It took a Wolves victory, with a Reading one to boot, for Blues to finally rediscover that winning feeling – but they did it. And they couldn`t have done it at a better time.
All week, McLeish and the players had been pleading with the fans to get behind the team, and it was time that the players delivered when it mattered. Had Blues performed miserably once again, then the fans` confidence would have been further damaged…the pressure was on.
Alex McLeish responded to the Sheffield United defeat by shuffling his defence, bringing Bowyer and Larsson back into the midfield, and by dropping Costly in favour of the mercurial Jerome.
Suddenly, it seemed as if things were going to change. The announcer pleaded for the fans to get behind the team and “intimidate the opposition”, as did McLeish and Sullivan in their column notes. The entrance music changed. There was a renewed sense of optimism around St Andrews…Were things finally going to change?
Then again…It is Blues.
Former Bluenose Dele Adebola had a fantastic…and I mean fantastic opportunity to put City ahead in the 2nd minute, but he seemed to freeze when the moment came to strike and his shot went wide of the post.
Blues were let off the hook. But this time, they were determined to learn from their mistakes.
The team then started to turn up the heat on their opponents as Lee Bowyer went through on goal after neat interplay with Jerome, only to see his rising shot palmed away by Adriano…Basso. The team continued to press and from the resulting corner Rahdi Jaidi had a brilliant chance to get the first goal of the game, but his shot on the turn went wide.
A series of corners as the first half came towards its conclusion led to a response from the Blues faithful who realised that the team were in need of backing if they were to blow down the wall of Bristol City white.
Jaidi hit the crossbar, and Seb Larsson came close…very close (again!) from a free kick as Basso palmed the shot away for a corner.
Half time came and went, and Blues started the second half as they ended the first.
Martin Taylor saw an effort hit the crossbar and Lee Bowyer had a brilliant chance to score but his free header went wide of the mark. Bristol City tried to change things around as they brought on ex-Bluenose Stern John for Adebola. Bluenoses would have been forgiven for fearing the coming again of John, whose last involvement at St Andrews was to score a last second equaliser for Sunderland against the Blues in the Prem.
However, on this day, Blues were not to be denied.
Carlos Costly came on for the disappointing Marcus Bent, and Stern John did come close to getting that elusive goal, but Blues pressed on in their search for a winner.
It was a corner, Blues 17th, which brought their reward. Lee Bowyer swung in a delightful ball which Franck Queudrue got on the end of to smash in a bullet header and St Andrews erupted with noise.
The goal music played after the goal may not have been to every Nose`s taste, but the goal most certainly was.
St Andrews breathed a huge sigh of relief as Blues held on to get a truly crucial victory.
It was deserved…make no mistake about that. Blues fought for every ball, and they were never found to be second best. Maik Taylor had little to do, and the defence in front of him looked solid enough. Blues may be relying on Dads Army to keep out the goals, but hey, as long as it works, who are we to question them?
In the middle of the park, Bowyer was dynamic, and Lee Carsley was…well, Lee Carsley. Fahey was impressive, and his ball retention once again put others to shame, while Seb Larsson was simply fantastic. The Swede is back in his position and is showing McLeish exactly why he should stay there. It seems as if he has responded to the arrival of Sinclair as a challenge, and it is a challenge that Seb has risen to expertly.
Up front, Jerome worked hard, and seemed to gain in confidence as the match went on. There was a point after about 20 minutes where you could see the confidence return to the youngster. He picked up the ball about 35 yards out, and turned to see open space in front of him. He hesitated, then pushed the ball forward a few yards, and then hesitated again. It was then that the City defence backed off, in fear of Jerome`s pace, and finally the penny dropped. Jerome realised that there was nothing for him to be afraid of, and he ran at the defence, before unleashing a shot. What happened the next time Jerome got the ball? He turned, he ran at the defender, and he created a chance. Perfect.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for his partner. If Jerome looked up for the fight, Bent looked anything but. His movement was poor, and he didn`t win enough balls in the air, and the fans anger was directed at the ageing striker.
Not that Costly did any better. I`m sorry, but he is a joke. His control is poor, his balance abysmal, and I don`t think he knows that he has a right foot.
My Bluenose friend tried to argue that Costly had a bit of skill, but when he uses that skill to RUN AWAY FROM THEIR GOAL, I really, really don`t want him here.
All in all, this was most definitely one of the high points in a season which has delivered so many ups and downs.
Keep the faith. There may be lows, heck, there will probably be more lows than highs, but it is these highs that make it all worthwhile.