Blues recorded their first back-to-back victories of the 2018/19 campaign with an impressive 1-0 victory at Stoke City.
After seeing Maxime Colin hit the underside of Jack Butland’s goal, Blues’ hard work was rewarded in the 81st minute when Che Adams was found by Lukas Jutkiewicz’s low centre at the back post.
Stoke struck 11 efforts at the Blues goal in the final ten minutes but Garry Monk’s side rode their luck to see the game out and secure a first ever victory over ex-manager Gary Rowett.
Monk made a bold move ahead of the game by giving Connor Mahoney his first Birmingham City start in place of Jacques Maghoma who dropped to the bench. Craig Gardner’s failed fitness test meant that it was Josh Dagres-Cogley that replaced Charlie Lakin on the Blues bench.
Meanwhile, the opposition featured a plethora of players who you expect see lining up in the Premier League. Jack Butland was being protected by Ashley Williams and Dutch internationals Erik Pieters and Bruno Martins Indi. In midfield, Ryan Woods sat behind Thomas Ince, Joe Allen and ex-Barcelona man Bojan.
With the above in mind, you perhaps expected the hosts to take the game to Blues from the offset but it never worked out that way, Blues starting the brighter of the two sides but lacking a clinical edge. Fourteen minutes had passed when the first effort at goal was registered, Jota’s free-kick headed over by captain Michael Morrison.
Slowly, Stoke began to find their feet in proceedings and almost took the lead in fortuitous circumstances, Cuco Martina’s low delivery cleared just over the bar by Kristian Pedersen who had failed to sort his feet out. Benik Afobe shot well wide before Bojan forced Lee Camp into a fine save from distance.
The game hit another lull until two minutes before the end of the half when Jota broke free to find Che Adams running in on goal. Adams’ touch wasn’t brilliant but he steadied himself to sting the palms of ex-Blues youngster Butland.
This was a positive display from Blues, an organised and disciplined performance that saw us pick our chances wisely and show quality on the break. Yet despite having opportunities, neither Lukas Jutkiewicz, Connor Mahoney or Che Adams could get the better of Jack Butland.
Stoke responded through Tom Ince who did brilliantly to get the better of Pedersen and Kieftenbeld but his cut back was thrashed over the bar by Joe Allen. At the other end, Maxime Colin went ever closer, making the most of a one-two with Jota by taking on Woods and Pieters and firing against the underside of the bar.
The game was opening up as the hosts started to progress higher up the pitch. Gardner forced Butland into a stop from distance, Ince saw a shot blocked, Juke headed over from a corner before Berahino headed wide on the penalty spot. Then on 81 minutes, the 3,000+ Blues fans got what they came for.
Jacques Maghoma could have reacted poorly to losing his spot in the starting XI for the first time this season but his driving run and pass to Jutkiewicz made the opener, the striker driving a low cross that just needed a clean connection. Che Adam obliged. Stoke City 0; Birmingham City 1.
Including Maghoma’s effort from distance that came a moment after the restart, Blues had hit 13 efforts at the Stoke goal compared to the hosts 8. Those numbers were about to be reversed in crazy fashion as Peter Crouch and Charlie Adam set about hunting for a home win.
Ince and Saido Berahino both saw shots blocked. A corner was hoisted in by Adam. Allen won the first ball, Crouch the second but Adams denied him on the line. Blues tried to clear but couldn’t and Ince saw his shot deflected wide.
Adam again threw the ball into an area choc-full of players from both sides, everybody scrambling around for clear connection on the ball. Crouch won the first header but saw his effort blocked. Berahino tried from six yards out but Lee Camp was in the way. Joe Allen came steaming in and thought he had scored the equaliser only to be kept out by a combination of Gary Gardner and Lukas Jutkiewicz.
Quite evidently, it struck one of their hands and Allen was up in arms as Harlee Dean steered the ball to safety. Nothing was given. Gary Rowett questioned the officials and found himself sent to the stands for his protests, much to the delight of the travelling faithful. Blues had survived and despite late efforts from Ince and Adam, Monk’s side held on for a deserved victory.
And this was deserved. Stoke may feel aggrieved, as Monk pointed out, and they may point to the possession and shooting statistics but Blues’ hard work and organisation earned the result. We played on the front foot, as we have done all season, we won the aerial battles, a higher percentage of tackles and did the dirty work.
The shot count was only boosted late on by Stoke’s remarkable nine efforts in two minutes towards the end as Blues held on for the win. Butland made six saves and that doesn’t count the Morrison header and Colin hitting the bar. And as for the possession statistics, almost 50% of Stoke’s 70.6% of possession was played between Butland, his back four and Ryan Woods, the man sitting at the base of the midfield.
Rowett took it a stretch too far but his overall assessment was correct. Blues turned up, did a job, scored a goal and Stoke didn’t. And the ex-Blues gaffer was forced to watch the remainder of the game from the stands as the club that once adored him celebrated their new messiah.
Garry Monk’s Blue Army win again.