Steve Bruce took a lot more consolation from a 2-0 defeat at St Andrew’s than our own Pete Sixsmith, who – when not noting with grudging admiration the class of Seb Larsson – recognised some improvement but felt it stopped a long way short of what was required …
As recent performances go, this one wasn’t bad – although that really is damning it with faint praise. But it was another defeat, another drop in the table and an entry ticket to the scrap that is taking place to avoid visits to Coventry, Barnsley and Middlesbrough next season.
There are some positives that we can take from this. The passing was sharper and crisper than of late. We did create some chances. The team seemed to be together. On another day, we could have won or at least taken a much needed point.
That we didn’t was largely down to one serious and one possible error by Simon Mignolet. He has done well for us this season, but he must hate the sight of Birmingham City. He conceded a couple of soft ones against them in August and he will be shaking his head for a long time at the first Blues goal on Saturday.
It came from a long punt from Foster which Bardsley was preparing to kick onto the adjacent railway line. Mignolet told him to leave it and came to collect. Instead of landing on top of the 15.41 to Taunton, the ball was pushed past a hesitant keeper by Seb Larsson and we were a goal down and chasing a game that we should have been winning.
There were a couple of decent chances in the first half, with Sessegnon coming closest with a shot cleared off the line and Gyan having one tipped around the post. The second half saw even better chances; Cattermole had one saved, Henderson rounded off the best move of the game by planting a good shot wide of the post and Welbeck had a header pushed over by former team mate Foster.
Then, we backed off in midfield, and allowed Gardener to hit a decent shot, which Mignolet went down too early for (all possibilities covered – ed , who him going too late!) . At 2-0, no chance of getting back into it and bang went another three points in our allegedly easy run in.
That we looked a little better was down to a much more balanced midfield. It had the controlled aggression of Cattermole, the simple pass and move on of Colback, the running of Henderson and the ability of Sessegnon to carry the ball in from the flanks. It wasn’t brilliant, but it was far better than the pedestrian meanderings we have seen recently.
At the back, Elmohamady had a much improved game, albeit against a team who use the flanks for throw ins only. Onuoha helped Turner through a sticky opening patch when he was struggling with his injury. He is not fit, but in the absence of Mensah, Ferdinand and Bramble, we have little option but to play him. He showed his qualities with some brave headers and strong blocks, but goodness knows what we would have done had he limped off early.
Gyan worked hard up front but to little avail (I seem to have written that a few times recently) but Welbeck was anonymous. Noble freshened things up a bit when he came on and looked as if Sunderland was the club on his mind and not another 120 miles away.
For all that, it was a defeat and one against a team who are as much in the mire as we are. They are a decent side and appear to have the strength and fortitude to stay in the PL. Johnson and Ridgewell are good players and the midfield works hard. Larsson is the class act there and I wonder if any of our players would have continued to chase the ball as he did for the opener. They weren’t great up front though. Jerome failed to take advantage of Turner’s lack of fitness, while Kevin Phillips looked like a 37 year old in his last Premier League season.
Other results went largely in our favour, although I would have preferred a Blackpool victory against Wigan. It looks as if Blackpool will go, while West Ham’s surrender of all the points to Villa puts them under even worse pressure than us. Blackburn’s run is almost as awful as ours and they have a very difficult concluding spell of games.
At the moment, I would settle for a guaranteed 17th place before the West Ham game. Ellis Short won’t and I would imagine that Messrs Bruce and Black may well be looking for alternative employment in the summer. A win next Saturday or the estate agents boards will be going up outside the Bruce and Black abodes.