Saturday, 17 April 2010

34: Birmingham City 0 - 0 Hull City - 17/04/2010

And so the mantra of hope over despair is maintained. A nervy, battling, often enjoyable performance by Hull City which, with just a little more finishing prowess, would have been a stunning and timely three points instead of the adequate one.

The Tigers were helped by some effective and subtle team changes by Iain Dowie, although his selection in goal of Matt Duke over Boaz Myhill was as surprising as it was pointless, and an obviously dozy Birmingham City whose work this season is done and who are all looking forward far too prematurely to a tropical island and a big telly beamed in on South Africa.

Dowie also restored Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink up front but in doing so again erased the name of Jozy Altidore from the teamsheet. Yet has he to see the potential of the American-Dutch partnership that briefly looked so useful in Phil Brown's last throes, but there was at least progress in his thinking by the absence of Caleb Folan entirely from the side. Also returning was Tom Cairney within a five-man midfield.

Birmingham had the first chance as James McFadden volleyed a half-cleared corner from Craig Gardner over the bar and then Scott Dann was wide with a glancing header from another Gardner set-piece. The game settled quickly and, with springtime sunshine beating down on St Andrew's, City began to get more involved.

Jimmy Bullard, with his head up throughout the game, swapped passes with the selfless Vennegoor of Hesselink to send George Boateng free to the byline. The marking had not materialised at all by the time the low cross reached Kevin Kilbane with pretty much an open goal before him, but the ball ran under his feet. A seriously big chance wasted, but the resourcefulness of the move suggested that the Tigers were capable of creating similarly good openings again.

Paul McShane
cleared under pressure from Cameron Jerome after Duke could only palm to one side a Gardner shot before City countered thanks to Bullard's renewed desire to advance with the ball, and he tried two shots from distance which were saved by Joe Hart and deflected into touch respectively. Craig Fagan, back at his first club, sliced a reasonable chance high and wide after Vennegoor of Hesselink nodded Bullard's chipped pass into his path.

Birmingham then saw City bodies get in the way of good chances, with Steven Mouyokolo's crunching challenge on Keith Fahey earning him rapturous acclaim from the Tiger Nation, and then Cairney also putting a sturdy foot in the way of Jerome's effort after City had been caught out by a quick throw. The ball looped into the air and Lee Bowyer headed over the bar.

Duke then saved a Bowyer shot with a full airborne stretch, a stop that was to prove his most taxing moment of the day as Birmingham began to wilt, dropping back as the break approached and giving the Tigers, and especially Bullard, more of the ball. Vennegoor of Hesselink plunged at a low Andy Dawson cross to aim a fierce diving header towards Hart's near post but the keeper managed a tidy and instinctive save. The tall Dutchman managed a further header shortly afterwards from a Fagan centre but it was weaker and caused little trouble for Hart.

Half time came and went with, as usual in these situations, the Tiger Nation expressing hope and immediately cursing themselves for doing so.

But it was worth expressing as City were by far the better team in the second half. Instantly Kilbane won a corner which Bullard curled in dangerously for Mouyokolo to head on and Boateng to volley over after a Birmingham forehead only got half the required power into the clearance. Encouraging start, made more so by the wonderful Cairney weaving through three players, determined to find room for a shot that, when it came, was too high.

As the game began to open up, Dowie got Altidore ready and we awaited the restoration of the big two up front. But alas, it was Vennegoor of Hesselink's number that was raised but at least with Altidore on the park there would be mobility as well as brute force to work Birmingham's tiring defenders. He was roared on with real enthusiasm by the Tiger Nation.

Birmingham counter attacked from an Ibrahima Sonko long throw but Jerome's final shot was deflected wide by a chasing McShane, who had initially struggled to see the ball arrowing his way from the Birmingham half thanks to the sun. From the corner, City launched their own counter which involved Altidore burrowing through, round and eventually past Roger Johnson to get to the byline, only to concede a soft free kick as the defender went to the turf.

Bullard, utterly dominant of the ball now, tried a poked shot that had in timing what it lacked in power, and Hart was very nearly fooled but still managed to grab at the goalbound shot. Altidore and Cairney then exchanged passes with real beauty before Cairney hit a shot with the outside of his left boot that was only just wide.

Injury time was underway by the time Fagan hit the final chance just wide from a volley that came his way after Bullard's cross was cleared. The final whistle confirmed a goalless game but anything but a soulless effort from the Tigers, and while a point only represents a hollow victory following that awful display against Burnley a week ago, it also indicates there is still spirit and desire in the squad to do the right thing by us all. It was a fine game and so nearly the finest of results, and much credit should offered to all involved.

Birmingham City: Hart, Carr, Ridgewell, Johnson, Dann, Bowyer, Ferguson, Fahey (Larsson 63), McFadden (Phillips 60), Jerome, Gardner. Subs not used: Taylor, Parnaby, Madera, Vignal, Benitez.

Hull City: Duke, McShane, Dawson, Mouyokolo, Sonko, Boateng, Cairney, Bullard, Kilbane, Fagan, Vennegoor of Hesselink (Altidore 75). Subs not used: Myhill, Cooper, Marney, Olofinjana, Barmby, Geovanni.