Friday, 11 November 2022

Birmingham City 1 v Sunderland 2 - EFL Championship

Friday 11th November 2022
EFL Championship
Birmingham City (0) 1
Lukas Jutkiewicz 78
Sunderland  (1) 2
Ellis Simms 25, Amad Diallo 49
Attendance: 18,702.
Birmingham City
John Ruddy, Maxime Colin (Lukas Jutkiewicz 59), Dion Sanderson, Auston Trusty, Juninho Bacuna, Krystian Bielik, Hannibal (Tahith Chong 59), Jobe Bellingham (George Hall 59), Emmanuel Longelo, Scott Hogan, Troy Deeney (Captain).
Unused subs - Neil Etheridge, George Friend, Jordan Graham.
Anthony Patterson, Trai Hume, Bailey Wright, Danny Batth, Niall Huggins, Corry Evans (captain), Dan Neil, Amad Diallo (Patrick Roberts 65), Alex Pritchard (Jay Matete 85), Jack Clarke, Ellis Simms (Elliott Embleton 85).
Unused subs - Alex Bass, Abdoullah Ba, Jewison Bennette, Zak Johnson.
With the fixtures racking up thick and fast, it proved to be a game too far for Blues, who could have moved up into the top six of the Championship tonight, if they had beaten Tony Mowbray's Sunderland side.
But the clues that this wasn't going to be Birmingham's night were first spotted, when Troy Deeney's header left Anthony Patterson grasping at fresh air, but cannoned back off of the crossbar.
Subsequently Amad Diallo recovered possession, after it looked as if he'd had been blocked just outside Blues penalty area, twisted and turned himself out of a tight spot and rolled the ball to his right where Ellis Simms had blindsided the hosts flat-footed defence and he had the time to pick his spot, drilling his shot across the face of John Ruddy's goal just inside the far post.
Just before half-time Sunderland were let off of the hook again, when Deeney threaded an exquisite pass into the path of the prolific Republic of Ireland strike Scott Hogan, but Patterson advanced quickly from his line and managed to thwart the opportunity for Blues to draw level.
Diallo, the architect of the visitors first goal, claimed one for himself four minutes after the restart, when once again he seemed to have been halted in his tracks, but deceptively found another gear and cut inside from  right side of the Blues area and let fly with a peach of a left-footed shot that curled into the far side of the goal, turning the steep hill that John Eustace's side already had to climb into something that now resembled the north face of the Eiger.
But Birmingham City circa 2022-23 have a far more resilient look about them this term and they manfully set about the task of grafting their way back into the game, I'd swear blind that I even saw Patterson turn the kitchen sink around an upright as Blues threw everything they had at the Black Cats.
Arsenal loanee, defender Auston Trusty has weighed in with a number of goals of late and he almost halved the deficit as he broke free, but he planted his shot just over the bar.
In a bid to reorganise, Eustace made a triple substitution, which paid off when one of the trio of players he introduced: Lukas Jutkiewicz swept an Emmanuel Longelo cross into the right hand corner of the Black Cats net.
Trai Hume got a foot in to clear Dion Sanderson's shot off the line and Patterson recovered to claim the ball from the rebound. Blues continued to huff and puff but the visitors house just couldn't be blown down no matter how hard they tried, while Sunderland defended stoutly to see the game out, as Tony Mowbray ranted and raved about the referee adding stoppage time. Ugly scenes ensued, but hey! He's never exactly been a looker. However, that sort of thing won't trouble any of tonight's 2,600 vociferous travelling Sunderland fans, who saw their side hang on to win the game and move into the top-half of the table, just a point behind this season's surprise package in the Championship: Birmingham City.
FT: Birmingham City 1 v Sunderland 2

Wednesday, 2 November 2022

Birmingham City 0 v Millwall 0 - EFL Championship

Wednesday 2nd November 2022
EFL Championship
Birmingham City (0) 0
Millwall (0) 0
Attendance: 15,030 (inc. 543 away fans)
Birmingham City
John Rudy, Dion Sanderson, Harlee Dean, Auston Trusty, Maxime Colin, Hannibal (George Hall 78), Krystian Bielik, Tahith Chong (Juninho Bacuna 56), Emmanuel Longelo, Troy Deeney (C) (Lukas Jutkiewicz 78), Scott Hogan.
Unused subs: Neil Etheridge, Jordan Graham, Jordan James, Jobe Bellingham.
George Long, Danny McNamara, Charlie Cresswell, Jake Cooper (C), Murray Wallace, George Saville, Billy Mitchell, George Honeyman (Callum Styles 85), Zian Flemming, Mason Bennett (Tyler Burey 68), Andreas Vogslammer (Tom Bradshaw 85).
Unused subs: Bartosz Bialkowski, George Evans, Scott Malone, Jamie Shackleton.
'Twas a rough old night for watching football... in a torrential deluge that made even paddling up the Coventry Road towards the ground, from the roundabout, a test of physical endurance. 
It must have been a frustrating experience for both teams, endeavouring to play the game, with a ball that had taken on the guise of a beachball on a (very) gusty day at the beach, as strong winds whipped incessantly across the sodden St. Andrew's turf.
Alas, the inclement conditions dictated the sometimes frantic and rushed pace of the game, which didn't suit the home side at all as they tried to slow things down and control the game, against a rugged a battling Millwall side, who if anything adapted to the conditions better, 
But as a cohesive and solid defensive unit, Blues have addressed the frailties in their own half of the pitch, that have been their undoing in recent campaigns and fought gamely to keep a clean sheet and take a point, against their former manager Gary Rowett, who's recent track record when coming up against Birmingham, since he took charge at the South Bermondsey side, stands up to scrutiny. This was the Lions fourth drawn game in a row at St. Andrew's.
John Eustace's Blues have only conceded fifteen goals in eighteen games, which is a vast improvement on previous campaign's and one of the areas that the former QPR assistant manager had targeted to remedy on his arrival at the club in July of this year, on a three year deal. 
Chances were at a premium for both sides, as they slugged it out to the bitter end. In fact it was stoppage time before Blues had even managed a single effort on target, when George Long held on to Lukas Jutkiewicz's header.
The visitors had come closest to  breaking the deadlock, when Tyler Burey broke away from a heavily congested midfield and advanced towards Blues goal, but a composed and commanding John Ruddy, stood his ground and pounced at the optimum moment to smother the ball. 
What an astute signing the experienced Ruddy has proved to be in the much needed rebuilding of Birmingham City. His input to the overall improvement and upswing in results this season can't be under-estimated.
FT: Birmingham City 0 v Millwall 0
Which was perhaps the most predictable outcome of the season so far, right from the outset of tonight's slog of a game.
For the record. thirty-six year old: John Ruddy has actually played for England, when he came on for the second-half in a friendly international against Italy, played in Bern, Switzerland, on August 10th 2012. Roy Hodgson's side won the game 2-1. And Ruddy kept a clean sheet
Italy's goal was scored in the first-half, against Jack Butland, who began his career at Birmingham City. So now you know. You wait until that one comes up on a Question of Sport, you'll be glad that you bothered to read this: long winded, self indulgent, bullshit blog with added football content then.

Saturday, 15 October 2022

Notts County 2 v Coalville Town 3 - FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round

Saturday October 15th 2022
FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round
Notts County (1) 2
Sam Austin 9, 66
Coalville Town (2) 3
Tom McGlinchy 3
Ash Chambers 23
Lee Shaw 86
Attendance: 5,060 (1,397)
Notts County:
Young, Mahovo (Palmer 53), Rawlinson, Brindley; Taylor, Adebayo-Rowling; Francis, Bajrami, Austin, Castro (Rodrigues 53), Mitchell (Langstaff 66)
Unused subs - Slocombe, Chicksen, Nemane, Scott
Coalville Town:
White, Robertson, Dean, Eggleton (Smith 85), Putman, Thanoj, Wilson, Shaw, McGlinchey, Chambers (Kee 80), Berridge (Chitiza 75)
Unused subs - Doyle-Charles, Laban, Taylor
A few feathers were ruffled (possibly even plucked) at Meadow Lane this afternoon, where the Magpies hosted the Ravens, in a tussle for a place in the First Round of the FA Cup.
Much to the obvious delight of the 1.397 travelling fans who's made their way across from Leicestershire; the underdogs: Sothern League Premier Division (Central) side: Coalville Town, produced an upset, by knocking out the National League leaders: Notts County, at the Fourth Qualifying Round stage.
The Ravens only previous First Round game, throughout their ninety-six year history, was back in November of the 2004-05 season, when they lost 1-0 at Adams Park against Wycombe Wanderers.
County's manager Luke Williams rang the changes for this cup-tie, but as the game went on, with Coalville proving to be very formidable opponents, regular starters: Matt Palmer, Ruben Rodrigues and the prolific frontman: Macauley Langstaff, were all introduced from the bench during the second-half, to beef up the Pies artillery. 
But ultimately, although the hosts retained the ball well, almost playing it to death at times, the Ravens defended bravely, keeping their hosts at bay, while making the most of their forays into the home sides half of the pitch. 
The game was only three minutes old when Adam Stevens' side took the lead, after Tim Berridge threaded a slide-rule pass in behind the Notts defence to Tom McGlinchey, who stroked the ball past Brad Young.
A Pies fan, who was still taking his seat nearby, rather condescendingly declared: "Ooh! The magic of the FA Cup! Well that'll soon do a disappearing trick, when we win four or five-one".
"You see! Abracadabra! I told you! Who do we want in the next round?", he added, rather complacently just seven minutes later, when Sam Austin took the ball down from a Tobi Adebayo-Rowling delivery and beat Paul White to level things up.
"I don't like him!", hissed my usually polite, reserved and quietly spoken better half, in loud enough tones that the target of her disdain could hear her quite clearly. 
He glowered, but didn't say very much for the remainder of the afternoon, so well done mi' duck, fait accompli me thinks. 
Though by the time that the scheduled ninety minutes had elapsed (plus six extra nail-biting ones, for the visiting fans to endure) it wasn't only the blonde Beelzebub that had silenced him.
Because, all told, he didn't have a great deal to get excited about this afternoon... and fairly soon, the visitors were in front again, when Alex Dean broke forward for Coalville and played the ball down the right, to where Berridge carried it forward, before crossing to Ash Chambers who turned the ball into the Pies net from inside the six-yard box.
Cue Mrs W piping up: "Ooh! Look a big rainbow... and the magic of the FA Cup is back!?"
"Shall we watch Coalville in the next round as well!?", asked my increasingly, jubilant and noisy better half. Seriously! I reckon Tom Baker's scarf had less colours than hers, when he was playing Doctor Who. 
Bloody hell woman! How many teams bandwagons is it even legal for you to hitch a ride on!?
In the event, I suspect that there are more train strikes that day, so I doubt we will be going very far anyway... and besides, it might be a good idea to leave you know who at home in future, if she is of the inclination to wind people up and then hide behind me.
Coalville defended their two goal cushion up until the sixty-sixth minute, when their keeper misjudged the flight of Joel Taylor’s long knock into the area and let the ball sail over his head, to where Austin gratefully accepted the unexpected gift of a chance and nodded it into an open net.
To compound the visitors worries, County then introduced the National League's current top scorer: Macaulay Langstaff from the bench in a bid to stamp their authority on proceedings. 
Notts paid an undisclosed fee to Gateshead in the summer, for last season's National League North top scorer Langstaff, who netted thirty-two goals and provided fourteen assists as he helped to steer Gateshead towards their title win last season.
But the Ravens were undaunted by reputations and dug in deep to repel the Pies increased attacking firepower. 
And as they continued to thwart the hosts, a draw looked to be on the cards, with a subsequent replay at the Owen Street Sports Ground, or the Mander Cruickshank Solicitors Stadium as it is known for sponsorship services.
Seemingly, it was just a question of whether the 'plucky underdogs' could hold out until the final whistle. but as regular watches of the beautiful game will all know, only too well, it is seldom scripted. And one should: i) never leave early, and ii) always expect the unexpected.
In the eighty-seventh minute, Notts won a corner, but Coalville cleared their lines and quickly launched a late counter-attack. Tendai Chitiza knocked a lengthy pass into the County half towards George Wilson,  who picked up possession and ran into the Pies area before knocking the ball across the face of Young's goal. Connell Rawlinson attempted to make a last ditch clearance, but could only turn the ball into the path of  McGlinchey, whose first time shot ended up in the back of the net, as it cannoned in off of the Ravens number seven: Luke Shaw.
FT: Notts County 2 v Coalville Town 3
Football... you have to treat it with respect my friends. Because, just below the surface it's hiding and biding it's time, waiting to sink it's teeth right into your fleshy bottom.

Tuesday, 11 October 2022

Charlton Athletic 4 v Exeter City 2 - EFL League 1

Tuesday 11th October 2022
EFL League 1
At the Valley, Floyd Road, Charlton
Charlton Athletic (2) 4
Miles Leaburn 20, 
Jayden Stockley or Alex Hartridge OG 25, 
Chuks Aneke 84, 
Jack Payne 90+1
Exeter City (1) 2
Jay Stansfield 37, 
Sam Nombe 90+4
Attendance:  11,411 (inc. 833 away fans)
Charlton Athletic
Wollacott, Egbo, Inniss, O’Connell, Sessegnon (Clare 66); Rak-Sakyi (Payne 76), Dobson, Fraser, Kirk (Blackett-Taylor 76); Stockley (C) (Aneke 82), Leaburn (Morgan 66)
Unused subs - MacGillivray, McGrandles
Exeter City: 
Blackman, Caprice, Sparkes (Chauke 89), Hartridge, Harper (Kite 60), Collins, Stansfield, Nombe, Key, Brown (Cox 90+2), Sweeney (C)
Unused subs -  Brown, Smith, King, James
Exeter City won promotion to League One at the end of last season, when they finished as runners-up in League 2 (on goal-difference) to Forest Green Rovers, who themselves drew 1-1 at the Valley three days after this re-arranged fixture was originally going to be played (Saturday September 10th). But in the event it was cancelled, along with all other football, as a part of a nationwide mark of respect, when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 2nd passed away. 
Had tonight's game have gone ahead as scheduled, then Matt Taylor would still have been managing the Grecians. But during the interim he's left Exeter to take over at Rotherham United from where Paul Warne had resigned to fill the vacant hot seat at Derby County, who currently play a division below the Millers. Some might ask why an ambitious manager would drop down a rung in the Football League as a career path choice. I suspect that they should field that line of enquiry towards the money, because that is where the answer lies... and it talks the loudest too.
Subsequently today's visitors installed their Under 18 manager Kevin Nicholson and first team coach John Hill in charge, in an interim caretaker capacity, in time for their away game at Barnsley on Saturday, where they came away with a 0-2 win courtesy of a brace of goals from Jay (son of Adam) Stansfield.
On the same afternoon Ben Garner's Addicks were playing out a goalless draw at Sincil Bank.
I'm happy to report that this evening's lively encounter was the complete antithesis of Saturday's dirge of a game at Lincoln; after which I had arrived home almost traumatised by the days events and steadfastly announced that: "If that crap I've just witnessed today, is what is passing itself off as football these days, I'm going to have to find something else to do on Saturday afternoons in future, instead". 
To which Mrs W wearily replied: "Oh right, so it's Chapter ten-thousand and seventy seven of that never ending story now is it!?"
Oh shurrup you!
Football addicts all know (don't we), that just because we've sampled some ropey gear, the next fix will be a whole lot better, or the one after that, or... well, eventually something good will come of it. Won't it? Thankfully tonight was the proof of that, hook me up for another shot of the good stuff. 
My faith in football is restored, for now leastways.
Charlton's owner has Thomas Sandgaard recently (as in over the last few days) had to make a U-turn of Liz Truss proportions, by slashing the price of match tickets at the Valley, after they had risen to what was a particularly high-level for third-tier football, this season. 
That said, Addicks season-tickets are an absolute bargain and are set at more realistic levels that most definitely represent excellent value for money. 
Maybe the hike in the cost of individual tickets on a game by game basis, was an experiment, or ploy if you prefer, to see if more people would be tempted and willing to pay for the whole campaign up front, in a lump sum.
But if that was ever the case, it appears to have backfired. 
Times are hard and football supporters, just like everybody else, are having to spread costs of their leisure pursuits and lifestyle choices, while budgeting accordingly. 
I am quite sure that there are many more people who would like to be season-ticket holders at any number of clubs, but who simply can't afford the outlay all in one go, as priorities take precedence.. 
And these are the same fans who will be put off by the increased costs of watching football, on an match by match basis, as and when they're able to go... assuming they haven't already been priced out.
Clubs putting up prices for those that buy tickets on the actual day of any given game, is a practice that is understandably resented as well. Although Charlton aren't alone in practising this specific brand of extortion, in fact they are one of three clubs that sidestepped already this season, as a veto against these pay on the day surcharges which are becoming more and more commonplace.
I don't know about you, but I'm definitely of the mindset that says: why the effing hell would I pay £26 on the day of a match, when the same ticket was £3 cheaper yesterday? 
It's the same seat, the same view and the same bloody game when all is said and done... and if (as happens on occasions) I've  had to wait until the morning of a match to find out if I could definitely attend or not, why on earth would I have bought a ticket in advance, just on the off-chance that I might be able to use it?
Mr Sandgaard, who in August of 2020 said that he expected it to take "a couple of years" to gain the trust of the Addicks' fanbase, now appears to be more concerned with 'breaking even' financially at the club, than making regular announcements about his grandiose ambitions, such as the target of a second placed finish League 1 this season and returning to the Premier League in the next five years.
30th Anniversary in December 
Not that good housekeeping and sensible planning moneywise isn't a wise and prudent course to take. Caution prevents abortion, as the saying goes, But a bit of consultation and goodwill goes a long way. Addicks fans know these things, more than most, given their recent history. 
And on that very subject, if you weren't already aware of the timescale involved, in December it will be exactly thirty years since Charlton Athletic returned to the Valley, following their 'hiatus' at Selhurst Park and more latterly Upton Park. 
But, getting back on topic; increasingly delicate matters have not been helped by club officials, employed by Sandgaard, hitting out at the fans on social media for not turning up at games in sufficient numbers to financially prop up the club owner. 
I hear that the Supporters Trust at the Valley are seeking a face to face meeting with the club owner, to discuss all the the above, plus a number of other issues that have arisen of late. 
It's best practice to defuse ticking time-bombs, I would have thought. So hopefully some helpful dialogue will see a few wrinkles that are beginning to develop ironed out, so that people can start to focus on the football again, which'd make a nice change.
Ah yes, football, that was why I was in south London tonight, so moving swiftly on: the Addicks impressed me no end against their visitors from Devon, as they slammed the door firmly shut on an eight-game winless run in League One, with a performance that all of those present enthusiastically warmed to.
The game was twenty minutes old when Charlton capitalised on their lively start and took the lead (it had been coming), when George Dobson played a defence flummoxing pass forward from a central position to pick out the run of Miles Leaburn, who swapped the ball between his feet, before unleashing a right-footed shot past Jamal Blackman, as he advanced into the area.
And inside five minutes, the home side doubled their lead, when Scott Fraser crossed to Jayden Stockley, who's shot across the face of the visitors goal hit Alex Hartridge and changed direction, taking it away from Blackman and into the back of the net.
Feel free to argue amongst yourselves, as to whether it was Stockley's goal to claim or Hartridge's own goal, I'm sure that both players would give you the same answer if you asked them... either way it was 2-0.
In the thirty-seventh minute, Jay Stansfield, a former Exeter City youth team player, who is back at the club on loan from Premier League side Fulham, finished well from twenty yards out, to half the deficit
The game ebbed and flowed nicely well into the second-half and Exeter almost drew level in the seventy-fourth minute, when Jack Sparkes' strike crashed against Joe (or is it Jo Jo) Wollacott's crossbar.
With eight minutes remaining Chuks Aneke was introduced from the Addicks bench with immediate effect, scoring with his first touch just moments later, when he latch on to the ball in the visitors goalmouth after Dobson's shot had been blocked.
Aneke was also involved in Charlton's fourth goal, when fed the ball out wide to Corey Blackett-Taylor on the left flank, who crossed for Jack Payne to head home as the game went into stoppage time.
Five minutes into added time, Aneke inadvertently contributed to another goal, when he conceded a penalty, (allegedly) toppling Sam Nombe inside the Charlton area... and the same Grecians player got up to score from the resulting penalty.
But it was too late for the visitors to mount a comeback and Charlton's fans went home happy with the impressive style shown during tonight's win, the high tempo level of the performance displayed by their favourite team and the full-time score.
FT: Charlton Athletic 4 v Exeter City 2
On the subject of Charlton striving to get more bums on seats at the Valley... I reckon that a few more easy on the eye recitals of the beautiful game, in all of it's splendorous glory, coupled with an upturn in results, would soon have those turnstiles clicking more steadily again. 
Or is it too much to hope that tonight's thoroughly entertaining fare wasn't just a one off? 
Only time will tell... watch this space!
Exeter entertain Oxford United on Saturday, while the Addicks will be back at the Valley on Monday night, when Portsmouth are the visitors. And I have it on very good authority that I will be here again then too.

Saturday, 8 October 2022

Lincoln City 0 v Charlton Athletic 0 - EFL League 1

Saturday 8th October 2022
EFL League 1
At Sincil Bank/The LNER Stadium
Lincoln City (0) 0
Charlton Athletic (0) 0
Attendance: 8,160 (inc. 658 away fans)
Lincoln City: 
Rushworth, Poole (C), Jackson, Sanders (Oakley-Boothe 79), O’Connor, House, Mandroiu (Garrick 63), Eyoma, Roughan (Robson 69), Virtue, Diamond
Unused subs - Wright, Vernam, Sorensen
Charlton Athletic
Wollacott, Egbo, Inniss, O’Connell, Sessegnon (Clare 76); Rak-Sakyi (Payne 90+4), Dobson (McGrandles 88), Fraser, Kirk (Blackett-Taylor 76), Stockley (C), Leaburn
Unused subs - MacGillivray, Thomas, Morgan
Two below par, lower-table third-tier sides, plodded listlessly through this unspectacular, no frills, no thrills and mind-numbingly dull approximation of a game of football at Sincil Bank this afternoon.
It wouldn't have surprised anybody who was present to witness this grim encounter, that it eventually ended in a goalless stalemate... because if truth be told, it probably already had, long before the final-whistle finally sounded to put a crowd of 8,160 out of their misery. 
If the Imps and the Addicks had carried on playing until midnight (possibly tomorrow), it's conceivable that neither team would have broken the deadlock.
Between them two out of sorts teams only managed to muster a single shot on target apiece in the first half and none at all after the break.
Charlton had the first chance thirty-five minutes in, when Miles Leaburn broke forward with intent into the Imps penalty area, but he didn't strike the ball particularly well and directed his shot straight at the Lincoln keeper Carl Rushworth, who spilled it, but recovered and clawed the ball back on the line. 
But, had it already crossed the line though?
The celebrating Addicks players certainly thought so. The assistant referee couldn't confirm matters because he was several yards behind the run of play. There is no goal-line technology or VAR in League One... and bizarrely, the referee Robert Lewis, was otherwise occupied when the incident occurred, because at the precise moment that Leaburn was poised to shoot, the official pulled up injured and went to ground approximately thirty yards away from the action and would subsequently take no further part in the game.
The fourth official Abbas Khan took over the officiating duties, with what turned out to be hilarious consequences. Well, they did if you happen to have a particularly sick, twisted and warped sense of humour. 
Khan made some unfathomable decisions (that frustrated and bafflee both sets of fans equally) and possibly had put a tenner riding on a goalless draw at Ladbrokes, when he ignored a brace of Charlton penalty appeals involving both Leaburn and Jayden Stockley.
Lincoln would have gone in a goal to the good at half-time had it not been for the agility of Jojo Wollacott, who did well to save Daniel Mandroiu's stoppage time volley.
Granted, despite their limitations in the attacking third of the pitch, where there was a woeful paucity of meaningful application, both sides looked more than capable of defending solidly enough, and guarded their respective goals well. 
But goals win games. That said, a clean sheet and a point apiece, possibly wasn't the worse outcome for two lacklustre sides who're currently wobbling haphazardly just above the wrong end of the table, as Lincoln finished the day three points above the bottom four and Charlton two.
"Oi! Steward. Sit down!"
Throughout the game, the ball was moved about briskly and plentifully, either side of the halfway line. But though there is obviously a time and a place for playing widthways across midfield and back (and back again); to actually win a game of football it is preferable to play towards the opposition goal occasionally too, while endeavouring to pass the ball to somebody wearing the same colour shirt as the one that you've got on yourself.
In conclusion, two teams had an off day and it was bloody horrible to watch, with only moments of comedic refereeing alleviate the boredom.
FT: Lincoln City 0 v Charlton Athletic 0

Wednesday, 5 October 2022

Middlesbrough 1 v Birmingham City 0 - EFL Championship

Wednesday October 5th 2022
EFL Championship
At the Riverside Stadium
Middlesbrough (1) 1
Chuba Akpom 23
Birmingham City (0) 0
Attendance: 22,374
Zack Steffen, Paddy McNair, Dael Fry, Marc Bola, Anfernee Dijksteel (Tommy Smith 82), Hayden Hackney (Riley McGree 64), Jonny Howson (C), Ryan Giles (Darragh Lenihan 69), Matt Crooks, Rodrigo Muniz (Duncan Watmore 82), Chuba Akpom (Marcus Forss 69).
Unused subs - Liam Roberts, Alex Mowatt.
Birmingham City
John Ruddy, Maxime Colin (Jordan James 87), Dion Sanderson, Auston Trusty, Jordan Graham, Juninho Bacuna (Hannibal 46), Krystian Bielik (George Hall 79), Tahith Chong (Jobe Bellingham 87), Emmanuel Longelo, Scott Hogan, Troy Deeney (C) (Lukas Jutkiewicz 79).
Unused subs - Neil Etheridge, Jonathan Leko.
I work in the 'great outdoors'... and it's been tipping it down with rain all day. The really wet kind of stuff  that gets right through to your pants and socks and chills you to the bone.
But hey! It's character building and as soon as I got home, peeled off my sopping wet clothes, had a nice warm restorative shower and dug out my winter apparel, it was time to drive north to chilly Teesside. Or should I say aquaplane, through the surface water on the A1 and A19 for a couple of hours, each way. Woo hoo! Where else would anyone want to be on a wet and grim October night? It's a rhetorical question by the way.
You're all stuck in your nice warm house, watching the game on Sky's red button service from the comfort of your settee, while I'm out late on a school night and living the dream, before that 5.30AM alarm mockingly awakes me in the morning and reminds me that: just ever so occasionally, I don't half make some unfathomably daft life-style choices.
Football is not a TV programme you light-weights, but for the most part it is most definitely a Winter sport and the seasonal climate isn't always going to be pretty. Maybe Chris Wilder, excused of his managerial duties at Middlesbrough just two days ago had a good excuse for staying in and watching the telly, but the rest of you? Pah!
Scott Hogan
Michael Salisbury the match referee possibly needed to slow down and put his windscreen wipers on too, due to poor visibility badly affecting his judgement. Fifteen minutes into the game, Scott Hogan (a Republic of Ireland international) got in behind the Boro defence, where he was the last man and clear through on Zack Steffen's goal. But Paddy McNair (a Northern Ireland international) got hold of Hogan's shirt and halted his run by pulling him back.
Straight red, no backchat, no case for an appeal and a definite disadvantage to the hosts... surely!?
Hmm, apparent not! A clear goal-scoring chance denied and Mr Salisbury merely brandished a yellow card at McNair. Juninho Bacuna curled the resulting free-kick narrowly wide, once Steffen had readjusted his position and the hosts defence had reorganised.
I'll let you tell the visiting supporters who'd put the effort in to get to the Riverside Stadium in the pissing rain on a Tuesday night that these sort of decisions balance themselves out over the course of a season. Especially when less than eight minutes later, the hosts took a lead when Chuba Akpom forced the ball past John Ruddy from Rodrigo Muniz's flick on, after Blues defence had struggled to clear a corner.
Tahith Chong
Mind you it wasn't just the referee who was having eyesight problems tonight;, the north-east press corps mentioned the McNair v. Hogan incident (after a fashion) but had mistaken the Blues number 9 for his teammate Tahith Chong. Everybody makes mistakes when giving eye-witness accounts of football matches (flick back through previous posts on this blog for further evidence to substantiate that claim), but Hogan and Chong don't look even slightly similar. Well, do they!?
Steffen, rubbing salt into open wounds, denied Hogan towards the end of the first-half when he snaffled a chance to intercept and under-hit  a back-pass by Anfernee Dijksteel.
And the Boro keeper continued to frustrate Blues after the break, saving efforts from Tahith Chong and Emmanuel Longelo.
Marcus Forss was in an offside position when he netted from close range when Rodrigo Muniz shot against the crossbar and the ball fell to him. The ref and his assistant both spotted that one and it was still game on as Blues stormed towards the Boro goal in stoppage time. Alas, three minutes into the five that he had allocated, that bloody Salisbury bloke blew for time, with Lukas Jutkiewicz en route to grab a late equalizer against one of his former clubs.
Look out for the match official in Argos tomorrow morning, taking his watch back for a refund because it's still under guarantee and quite obviously isn't waterproof, which caused it to malfunction tonight.
FT: Middlesbrough 1 v. Birmingham City 0
By the way, it's still not a good time to talk to those travelling Brummies about decisions balancing out over the course of a season.
Fingers crossed for the drive home... I'm on early shifts tomorrow, while Michael Salisbury will no doubt be sleeping, if his conscience allows him once he's watched a few things back tonight.

Saturday, 1 October 2022

Sheffield United 1 v Birmingham City1 - EFL Championship

Saturday 1st October 2022
EFL Championship
At Bramall Lane
Sheffield United (0) 1
Ollie McBurnie 64
Birmingham City (0) 1
Troy Deeney 70
Attendance: 29,927
Sheffield United
Wes Foderingham, Chris Basham, John Egan (C), Rhys Norrington-Davies, George Baldock, Sander Berge, Oliver Norwood, Tommy Doyle (Rhian Brewster 64), Reda Khadra (Jayden Bogle 64), Iliman Ndiaye (James McAtee 89), Oli McBurnie (Billy Sharp 69)
Unused subs - Adam Davies, Oliver Arblaster, Kyron Gordon
Birmingham City
John Ruddy, Maxime Colin, Dion Sanderson, Auston Trusty, Jordan Graham, Juninho Bacuna (Hannibal 65), Krystian Bielik, Tahith Chong (George Hall 81), Emmanuel Longelo, Scott Hogan (Lukas Jutkiewicz 90), Troy Deeney (C) (Jobe Bellingham 90+1)
Unused subs - Neil Etheridge, Jonathan Leko, Jordan James
Blues moved up to vertigo inducing fifteenth place in the table by virtue of digging in deep, working their socks off and holding Paul Heckingbottom's Championship leaders Sheffield United to a draw with a determined performance this afternoon, at what is known to the locals around these parts as: 'Beautiful downtown Bramall Lane'.
Oli McBurnie put the hosts ahead with a smartly taken goal in the sixty-fourth minute, but shortly afterwards Troy Deeney's first goal of the season denied the Blades what would've been a fifth successive victory in a ten game unbeaten run, while Birmingham City themselves have now clocked up four without loss.
A healthy turn out of 29,927, which included a completely sold out visitors section (lower tier, Bramall Lane End), made their way to this afternoon's game, regardless of the fact that no trains were running because of the ongoing industrial action by the RMT and ASLEF, which I fully support and am actively involved with. But, THE66POW isn't a political soapbox, so moving swiftly on.
It may well be Deeney's first goal in seventeen outings, but he brings so much more to the table than goals alone. But don't just take my word for it, ask his teammates what he has to offer, or better still, ask any opposition player that's just gone toe to toe against the Blues captain for a full shift.
Sander Berge, United's Norwegian international was so impressed with Deeney's shift today that he asked to swap shirts with him after the final whistle. 
Then that nice Mr Deeney spotted an adolescent Blades fan in the South Stand as he was leaving the pitch and presented the excited youngster with Berge's shirt. What a pleasant chap, eh!?
In the build up to today's game, a number of Blades fans I know where predicting two things: i) Their team would beat 'that lot' today, and ii) Birmingham will get relegated this season because they can't keep escaping the drop like they have been doing for the last few years, forever.
It would be interesting to hear if any of them have revised their opinion of  'that lot' following this performance, that saw 'dem Blades struggle to put one over Blues, in a game that could've gone either way right until the very (late) end. 
Sitting in United's Shoreham End, I heard a lot of anger vented at Birmingham players for allegedly running the clock down, by staying grounded after being fouled.
A bottom-half of the table side, go to play away from home the league leaders and use up a bit of time whenever the opportunity arises... it's called gamesmanship and any team in the same position would do exactly the same. 
I countered that argument with, yes maybe, there had been a bit of lead-swinging from time to time, but the referee added seven minutes on at the end of the game to offset any of that (and actually allowed the game to run on for an extra nine minutes). And besides, if you don't want opposition players 'requiring lengthy attention' from their club physio, then bloody stop fouling them.
The Blades are a class side and have a whole host of players that can get in behind the opposition and hurt them. 
But credit where it is due, John Eustace's side, though obviously still only a work in progress (as of yet), stood up to be counted today and presented the home side with far more of a formidable challenge to break down than a lot of people had been anticipating.
Blues still have some way to go before they can be considered promotion hopefuls, or even prospective play-off contenders, for the time being at least. But some astute recruitment and smart usage of the loan system, combined with the added bonus of a wealth of young talent coming up through the ranks and a healthy percentage of wise old heads overseeing the development of this squad, is beginning to show just how much progress has been made at the club and there's a feeling of growing cautious optimism and belief among the fans,... on the field of play at least, that this team are a cut above the perennial strugglers and also rans that Birmingham had become in recent years. 
United started on the front foot and took the game to the visitors, but found the well organised Birmingham defence, that included the impressive twenty-one year old debutant, Emmanuel Longelo (on loan from West Ham United), to be a tough nut to crack, while the Blues experienced keeper John Ruddy was a commanding presence, especially on crosses and high balls into his domain. 
Tommy Doyle's overhit cross evaded a cluster of his teammates in Ruddy's six-yard box and skimmed off the crossbar. While Sander Berge's low shot glanced off of Iliman Ndiaye and almost provided the Blades with an opener.
But after absorbing the early pressure, Eustace's side grew into the game and began to get forward more themselves, using the width of of flanks with Juninho Bacuna and Tahith Chong in particular, digging the ball out of the crowded midfield and feeding their overlapping full-backs/wing-backs.
Subsequently it was Bacuna, and Chong in particular who were getting caught the most by a flurry of late challenges and fouls.
Right at the end of the first-half Krystian Bielik headed over from a Chong delivery, as a frustrated home side began to get niggly, with Rhys Norrington-Davies pushing Bacuna in the chest twice, which the referee Darren Bond chose to let go for reasons best known only to himself.
As the second half got underway, the needle that had developed towards the end of the first period continued as Bielik and Berge tangled off the ball on the halfway line. An undignified spat ensued during which McBurnie was yellow-carded for his part in the hostilities.
Scott Hogan and Jordan Graham, both went close for Blues, before play switched in the opposite direction and McBurnie won a free-kick, that ultimately led to to the goalmouth action from which the Blades took the lead. 
From my vantage point,  Auston Trusty who was alleged to have fouled McBurnie, was possibly on the receiving end of some crafty gamesmanship on the part of prolific Scottish international striker, who made the most of the situation when he hit the deck, thus proving that all teams do it and one must take the rough with the smooth when these tenuous decisions either go for or against you.
But within six minutes, Blues were level when Chong's cross from the right, glanced off Berge's head as he jumped for the ball with Bielik and landed nicely for Deeney who made light work of smashing it past Wes Foderingham right in front of the visiting supporters.
The high tempo of the game continued right up until the final whistle, with neither side seemingly content to settle for just a solitary point for their efforts. But though both sides had chances to claim the spoils all for themselves, one-apiece and all square was exactly how it finished. A fair eflection on the game I thought, though no doubt their will be people in both camps who will think that their respective team deserved to win.
United will, of course, be looking to finish above Birmingham City this season... and in all likelihood they will. But at least they'll know that they had been in a proper game today, while Blues fans will head home happy with the fact that there are tangible signs of progress and improvement in their team and that the foundations are in place for a less stressful campaign, away from the lower reaches of the table. Consistency and realistic levels of expectancy will be the key, 
FT: Sheffield United 1 v Birmingham City 1
This coming midweek QPR visit the Blades on Tuesday night while Blues are on the road again on the following night when they travel to Middlesbrough. I'll be at one of those games.