December 7, 2012 by Made In Brum
After the promotion of 2008/09, Alex McLeish delved into the transfer market and made no fewer than ten signings. Scott Dann, Giovanny Espinoza, Roger Johnson, Christian Benitez, Lee Bowyer, Barry Ferguson, Jay O’Shea, Joe Hart, Gregory Vignal and a few weeks later, Teemu Tainio, all came to St. Andrews.
Little did we know, this season would see the start of a blossoming central defence partnership, and one of the best in Blues’ recent years. The takeover talk (not as much of a wrangle as it is today) was still ongoing, although Carson Yeung has paid a deposit and set a deadline for his takeover.
The ‘Theatre of Dreams’ was the venue for the first game. After going a goal down to a Wayne Rooney strike, Benitez (Chucho) squandered a one-on-one late on and despite the loss, Blues took heaps of praise from the media for their performance.
First-up at St. Andrews was Portsmouth. With the game looking like a dead-lock, a James McFadden penalty in stoppage time earned McLeish’s men the three points. A goalless draw at home to Stoke and a 2-1 loss away at Spurs followed before the Birmingham derby.
Delicately poised at 0-0 and Blues denied a stonewall penalty, Gabby Agbonlahor’s header five minutes from time was as painful as it was undeserved as Villa won the game 1-0.
Blues bounced back with a win at Hull City, Garry O’Connor scoring the goal but three straight defeats followed at home to Bolton and away to Burnley and Arsenal. A 2-1 win (Ridgewell, McFadden) at home to Sunderland completed October.
In November, its fair to say Blues faired better. A goalless draw at home to Man City (Barry Ferguson sent off) and a 2-2 draw at Anfield against Liverpool (I remember it well, it was my birthday). That game, we were robbed. After going behind to a David Ngog striker, Chucho and a Cameron Jerome worldy put Blues 2-1 up, before an Ngog dive was seen as a penalty by referee Peter Walton. Steven Gerrard dispatched the penalty. Two single goal wins against Fulham and Wolves topped off Blues’ unbeaten November. What we didn’t realise was that this was the start of an unbelievable and record breaking undefeated run., 12 in the league to be precise.
December was a fantastic month for McLeish and his troops. 14 points out of 18 were won. Wins against Wigan, West Ham, Blackburn and Stoke and draws against Everton and Chelsea saw Blues flying high. In the new year, they held Man United at home before Chelsea spoiled Blues’ party with a 3-0 win, ending the unbeaten run.
The FA Cup, the competition that has never favoured Blues, showed some real promise in January. Blues overcame Nottingham Forest after a replay in the third round in front of just 9,399 at St. Andrews. The fourth round saw a tricky tie away to Everton, but Blues won thanks to goals from Chucho and Ferguson, winning 2-1. They were in the hat for the fifth round and were drawn out against Derby County. Michel and Craig Gardner joined the club.
During the impressive mid-season form, Christian Benitez was magnificent alongside Jerome. But a lot of people’s praises went to Johnson and Dann at the back, many going as far as suggesting an England call-up for one of them. Of course, playing for Birmingham City, it never happened.
After a last minute equaliser against Spurs, Blues completed the double over Wolves. Kevin Phillips netting twice in five minutes as Blues came from behind. Defeats at West Ham and Fulham came before a beating Wigan at St. Andrews. But don’t forget that memorable cup clash at Derby. After going behind, goals from Dann and Ridgewell (deep into added time) ensured Blues’ place in the quarter final draw. One tie from Wembley.
The FA cup last eight kicked off March. But live on ITV, Blues were lacklustre as they lost 2-0 to Portsmouth. However, Ridgewell put the ball over the line at 2-0, the goal was judged to have been cleared off the line. Replays proved the goal should have stood, maybe that would have changed the game, it just wasn’t meant to be. Would Blues ever get to Wembley??
Travelling to Portsmouth twice in three days isn’t usually a good experience. But the league game between the team was better than the cup defeat as Blues won 2-1.
Soon after though, Blues went eight league games without a win. They drew four (Everton, Arsenal, Liverpool, Hull) and lost four (Sunderland, Blackburn, Man City and Villa). The second Birmingham derby of the season was a travesty. The boys in blue had soaked up all of Villa’s early pressure and then for an hour, battered them. But a James Milner 83rd minute spot-kick won it for the Village People.
Aiming for their highest league position since the mid 60’s, Blues beat Burnley 2-1, and despite a final day loss at Bolton, Alex McLeish has led Blues to a 9th place finish. After 38 games, Blues won 13, drew 11 and lost 14. Scoring 38 goals meant an average of exactly one goal a game.
With Jerome the top scorer with just 11, McLeish would have to sign a goalscorer if the club were going to match this next term… Despite the impressive finish, McLeish was still criticised for his style of football. But he had done what he needed to, and won games.