Tom Griffin / @TomGriff87
Birmingham must really hate travelling to Hull, not for the facilities we have to offer or catering options, but for the football. Without a win on ‘Humberside’, as they sparingly call us, since September 2009; when a Garry O’Connor goal seperated the two sides in a season where Hull City saw their Premier League fairytale come to an abrupt end.
The Blues continued their abysmal run in East Yorkshire with a lethargic display. In fact, they were harried to perdition, outperformed all over the park, beaten and subdued.
The display, certainly in the second half, was a contrast to the Charlton result where a last-gasp Keane Lewis-Potter goal (you can’t take it away from him) salvaged an unlikely point. This City performance was much improved and Grant McCann’s implementation of exciting football is making KCOM a fortress – a stark contrast to the early season home struggles where defensive mistakes were City’s kryptonite.
Before the game everyone in the ground stood together and took part in a minutes applause to commemorate the passing of former City legend Alan Jarvis. He graced the hallowed Boothferry Park turf on many occasions, in fact, he pulled on the black and amber jersey on 153 occasions. Everyone at The Amber View would like to express their disappointment at this news in a week where World Cup winner Martin Peters also lost his battle with Alzheimer’s.
Into the action, the game begins with City in the ascendancy and Leo Da Silva Lopes particularly impressive in breaking up play and drifting past players with ease. In a recent interview, Leo was asked which player he bases his game off and when he said N’Golo Kante, it was clear to see why. I’m a massive fan of him, he exhumes energy and has the quality requisite in tight areas to hold possession. His driving run in the 2nd minute using the aforementioned attributes, allowed him to free Josh Bowler on the right, though his low drive was deflected for a corner.
In the post-match interview, McCann alluded to City’s inability to work space for the wingers and this was something Birmingham executed to perfection for the majority of the half. When Grosicki and Bowler were fed the ball, they were quickly pounced upon like hawk’s and when the rare space did open up, the full backs managed to recover and block their incoming crosses.
On 15, a relieving moment of pure emotion was sent around the stands, ‘We’re with you Angus’ was put onto the screens followed by a minutes applause to celebrate Angus MacDonald winning his battle against cancer.
The visitors matched City up in system and used their main threat against them in the first half, counter-attacking with pace after winning back possession. City were often caught short in defensive areas, but fortunately poor decision making from the visitors ensured the score remained at 0-0. The Blues showed glimpses of their quality, but a long range strike from Villalba which drew an awkward parry from George Long was about as close as they came to a breakthrough.
Tom Eaves ticked the boxes of what was expected of him in the striking department; bullied the Birmingham defenders, pulled them out of position, held up the ball and off-loaded to the willing runners. The City faithful never questioned his effort and application, but did query whether that number 9 shirt would weigh heavy in terms of his ability on the ball. He was beginning to answer those questions with the breadth of striking competition on his toes; Keane Lewis-Potter impactful off the bench, Magennis set to return against Forest and Norbert Balogh weeks away from a return to fitness.
City had trouble fashioning clear cut opportunities in the first half, but the hosts were completely in the ascendancy, despite being vulnerable to the counter-attack at times. On 25 Grosicki is set away on the left, he cleverly cuts the ball inside for Bowler who’s prodded effort strikes an unexpecting Tom Eaves. 34, Da Silva blitzes down the right, leaving two men in his wake, lofts the ball to a well-placed Bowen at the back post, but his volleyed effort is stopped. And then we score. City finally took advantage of their corner salvo on the stroke of half time, Grosicki’s whipped in delivery met the ‘jungle cat’ Tom Eaves who bull-dozed his way through to power a header beyond Trueman. The final action of the half.
The early stages of the second half saw City getting themselves into menacing positions but were unable to profit. On 50 Irvine’s slide-rule pass found Grosicki blitzing down the left, only to deceive everyone with his pull-back.
There were already promising signs in the embryonic stages of the second half with City lifting the energy levels and quickening the pace to which they operate. George Long’s distribution has to be complimented, on 52 his mammoth ‘Long’ throw looked to have set Bowler away, but a deflection inadvertently sent the ball into the path of Grosicki, he disappointed with his end product by curling over Trueman’s bar.
A one-goal lead was never enough and it’s not often that City fail to score more than one, especially at home. So one was left wondering if McCann’s men would be left to rue their lack of ruthless edge. Then, just before the hour mark, the slender lead was doubled; Bowen’s well-weighted through ball sliced open the visitors despondent back line and sent Grosicki through on goal. What followed was a moment of magic, speeding towards an onrushing Trueman, he dinked the ball over his frame in sumptuous fashion. A piece of class from Turbo who had registered two goal contributions for two games running.
From there on in, the Tigers were comfortable in holding onto their two goal lead when previously game management had deceived the home side. They highlighted their play off credentials with the professionalism of the display with the subsuquent action happening in the Blue’s half. On 66, a slick passing move involving the two rockets Bowen and Grosicki; the Pole plays a one-two with JB before slotting through Irvine who was presented with a goal scoring situation, but was called back for offside.
We’ve squandered two goal leads in the past, but those days seem to be long gone in McCann’s tenure. Birmingham are not exactly resigned to their fate, but they are second best and they appear to know it. However, they should have halfed the deficit on 74 when Jefferson Montero crossed from the left for Alvaro Gimenez to nod a guilt-edged opportunity narrowly the wrong side of the upright.
That opportunity was about as good as it got for the visitors who appeared to be consigned to defeat even before the third goal went in. Substitute Keane Lewis-Potter scored for the first time in front of the KCOM faithful on 88. The ball was played to him by Eric Lichaj, then the rest is history, the local lad stood up his marker, shifted to right before dispatching his chance into the bottom left corner. This ecstatic moment drew ‘He’s one of our own’ from the East stand to the pure elation of the 18-year-old who will surely be giving Grant McCann a selection headache.
There was four minutes of added which soon drew the referee’s whistle for full-time.
TAV’s Man of the Match: Leo Da Silva Lopes – he covered every blade of grass, oozed class in possession and has an unerring ability to slither away from his marker. The 21-year-old is developing every game he pulls on the shirt and is becoming the heart-beat of the City midfield.
After this display and other results, City remain five points away from third spot heading into the congested Christmas period. With Forest on Boxing Day, QPR days later and Wednesday at Hillsborough on New Years day, the mix for the remaining play off spots is hotting up. McCann ordered a shut out for this game and he was rewarded with that exact formula, perhaps if he orders a top six spot by New Years day, then his City side will deliver on that front. There is much to admire from this squad; resilience and discipline in defence, energy and guile in midfield with explosiveness and execution in the attack. If City continue to perform in this vein, there is no reason why McCann’s men can’t make the play offs, the hallmarks are there to achieve that with potential for new additions in January.