four shots on target to United’s two (including the own goal that salvaged a point for them).

It says a lot about us that I’m sat here vaguely disappointed that we didn’t win the game – either by keeping out the own goal (no, it wasn’t offside even before the own goal came into the equation, but equally when the linesman raises his flag and is then overruled, players and fans will react accordingly, but note McLeish’s admission after the match that the goal should have stood – if anything marks him out as different to Ferguson it’s this graciousness and unwillingness to make excuses) or by scoring a second. After United’s goal, they had one shot on target to our four!

But there’s more to come. This unbeaten run will end, but I don’t think we’ll do a “Hull” – McLeish will bring in two or three players this window to strengthen us for the months ahead, and we’ll fade away perhaps but then again maybe we’ll hang on to eighth spot, which would be their best ever finish since I supported them, and their best since 1956! Unlike 2003-4, when we were as high as fifth going into April, this feels like the dawn of a new era: new owners, a manager who is rebuilding the club from the bottom up and who clearly relishes the opportunity to make something of Birmingham City, and the feeling that anything might happen.

Including the inevitable false dawn, cries of where did it all go wrong and incessant navel gazing, complete with a determination not to care, and it’s all a silly game for overpaid prima donnas anyway. And then the cycle begins again…

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