Thursday, 3 March 2016

Birmingham City 1 v Hull City 0 - Sky Bet Championship... incorporating Huddersfield Town U21 1 v Birmingham City U21 0 - PU21DL

Thursday 3rd March 2016
SkyBet Championship
at St. Andrews
Birmingham City (1) 1
Jon Toral 14
Hull City (0) 0
Admission ex gratis, guest list. Programme £3.00
Attendance 18,104 inc 591 from Hull (Game was being shown live on TV)
For tonight's match preview from the Birmingham City website click HERE and for Hull City's version of events click HERE
A couple of weeks ago I watched these two sides respective U21 teams battle it out on a very cold night in North Ferriby where Hull won 2-1.
Tonight I attended the first team game as an invited guest of a famous friend.
That is to say, he isn't a TV celebrity or well known footballer or 'owt like that, but his legacy has been recorded in several books pertaining to one one of tonight's clubs, but I'm not one to namedrop. Suffice to say, it wasn't Jasper Carrot, but in many other ways, the guy is a comedian.
A pre-match 'snack' of pork and black pudding sausages with leek mash was eagerly devoured at the ground, seeing that I'd only had a handful (or two) Jaffa Cakes to sustain me over the day, as I drove around the highways and byways of Yorkshire and the Midlands, taking in this lunchtime's 1-0 defeat for Blues Under 21 side against Huddersfield Town at the John Smith's Stadium, before heading south and arriving in the so called 'second city', before abandoning my car on Coventry Road and making my
way to our base camp in the Post Office Vaults, a downstairs city centre public house with a growing reputation for supplying a great selection of independently brewed ales.
I'm sure that the staff get fed up up of having dreary old men asking them if they can buy some stamps and a postal order, but I'll never tire of doing it, so they'll just have think themselves lucky that the converted bar isn't on the premises of a former chemists.
We also nipped up the hill to the Wellington, as you do, which is a larger public hose with an even bigger choice of bespoke beverages... anybody that's ever travelled to Birmingham with me will know that it's mandatory to visit both of these premises when you're in this neck of the woods.
In case anybody is wondering... I wasn't driving home later, having taken my turn(s) earlier, so I could sample a few beers for the first time since October (and the last time for a while too), so ta very much Mr Designated Driver of the Parish of Calverton, you sir... are a gent!. Don't drink and drive kids, we must have safety on the Queen's highway.
My prescribed medication keeps me amused and upbeat these days, but I fancied a change today on the first of my five days in a row off work, so I skipped my regular dose... and by all accounts I was on good form, though I suspect that wasn't necessarily a compliment.
For the benefit of those of you who care (and I know that probably encompasses just about every reader of this blog), Rekeil Pyke scored the only goal of the game for the young Terriers in the 51st minute earlier on, while Kyle McFarlane, George O'Brien and Alex Jones all went close for Birmingham and Josh Martin crashed the ball against the crossbar with virtually the last kick of the game.
I'm told that the edited highlights will be appearing on the Huddersfield Town website tomorrow.
Moving on, here are some fascinating pre-match facts ahead of tonight's encounter for you... well, I thought they were interesting anyway:
In 2002 and 2007, Hull City's current boss Steve Bruce, won promotion to the Premier League while in was still in charge at Birmingham City.
In their last ten matches, both teams have proved to be very tight in defence, with the Tigers keeping seven clean sheets, while Blues have had six shut outs.
The bookies had given 21/10 for the draw, whereas a home win was 29/10 and a Hull victory carried the slimline odds 11/10. I cautiously stuck a whole five pounds on the draw. D'oh!
This 1-0 win for Gary Rowett's Blues, was massive as regards their own play off aspirations and in the way it impacts those teams who are actually going for the title.
A point for Hull tonight would've seen them go top, but in the event, this narrow victory for Birmingham, means they are just one point behind Sheffield Wednesday who currently occupy the last play off berth. Blues and the Owls have both played 34 games apiece... it's going to be tight at the top, as a fascinating run in towards the end of the season unfolds.
The first half was a compelling end to end affair, with Jon Toral opening the scoring for Blues in the 14th minute, when Dave Cotterill dispossessed Michael Dawson out on the right flank and played a sideways pass to Toral who was just outside the goal area, the loanee from Arsenal showed some good touches and turned a full 360 degrees, before unleashing a shot that wrong footed Allan McGregor in the Tigers goal, as it took a deflection off Curtis Davies.
Prior to Toral's goal Hull had gone 477 minutes without conceding a goal, that's some record!
Cotterill is obviously getting back to his best again, following a lay off through injury, which must be as good as a new signing for Rowett and his assistant, the vastly experienced former Blues player Mark Sale, who had been registered to play for sixteen teams during his varied career.
Just in case the question ever pops up in a pub quiz, make a mental note of 44 year old Sale's clubs:
1990/1991 Stoke City, 1991/1992 Cambridge United, 1992 Rocester, 1992/1993 Birmingham City, 1993/1994  Torquay United, 1994/1995 Preston North End, 1995/1997 Mansfield Town, 1997/1999 Colchester United, 1999 Plymouth Argyle (loan), 1999/2001 Rushden & Diamonds, 2001/2002 Doncaster Rovers, 2002/2003 Tamworth, 2003 Hucknall Town (loan), 2003/2005 Alfreton Town, 2005/2007 Northwich Victoria, 2007 Hednesford Town.
He scored 12 goals in 45 appearances for Mansfield Town... I saw them all!
"Boom, boom, boom, let me hear you say Sale, way ho!", what a classic terrace chant that one was, eh!?
And if you don't ever encounter such a question, you're drinking in the wrong pubs.
Left click to enlarge image
As the first half unfolded, it was refreshing to see that both teams were committed to attacking and going for all three points. Paul Robinson headed over from Dave Cotterill's cross in the opening exchanges and once Toral had fired the home side ahead, Hull almost responded immediately when Jake Livermore crashed the ball against the upright and shortly afterwards Michael Dawson got round the back of Blues defence and skimmed a close range header narrowly over the bar as Snodgrass delivered an inviting free kick into the mix from out on the right wing.
Maikel Kieftenbeld was a whisker away from releasing Clayton Donaldson when he drilled the ball through the middle of Hull's defence, but Allan McGregor was out quick to deal with the situation.
Jamaican international Donaldson was at Hull City earlier in his career.
Former Mansfield Town forward Sam Clucas made a brilliant run forward, leaving his marker for dead, but then the former Chesterfield player Sam Clucas blatantly handled the ball on the referee's blind side and shot feebly straight at Tomasz Kuszczak.
Cotterill's cross was cleared as far as Stephen Gleeson, who hooked the ball towards Donaldson and McGregor had to tip the ball over at full stretch as the powerful front man executed a stunning overhead kick that was destined for the roof of the net.
Once again Cotterill emerged with the ball down the right flank and as three defenders stood off waiting for him to make his next move the Welsh international chipped the ball over them and into the path of Toral who stooped forward and headed narrowly wide.
Paul Caddis sprinted forward, took a return pass from Toral and squared the ball to Jacques Maghoma who had run into the right channel, alas it is a good job there is an upper tier on the Gil Merrick Stand or that one would be bouncing down the hill into McDonald's car park.
Blues cleared a corner to the edge of their area, Livermore reached the ball first but could only direct the loose ball over the bar.
Right on the stroke of half time Mo Diame homed in on goal, but Robinson was tracking him back and the Hull number 17 had to rush his shot and the ball flew high and wide of the mark.
HT: City 1 v City 0
I didn't take this photo.
Well I did, so to speak, because I took it from a Google search.
After the break, Hull had the lions share (or Tigers share if you must) of the attacking play, but Birmingham battled gamely to keep them at bay with the home sides keeper Tomasz Kuszczak pulling off several first rate saves.
As the visitors piled forward, it did leave them vulnerable to counter attacks, but for the most part it was Birmingham who were on the back foot during the second half.
Robert Snodgrass had a great game down the right for Hull and caused Blues problems all night.
Cotterill and Toral combined with the latter looping a pass towards Donaldson, who was held down by Moses Odubago while Dawson cleared the ball. After the game Steve Bruce complained that the referee hadn't done his job... well yeah, Stephen Martin is only human when all is said and done, but he'd already missed Odubago's foul and the handball by Clucas earlier in the game.
On the hour Hull made a double tactical substitution with Diame and Huddlestone being replaced by Adama Diomande and Nick Powell, with Huddlestone showing his obviously displeasure at being withdrawn.
The Tigers appeared to switch to three at the back as they chased the game, but I could be mistaken, my old eyes aren't what they used to be.
Abel Hernandez was linking up well with the Hull substitute Diomande in the final third as the visitors applied more pressure. Clucas knocked the ball back to Powell out on the left flank, but his long range shot would have done Johnny Wilkinson proud at Twickenham.
The scores on the doors after tonight's game.
Diomande scuffed Powell's cross over from ten yards as Hull kept the squeeze on the home side's hard working defence.
Cotterill, who'd given his all was rested in the 76th minute, with Rowett understanding that he isn't quite ready for a whole ninety minutes yet and David Davis came on in his place, Odubajo was replaced by Ahmed Elmohamady for Hull at the same time... he turned out to be a proper live wire as the visitors stepped up the ante.
Robinson did well to get himself in the way of Hernandez's shot on the edge of the area, there was a strong claim for handball and the ball certainly crashed off of the 37 year old old eternally youthful Robinson's arm, but the referee ruled that it had been an unavoidable ball to hand. A bit of a let off for Blues I'd say, because unintentional or otherwise, it was a goal scoring chance. Maybe Mr Martin was having an amnesty on handballs tonight given that he'd overlooked Sam Clucas auditioning for the Harlem Globetrotters earlier in the game.
Blues countered and Cotterill drilled a shot just wide of the upright after Kieftenbeld had picked him out with a pass from midfield.
Steve Bruce doing one of his old jobs
Kuszczak heroically blocked Livermore's close range knock from Snodgrass' pass down by his left hand post. 
And within moments he was in action again when he brilliantly saved a thumping twenty yard shot from Snodgrass and then recovered to save from Clucas off the rebound.
At the end of the game, Clayton Donaldson was presented with the man of the match award... and in fairness he'd put in an all action lung busting shift, but if I'd had to choose, I think that I would have to toss a coin to pick one of Tomasz Kuszczak and Robert Snodgrass; a player from each team, how fair and unbiased am I!?
Hull were sustaining their grip, but Blues broke forward again and Maghoma's on target shot took a deflection off a Hull defender and careered away from the goal for a corner... or a goal kick in Stephen Martin's eyes! Once again endorsing the views of Steve Bruce (who is still a legend round these parts).
Hull had a string of chances as the clock ticked down, they were leaving three or four players up while defending corners and chucking everything they could at Birmingham.
But the home side held on and claimed all three of the points for themselves, having played an open and attack minded first half, while showing a lot of tenacity and will power in the second.
Hull will play a lot worse than they did in that second half this season and win.
FT: Birmingham City 1 v Hull City 0
Yet again, winter is hanging on with a vengeance, it's March FFS! But I haven't got to get up in the morning so we took it steady on the way home.
Respect to Birmingham City who charged no more the £10 for any seat in the house tonight, with discounts for concessions and children.
Tomorrow night Middlesbrough are at home against Wolves in the Championship, that game is also live on TV, if we want to go there, it will set us back £32 a seat... not effing likely!