February 9, 2013 by Made In Brum
Charlton Athletic 1 Blues 1.
After posting back-to-back wins for the first time against Burnley and Forest, Blues travelled to Charlton in buoyant mood. Expectation levels have risen a level or two, performances have gone up a gear and the dark cloud that hovered over Birmingham City has become a lighter shade.
The pitch at The Valley was appalling. Without looking for excuses, the mud bath of a surface didn’t help Blues in the first half. Passes were going astray, through balls getting stuck in the mud and the players struggled to come to terms with it. Lee Clark highlighted the issue in his press conference, admitting that it may force a more direct approach. Clark opted for his 4-3-3 come 4-5-1 formation, which he has favoured in recent away outings, with Rob Hall and Chris Burke either side of Marlon King, then Wade Elliott, Morgaro Gomis and Callum Reilly making up a middle three.
The opening five or ten minutes, Blues started positively without exciting too much. A King free-kick was cleared as far as Burke who lashed a shot over the bar.
Charlton began to get a foot hold on the game and upped the tempo a notch. Blues had Reilly to thank for an outstanding block as the ball was heading towards Dale Stephens in a dangerous position after Johnnie Jackson’s free kick. Then Paul Robinson sloppily gave the ball away to Ricardo Fuller who saw his 20 yard effort saved by Jack Butland.
Blues were causing their own problems. After two passes, they’d give the ball away, but you can’t entirely blame the pitch, there are two teams having to play on it, and the hosts were making a better fist of dealing with the circumstances as Lawrie Wilson came close with a glancing header from Stephens’ corner. Going in at the break goalless was a relief for Clark and his players. The half time pep talk must have focussed heavily on how to deal with the difficult playing surface.
The boys in blue started the second half brightly. Hall’s shot from the edge of the area was gathered by Ben Hamer and Gomis headed King’s cross wide. Blues were starting to open up gaps in the Addicks’ defence and when Elliott then teed up Hall who flashed a shot across the face of goal, you started to believe that this game was there for the taking. Top scorer King blasted over after picking up Burke’s pass as the tempo was being dictated by the visitors and the natives at The Valley were becoming agitated.
When on top in a game, you should never forget your defensive duties. Fuller gave Blues a scare as he curled narrowly wide of Butland’s post. And then minutes later Cedric Evina should have given the home side the lead after taking advantage of unorganised defending, but he lashed wide.
The travelling Bluenoses were in full voice and you sensed in a humorous mood too as they got their Bradford City flag out over the advertisement hoardings in the Jimmy Seed stand. And we thought Villa were the kings of the flags?!
The game was becoming more and more stretched as some players started looking leggy. With the ball getting stuck in the mud quite often, it’s a surprise no-one picked up a broken leg. Fuller hooked a chance over and wide before King squandered a decent opening. Referee Andy Durso turned down appeals for a Charlton penalty before Butland saved well after Scott Wagstaff’s shot during the scramble. With proceedings delicately poised, Clark replaced Gomis with Wes Thomas before Nathan Redmond took Hall’s place.
‘Feed the Horse’ rang out from the Blues end in respect of Geoff Horsfield who has been suffering from illness recently. How Blues could have done with his bull-dog like approach on the pitch this season.
With time running out, the deadlock was still to be broke. Steven Caldwell saw his header saved by Hamer after Burke’s corner. A minute later, Butland proved why he is so highly rated by pulling off a world-class save. He not only kept out Wagstaff’s stinging drive, but he held on to it. An outstanding piece of goalkeeping by the 19 year-old.
With seven minutes remaining, King wasted a free kick from a threatening position, he hit it straight into Hamer’s arms. It really was squeaky bum time. And with Blues’ lack of clean sheets, you couldn’t help but worry.
The inevitable happened in the 88th minute. Chris Solly’s cross picked out Yann Kermorgant who directed his header past Butland. Nikola Zigic came on for Reilly in what seemed to be Blues’ last throw of the dice. Getting hold of the ball would be the challenge in the four added minutes. Zigic should maybe have been bought on earlier, but let’s not nit pick.
In stoppage time, what looked like a defeat in waiting was turned into a point. Chris Burke’s cross was turned in by Elliott to rescue the game right at the death. Elliott is becoming somewhat of an unsung hero for Blues who are now unbeaten in five Championship games.
Blues ratings- *BUTLAND 8. Caddis 6. Caldwell 7. Davies 6. Robinson 6. Burke 7. Elliott 7. Gomis 6. Reilly 6. Hall 7. King 6… SUBS USED- Thomas 6. Redmond 6. Zigic n/a.
Match report by Rob Wildey.