Friday, October 21, 2011

Europa League Blues - better than it sounds

Last night 8,000 Blues fans descended on Bruges. Only 5,400 turned up with tickets, but I suspect a lot more packed into a stadium where, until a certain Championship club rolled into town, English sides had never tasted victory. The best result prior to last night for an English side was a 1-1 draw secured by Liverpool during their heyday in the 1970s. Other teams, including Chelsea and Spurs, came away with nothing.

Bruges also went into the match unbeaten in their domestic league, and undefeated in 18 previous home European encounters. It might explain why they went ahead in the third minute and threatened to blow us away before the quarter-hour mark.

But this isn't the side that was afraid to attack under Alex McLeish. Blues have come from behind to win in two of their last three matches, and we did exactly that this time too, equalising on 26 minutes and then spurning a number of good chances before securing the winner with practically the last kick of the match, in the 100th minute. It came after 10 added minutes after a sickening and worrying injury to our Spanish centre half, Pablo Ibanez that left some of his teammates in tears and oxygen being administered before he was stretchered off. Thankfully Pablo was okay, and left the ground thinking he'd scored the winner!

The 2-1 victory means Blues now head their Europa League group after three matches with two wins and a defeat. After opening with a 3-1 home defeat to Braga, our first home loss in European competition, I was worried we wouldn't take a single point from the group. Now after two away victories we sit in pole position with a golden opportunity to progress, with two of our three remaining matches at home.

Our league position looks precarious - 16th spot - but we've played three less games than everyone else already, and sit eight points off second spot. The squad that Chris Hughton has assembled for practically no money has gelled quickly and despite a punishing schedule has now won four straight matches in ominous fashion, scoring nine goals in the process. We were lucky to score nine goals in ten matches last season!

The fact is, rumblings suggest our financial position is so precarious things will get bleaker off the pitch, and will probably derail our season. But to be where we are now, making a fist of things in our first European competition for 50 years and continuing off our fine form that saw us reach two Fairs Cup Finals in the early 60s, makes me proud to be a Bluenose. And echoing the thoughts of all Blues supporters, we'd like to thank Chris Hughton, his staff and players for giving us our club back on the pitch where it matters, even if things are about to get worse off it.

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