Sunday, 3 November 2013

Birmingham City 0 v Charlton Athletic 1

Christmas may be a couple of months off but oh what fun to see Charlton win away. Yesterday's performance was a joy to watch. A still weakened side playing to it's maximum and grinding out a thoroughly deserved win in front of what must have been 900 buoyant Addicks. I am really pleased I accepted Chicago Addick's encouragement to go.

It was a drab day in the Midlands yesterday (isn't it always) but we made the most of a disappointing pre-match. Having got a taxi out to Ladypool Road and walked it's length, it was fairly obvious that Midday was too early for a number of the balti houses so we had to make do with a large cafe-style north Indian restaurant named after Pakistan's capital. It wasn't licenced and they didn't welcome bring-your-own, but the kebabs, lamb chops, tandoori chicken, fried cod and naan breads were good enough. Sated, we walked up to the ground through the scruffy suburbs of south Birmingham and managed to find the Cricketers. A small back-street pub with little to recommend it. The sad Pubmaster chain offering an uninspiring list of beer - Carling Black Label, Ansell's Mild, Tetley sodasteram or whatever it is. Wife Beater encouraged us to stay for a couple but then it was time to get into the ground and a pint with live football! Just enough time to put on a 1-0 Charlton win with greed getting the better of me and I doubled it with Simon Church to score the goal.

Chris Powell's all reds lined up largely as expected. Hamer, Wiggins, Dervite, Morrison, Wilson, Stewart, Stephens, Cousins and Pritchard, with Johnnie Jackson in the hole behind workaholic Simon Church. My bet was on.

It was evident from the off that we were going to compete and also that Birmingham is not a happy camp at the moment. After several unsuccessful attempts by Chris Burke to get a cross in past Rhiys Wiggins, he did manage a couple looking for the giant Zigic but Morrison and Dervite had him sussed.Birmingham's game-plan dried up after that and we took increasing control. 

Dale Stephens and Jordan Cousins began to dictate play and pick holes in the Blues back-line. Lawrie Wilson swarmed over them down the right flank and Simon Church was everywhere looking for an opening. We had a couple of decent chances to open the scoring before half-time as we passed our way into their box but Brum survived and had Darren Randolph to thank for scrambling a good stop from Jackson inside the area. All Birmingham managed in response was a break and shot from Lee Novak which Hamer saved smartly low down his right-hand post.

Nil-nil and the Addicks were in good voice, in total contrast to the silent and disappointing home support. I have to say that St. Andrews in barely recognisable from my last visit (which was years ago to be fair). The large terracing and Archibald Leitch stands have given way, predictably, to new concrete, blue and white bucket seating and sheet-clad roofing. All reminiscent of the New Den but without the fervent support.

After the break and playing towards the red horde packed to the left of the goal, we upped the ante, retained and passed the ball even better than in the opening period and ran for absolutely everything. Simon Church epitomised that and his refusal to give anything up won a couple of balls we had no right to and kept Birmingham firmly on the back-foot. Kyle Bartley and Dan Burn were all over the shop trying to contain us but they couldn't stop the inevitable after 56 minutes when Cameron Stewart attacked the near post and his shot was scrambled again by Randolph. I think it was Jackson who tried again from close range but that was blocked and with Charlton fans all on their feet by now, the ball squirted across the goal where the finishing touch was applied. I looked desperately for the scorer and for a fleeting moment picked out Simon Church but my eyes confirmed Dale Stephens. No matter, we were in front and very confident. 

Lee Clark threw on two substitutes in response but Birmingham's poor control, miscued passes and visible lack of conviction meant we kept going at them and a second on the break was always more likely than an equaliser. Wilson was also brought down in the box after bursting clear but ref Scott Mathieson obviously felt pity for the home side because he waved it away. Once again we should have made substitutions earlier than we did. Johnnie Jackson was out on his feet and Cameron Stewart limping but Powell stuck with his eleven until much later on and then only to break any final rhythm Birmingham were trying to create. Peter Lovenkrands had a chance before the whistle for an undeserved equaliser but there was to be no repeat of last year's injustice and his shot blazed over.

A long walk back to New Street in the sleeting rain for several hundred Charlton fans but nothing was going to dampen the spirit or the bonhomie on the train home with the glum and silent Palace fans making their return from a record-breaking seventh successive Premier defat by two goals or more. May seems such a long time ago. Finally some good banter with a few Millwall fans who joined me on the train at London Bridge and were delighted to  be in the company of a fellow racist (sic).

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