I said in my match preview that I fancied that this game would end as a draw. but I could never have imagined that it would have left such a bitter taste in my mouth.
We went into this game knowing that we really needed a win and came agonosingly close, as Liverpool, Manchester City and Villa all picked up three points.
Harry stuck with the same side that beat Fulham and after just eight minutes we almost took the lead, when Luka Modric struck just wide. For all of Luka’s qualities, his finishing isn’t his best attribute and he really should have done better with this chance.
Still, as examples of poor finishing go, Modric’s effort wasn’t a patch on Benitez’s, after the Birmingham striker turned Dawson inside out on the edge of the box, only to tamely shoot straight at Gomes.
Other than that Birmingham didn’t create too much and it was mainly us on the attack, most of which flowed through David Bentley, who looked to have gained some confidence from his midweek goal.
Bentley had several shots of his own, coming close to beating Joe Hart at his near post at the start of the second half and forcing another save from a poorly hit left-footed shot.
If we’re talking about the subject of poor finishing, then nothing in the match could match the awkwardness of Peter Crouch’s miss, which really did look like a shot your grandmother would take, rather than that of an international footballer. What made it worse is that Crouch took the ball of the foot of Defoe, after our little striker had made a penetrating run across the Birmingham box.
Eventually though the Crouch and Defoe partnership clicked, as our gangly forward dropped to the floor to direct the ball with his head towards Defoe, who smashed the ball home. I’m not sure if Crouch meant to do that, but it looked good anyway.
With only twenty minutes remaining, we were 1-0 up, with Birmingham having thus far offered little in attack. They were soon camped on the edge of our area in search of an equaliser, after we handed them the initiative with a defensively-minded substitution.
Taking off Keane for Defoe to protect a lead, makes some sense. Keane will drop back into midfield and create an extra man, whilst Crouch is useful when defending set pieces. However, by pairing Keane with Crouch for the final minutes, Birmingham’s defence were able to push right up and press the game, knowing that neither of our forwards had the pace to exploit the space behind them.
Despite the pressure, I still thought that we would hold them off, but once again we were guilty of naivety. When protecting a one goal lead in the dying minutes, we should be just trying to retain possession and run down the clock. Instead we were committed to attack, allowing Birmigham the opportunity to counter.
In injury time Birmingham broke quickly. A cross from the left was headed across the face of the box and their full back Liam Ridgewell was able to volley home on the line. Corluka’s marking was terrible. He had Ridgewell covered at one point, but just let him go and was strolling around the middle of the area, as the ball hit the net.
So another draw snatched from the jaws of victory. We’re still fourth, but we’re not likely to be when the team behind us play their games in hand. If we continue to play with such little intelligence and make such flawed substitutions, then it will be the Europa rather than the Champions League that beckons next season. I’d better cancel those evening classes on Thursday nights.