Monday, October 04, 2004

Drawing comfort

Before kick-off yesterday, victory over Birmingham looked within easy reach. We were going into the game on the back of a comfortable if bruising win in Israel, whilst our hosts had been struggling for form and woefully goal-shy. When the final whistle blew, though, we were probably content with the point from a 2-2 draw, forced to concede that the opposition had played their best football of the season so far and given us an excellent game.

It was a match in which familiar faces came back to haunt the respective managers. David Dunn, a diamond in a team of plodders and grafters, sparkled in an attacking midfield role, and Dwight Yorke, another player heavily criticised by Souness whilst under his charge at Blackburn, came off the bench for the injured Heskey to score Birmingham's equaliser and keep O'Brien and Elliott occupied.

But neither was it to be self-proclaimed Geordie Steve Bruce's afternoon: his former Man Utd team-mate and Birmingham transfer target Nicky Butt popped up with a spectacular volley to equalise Matthew Upson's header and deny Bruce's team victory. Butt's first strike for the club was all the more unexpected having witnessed in the flesh his numerous appalling efforts on goal in last week's win over West Brom - the first sailed nearer to the corner flag, and the rest were also launched high, wide and handsome.

JJ had got us off to the best possible start, coolly seizing the opportunity to give us the lead in the third minute when a shot from Kluivert - who, like his strike partner Shearer, was quiet after Thursday's exertions - was deflected fortuitously into his path. His appearance in the England squad is not merely the result of injuries and retirements - the last three games have seen a resurgent Jenas back to something like his best, working hard and providing a creative spark in midfield. What he needs now is consistency.

The scoring was over by the 67th minute, but both sides still had several chances to emerge with all three points. Bellamy had a header scooped off the line by Kenny Cunningham, while at the other end Damien Johnson was being allowed an alarming amount of space on the Birmingham right. The Blues came perilously close as Robbie Savage struck the woodwork and Given magnificently tipped a Dunn header onto the same upright and away. And then, with just three minutes to go, substitute Robert crashed a phenomenal 35 yard daisy-cutter free-kick against the Birmingham post, keeper Maik Taylor rooted to the spot, a helpless spectator. Much as I dislike them, it would have been harsh on Birmingham, though - a draw was a fair result for a pulsating match.

A two week break now - let's hope our international players return from duty unscathed, and the others use the time to recharge their batteries. And fingers crossed I'm not cursing Bellamy next weekend...


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