Sat in a December chill at the Tilton Road end there was little to stir the senses with the performance on show. On the contrary in fact. The overwhelming emotion upon leaving the ground was one of anger, dissapointment and even disgust.
Hearing the announcment of McLeish’s starting line-up did little to raise the freezing temperature and set pulses racing. Starting an out-and-out left back, in David Murphy, at left midfield left little to the imagination, as did the inclusion of Damien Johnson and Lee Carsley – paired together in quite possibly the least creative central midfield partnership imaginable. With James McFadden starting wide on the right, immediately meaning he would only ever cut inside onto his favoured left foot, and the abysmal Marcus Bent partnering Kevin Phillips up front there were certainly warning signs that this was to be a frustrating afternoon.
The first half confirmed these fears. For long periods Swansea looked untouchable, passing the ball in sophisticated triangles and displaying movement which looked beyong the wildest dreams of a Birmingham City side who seemed devoid of tactics other than the dour 70-yard lump forward to the totally ineffective Bent. Chances were few and far between however, a series of long shots from Swansea failed to seriously trouble Maik Taylor, while a wayward strike from Phillips was the only opportunity a lifeless Blues side could muster.
At half time a fan sitting next to myself declared that without changes at half-time Blues were in serious trouble. I couldn’t have agreed more. The team was infuriatingly average, lacking passion, commitment and the slightest hint of guile required to even get a foothold in the game. As the teams emerged for the second half the groan of the St Andrews faithful signalled that no changes had been made – was McLeish perhaps watching a different game? Unsuprisingly the second half began in the same pattern as the first, with Swansea totally dominating possesion and looking far more dangerous than the home side. There was a chorus of ”Quincy, Quincy” from the Tilton, urging the manager to break from his negative shackells and let Blues off their defensive leash. Quincy emerged from the dugout around the 65th minute to cheers, only to be quickly ushered back to his seat as Murphy lunged for a rash tackle on the edge of his area to recieve his second yellow card and ultimately dispel any faint hope that Blues were going to try and win the game. The resulting free kick came to nothing and after a consultation between himself and Roy Aitken Quincy emerged again to the touchline. Everyone in the ground waited for the number 23 to flash up and readied themselves to boo Marcus Bent from the field. To their horror, however, the number 9 of proven goalscorer and matchwinner Kevin Phillips was held aloft. Stunned by McLeish’s ineptitude the fans bleakly consigned themselves to desperately hanging on to a point in the final stages. Scotland went close twice for Swansea, driving at the Blues defence but not being able to find the target and the breakthrough that would have been thoroughly deserved. The lond-awaited departure of Bent was greeted with jeers and boos in the 77th minute, a reception that couldn’t be argued by anyone present. Jerome came on and immediately used his pace and stregth to get in behind Swansea and fire a shot into the side netting. Jerome then broke clear again down the right hand side and pulled the ball across the area, with nobody showing enough desire to get on the end of it. Sub Fabien Brandy should have sealed the points for Swansea at the death but desperate tackles from Queudrue and Ridgewell prevented him from doing so.
The final whistle was met by another chorus of boos and a barrage of abuse from the home fans at a performance which any premiership side would have considered Christmas coming early. After the game McLeish weakly said “There is no particular reason for our performance. It was a credit to Swansea that they made us look ineffective” certainly nothing there to suggest fire in the belly or even an apology to the fans who turned out in their numbers to witness what they hoped were 3 points towards a swift return to the premiership. Questions hang over whether or not Birmingham are showing the desire or the quality to gain an automatic return to the top flight, it remains to be seen who is brought in over the January period to strengthen a squad that desperately needs to be allowed to express themselves and play more open football in order to challenge Wolves at the top.
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