Making a welcome return as the new season is about to get underway, is Brian Parish, one half of the Daggers Diary team. His first assignment – get to Birmingham and home again to see the Super Caley Thistle.
I am never quite sure about what to make of the Pre-season friendly games that take place at this time of year. Criteria that I apply to other teams never apply to my own, and while there are times when I reckon that opposition have played quite well, I am never that optimistic about my own team.
Of course, if you haven’t seen your usual football buddies over the summer, then these types of games are ideal for catching up. There have been many games in July, where a group of us have gone along and had only a passing interest in the game going on on front of us. I know of many that will refuse to attend friendly games and there are times when I can see why.
Today marks the one week to go stage, before the Football League gets going with its first round of games. The daggers are at home today in a fixture against a Tottenham xi, which if the premier league and Greg Dyke gets their way, could become a league fixture in the not too distant future. I have decided though that I am not going to pay to watch a possible Spurs reserve side, and so have taken the decision to travel to the midlands in order to get another ground tick, and to watch my Scottish team, Inverness.
A year ago, I had been to one ground in the midlands, which given my history of watching football, was a massive oversight on my behalf. I had been to Coventry (both at Highfield Road and the Ricoh), but nowhere else. Last October, I finally got to see Wolves at Molyneux, but I am still missing out on Aston Villa, Birmingham, West Bromwich Albion, as well as Walsall. The last of those is particularly annoying as the daggers have played them a few times in recent years, but the arranged date for the game has always clashed with something else.
Luckily I am going to be able to tick Birmingham City off the list today. A return train ticket of £18.50 from London Euston has persuaded me to make the journey, as well as the match ticket being only £7.
Saturday 2nd August 2014, Birmingham City v Inverness Caledonian Thistle, St. Andrews
Looking at Birmingham from outside he club, last season looked to be a right old struggle. Maintaining their status in the Championship division was probably not what most had in minds when the campaign started a year ago. With relegation avoided, it is to be hoped that the club can move further up the table this year, and not give their support quite so many sleepless nights.
For Caley thistle, 2013/14 will go down as the year that they made their first major cup final, and although it ended in defeat on penalties to Aberdeen, there was plent to be pleased about. There have been no major departures over the summer, and while Richie Foran will miss the start of the season, the club have to be looking at trying to finally crack a top four place.
The rain forecast is streaking across the train windows as we near New Street, like shooting stars across a night sky. Each stop warrants a look at the exposed platforms, and the sight of puddles rippling with copious rain is not a sight to gladden the heart.
Arrival into Birmingham New Street is as per our schedule, and so having left the train, I head towards the Bull Ring, and my walking route towards the ground. Except that, despite having printed my map and even highlighted the route, I still manage to get lost, and hopelessly so. Eventually having gone pat the same pint three times, I eventually find the street that I am looking for, and can now begin my walk out toward St. Andrews.
Having dodged the seemingly never stopping traffic on the A4540, I begin the last bit towards the ground. Outside, I am greeted by the sight of half a dozen orange clad security personnel, who search my bag before letting me pass. Inside the ground, one of the stewards reckons that around fifty tickets have been pre-sold, and they aren’t expecting many more than that. At all points, I am told that I don’t sound Scottish, and I have to explain to each that this is my Scottish team, and that I have travelled up from Essex to attend. This prompts a discussion about adopting teams from north of the border, and while one steward has a soft spot for Rangers, another has a thing for Stenhousemuir.
Birmingham seem to have a cast of thousands on the pitch, and already look as though they will be using two completely different teams in each half of the game. Warming up in front of a deserted main stand (only the Spion Kop stand is open to home fans), it feels slightly strange to be in a ground for a game (albeit a friendly), and to have less than half of it open.
There are chances for both teams in the opening minutes of the game. First, Watkins is played in through a static Birmingham defence, but his shot is wide of the target. In the next minute, there is a chance at the other end, with the impressive Demarai Gray cutting in off the right wing to shoot, but his effort is also wide. Both of the home sides wide players (Gray and Lee Novak) have impressive games, and will give the visiting full backs a torrid time.
It is Novak who opens the scoring after eight minutes. Dean Brill doesn’t really live up to his name by seemingly allowing the shot to go through his hands while diving. One Jags fan in front of me re-enacts the attempted save, but the right footed shot has gone in, and the home side have their lead.
Caley thistle are having lots of possession, but don’t really seem to do much with it. They retain the ball well in the midfield, even in some tight spots, but there is a distinct lack of movement up front, meaning that the ball is being passed around at the back. Birmingham are content to let the visitors have the ball in their own half, but their pressurising of the ball once across half way forces Inverness back.
Seven minutes before half time, Birmingham score again, this time through Gray. He is allowed to run with the ball, and looks to have been forced wide, but at an angle, and about eight yards out, shoots and beats Brill at his near post. At half time, Birmingham lead 2-0.
During he interval, most head for the sanctuary of the concourse areas, although those remaining in the seats are treated to having the strength of their ear drums tested by the announcement that someone’s car needs to be moved. At least that is what I think it was, as it some moments before the sensation of being able to hear anything returned.
The game resumes, and former Dagger Wes Thomas has the first shot at goal, but having capitalised on a mistake in the Inverness midfield, he is unable to score. Thomas looked quite good when we had him at the Daggers, but we had two forwards at the time who scored almost every time they played, and it was unfortunate for him that he didn’t get the chance he may have deserved. It is good to see him doing well.
There are a handful of changes for each side around the hour mark, and it disrupts the flow of the game for a while. Included in those entering the game is Andrew Shinnie, brother of the Inverness captain, Graeme. He sets up a chance for David Cotterill who will put the effort wide. Once again, Inverness have lost the ball in midfield, and aren’t able to recover it in time.
With twenty minutes to go, Caley have a great chance to get back into the game; Aaron Doran is played in as the blues back line is split in two, and he is able to control the ball, as well as get his shot away. Unfortunately for him, Darren Randolph in the Birmingham goal has seen the danger and rushed out, blocking the shot almost as soon as it has left Doran’s boot. With fifteen minutes left, the visitors finally register a goal. A corner from the right hand side is headed up in the air, and as everyone converges on the ball dropping from the sky, Gary Warren is on hand to bundle it over the line.
Caley Thistle now look more positive when going forward. There are chances for Ryan Christie among others, but most of the shots are ending up in the empty sections of the Gil America stand. Clearly the shooting practice before the game wasn’t enough.
Birmingham finish the game with a third goal just before the end. As Inverness push on, Clayton Donaldson is played through. Brill rushes from his goal, and forces the former Hibs striker wide. However, as a defender comes back to help out, he clips the forward and the referee points to the spot. A few around me motion that they thought it was a dive, but Paul Caddis plants the ball in the net from the spot, and the scoring is complete.
As I walk back to New Street station, I reckon that it has been an entertaining game, and worth the journey. It would have given both managers plenty to think about for the coming week, and their respective league games. For Birmingham, apart from the wide players, Tom Adeyemi stood out with a decent performance. The goalkeeper (I thought) wasn’t tested too much, but seemed alert when Doran had his chance late on. It is difficult to judge on one game, but all home fans will be hoping that they don’t go through the same misery as last year. Changing so many players during the game does affect the performance, but I would be worried about the few times that they were opened up in the middle of the defence. If Lee Clark can resolve that, they might then have a chance of doing well.
For Inverness, a cutting edge to all of that possession would be good. It was a shame that they only looked like scoring after the bundled goal, as they could have had more joy than they eventually got. Richie Foran is a big loss, but they have some good players, and I hope that they can improve on last year.