By Andy Munro.
To me, last Thursday was the biggest game of the season – a passport to a real European campaign to take away Championship mid-table mediocrity, although that in itself could be conceived as a triumph given our parlous circumstances.
Listening to Five Live in the morning, it became apparent that they were covering the Spurz v Hearts game (I wouldn’t call it a contest) and that just about sums up the prats from the BBC and the London media’s general contempt of anything to do with the Midlands. Anyway it was great to see the ground packed out and rocking although it was Blues who had a distinctly nervous start, treating the ball like a cartoon character holding a large round ticking bomb. However all that changed when Nathan Redmond (the youngest and brightest player since TF) danced his way through the Nacionale defence to hammer the ball home.
This sent the crowd into a frenzy and the team into overdrive; it was no surprise when David Murphy headed the ball goalwards to make it 2-0.Murphy,by the way, after Redmond, was my man of the match, something I never thought I’d say. Nacionale, who in the past couple of seasons have proved to be no Euro mugs, still looked slippery on the break but Curtis Davies and Caldwell held firm to protect Myhill from having to make any serious saves. In front of them, Beausejour never stopped working in his unfamiliar central midfield role.
They say two-nil is a dangerous score and it could have been, especially as Blues could and should have made it three on a number of occasions. Rooney showed a striker’s greediness when he could have squared the ball to Chris Woods. In fairness, Woods did get the third after a flowing move involving the irrepressible Carr, and for the first time in the past two seasons I was able to unwrap my pipe and slippers for the last ten minutes.
Nacionale certainly weren’t a bad team but couldn’t cope with either Burke or Redmond out wide, the latter earning his man of the match tag with some scintillating wing play. The Portuguese defenders tried to intimidate him with their Man O War tactics but Nathan maturely just shrugged it off. I was quite surprised that we managed a couple of late substitutions because, looking at the age of our subs, it was way past their bedtime.
Interestingly, when I got home Sky had the goals from all the English and Scottish games bar the Blues which typifies their disinterest with the Midlands. Still, nobody likes us and I don’t care. New unfamiliar phrases are now creeping into my vocabulary such as “great European nights. “Matches now beckon in Slovenia, Belgium and Portugal and they can’t come quick enough.
I suppose it’s bizarre that, in the middle of a financial meltdown and the disaster of relegation, we’re having two of the finest moments almost beyond the wildest dreams of Bluenoses – winning a proper cup at Wembley and competing in Europe. When you reflect on things, if we’d survived in the Premier we would be praying for survival rather than the holy grail of a European place. So Craig Gardner and other deserters, eat your hearts out but I expect you will still book that all inclusive holiday in Malia to ensure you get the taste of Europe that you truly deserve!
Then on Sunday…
An away point is usually to be savoured, at least over the last half a dozen seasons, when Messrs McLeish and Bruce might as well have packed a white flag on the coach. However, against a mediocre Watford side (and basking in a European afterglow) I expected three points. Unfortunately our patchy performance befitted a lower middle table Championship side rather than one that could be promotion-seeking.
If I’m honest, I think that once we get a settled side we’ll probably comfortably achieve middle of the table and as long as we manage a couple of wins or so in Europe that will do me, considering the financial Chinese burn we’ve suffered. Anyway, fair play to Chris H for starting Rooney and Woods up front, similar though they may be, and a goal apiece was all that could be asked of them. Meanwhile the midfield chugged away without being inspirational, yet what can be expected from one that has a winger and a fullback in the centre? Wingerwise, Nathan Redmond had a fairly forgettable game as any 17 year old is likely to have playing their second full game in three days (Mind you ,I’d rather he was sensational in the Europa Cup whatever Chris says about priorities!).
In terms of shortcomings, it was more worrying at the back although, in fairness, lacking any really robust midfield cover, this was not surprising. However, Myhill again was inconsistent with a couple of great saves but then looking shaky dealing with the easy stuff, one such mistake leading to the late equaliser.
Cameron Jerome came on to showcase his non-goalscoring skills but was uninjured so hopefully will be on his way for about £3 million which, optimistically, won’t just be used for bail money purposes. It really is disgraceful that players like Jerome, Dann (has he been struck dumb, by the way?) and Zigic can just lie low and pick up their obscene wages while their agents tout for a lucrative move. This is particularly galling given the timing, as what chance do we have of selling them AND using the proceeds before the transfer deadline?
Compounding the situation is another injury, this time to Keith Fahy. Meanwhile, whilst Rome burns, Peter Pan(nu) is ‘away on business’ or perhaps more accurately it should be away with the fairies.