A second home draw in a week leaves the Sky Blues further adrift of safety. The final stretch is upon us, and this round of games may well prove to be the pivotal one.
Inevitably it was the “old boys” show at the Ricoh this afternoon, with Gary McSheffrey grabbing the lead against his former employers, before Marlon King was gifted his response a minute later thanks to some abominable defending. Birmingham may have some thoughts about how McSheffrey was able to loop a header in from the position he found himself, but we didn’t make them work hard to rectify things. Git-face Marlon couldn’t believe his luck as our defensive line played dodgeball with a Rammage cross and gleefully converted. How terribly predictable.
The atmosphere became reasonably tense in the final 20 minutes as both teams realised that there was a chance of victory, but looking back a bit more objectively, I realise the excitement was based on desperation more than any comment our our quality. Things were frantic, but the game was littered with bobbly passes, poor control and jelly legs.
Thorn continued with the same back four that started against Palace, and was rewarded with yet another mixed bag. There was some heroic defending, but all too often I was rendered rigid through fear of a mistake. Never fun, that.
Jordan Clarke came in for plaudits on the phone-in after the game – I simply can’t agree. Yes, he did some good things (as all players should) but it’s far too easy to remember a few things and let that inform your overriding opinion. He was annihilated by Andros Townsend on almost every one-on-one today.
The normally dependable Richard Keogh made plenty of mistakes too, including a heinous misjudgement for the equaliser. In the words of Roy Keane: you never let the ball bounce in the 6-yard box. There was still time for some tremendous aerial work against the 16 foot Zigic, mind.
On the left, things weren’t much better, with Cranie regularly allowing the dangerous Burke to cross. Oddly, Nathan Cameron did far better than he managed the other night, but things could have been much worse for him if it wasn’t for the luck of a linesman’s flag as he let King slip away in the first half.
As a defence, they all had their good and bad moments, but unfortunately there will inevitably come a point in each game where one of them does something to let the side down and costs us a goal.
Into the midfield and I felt we had an assured feel to us in a very frenetic part of the pitch. Off the ball, we were slow to react and were regularly outmuscled, but on it, there was composure, and a head-strong assurity which meant neither Norwood or Clingan reacting to a crowd baying for them to play the killer pass EVERY SINGLE TIME, or shoot from 45 yards. It’s moronic, and I think they know it.
The surprising star of the show was Carl Baker. After two years at the club, I think we’ve finally come to terms with what we’ve got with him. He can play well, there’s no denying it. The problem is, more often than not, he’ll also play poorly. We can’t expect the same performance he gave today, every game, because coming from the level he is used to, he simply doesn’t have that sort of consistency in him.
What we should be able to expect however is a certain level of performance where he is technically solid, as well as a manager who is able to recognise when he is on his game, and when he’s not.
Today, he grew in confidence from the first attack after a direct run at Spector left the defender floundering. Sometimes that’s all you need, and once he realised he had the beating of the American, he took almost every opportunity to run at him again. This trickery and directness created the goal, and it’s just a shame that he had to come off soon after because he’d been a threat all game.
The decision to give Clive a rest from the start turned out to be wise one. He’s getting on, and as Cody was flying following his goal the other night, it was the right way round to rotate them. He caught Caldwell and Davies tiring in the final portion of the match, and provided us with a useful dimension.
Alex Nimely was quietly sound in all that he did, but a big disappointment of mine was his lack of drive in the final ten minutes when we had a very real chance of winning the game. With Clive throwing himself around looking for every flick on possible, Alex gave him fewer and fewer options to work with by holding a deep position, and on the ocassions we found ourselves within crossing range, there was very little to aim for aside from Clive. Maybe he was just shattered, but given the importance a win would have made to our survival hopes, it was frustrating to see him so reserved as the game closed out. It essentially left us with little hope of grabbing a goal through our own volition, and relient on something dropping nicely for us instead.
So what does it all mean?
It may be that we’re just not good enough to stay up this season, so in the context of that mindset, 1-1 to a promotion chasing Blues is a good result. I can accept that some people feel that way.
Unfortunately, our season has been about nothing more than avoiding relegation since those first few games when we realised we had a bit of a problem.
We’re running out of games. There’s only ten left. As we’re all still praying that we’re going to find a way out of this predicament, we’ve got to view this week with a little perspective and realise things get very hard from this point onwards.
We’ve four home games remaining, and they’re entirely winnable – all of them. But the chances of us going on a four game winning streak at home are slim. Something’s bound to go wrong – it always does. But if we do, that’s 12 points, leaving us on 42 points. Clearly, that’s not going to be enough.
So where are the extra points going to come from?
We have six away games, against teams like Cardiff, Hull, Burnley and Southampton. As a team that can barely score goals in opposing grounds, let alone gain points, we’re asking an awful lot by expecting a sudden change of fortune on that front.
Which is why I’m now so frustrated. This week should have left us primed to make the final leap to safety. But today especially, I couldn’t see the sort of push or purpose that was required to win the game – everyone seemed delighted with a point – and on reflection, these lost points could have left us with too much to do.
Winning six of our final ten games (otherwise know as play off form) would give us 48 points. That ought to do it, but after the season we’ve had, it’s a struggle to convince yourself that we have that sort of run in us.
Okay, hopefully that has cheered everyone up.