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Nearly, Blues

By Chris Quinn on May 9, 12 11:54 PM in Birmingham City FC


So near; yet so far. Just for a moment, as Curtis Davies wheeled away circling his arms in celebration, it looked like we could do it. The momentum was with us and there were 15 minutes left to find a goal to force extra-time. We did not deserve it, but we had belief.

However, the fact that we needed such a comeback was our own doing. We had only come alive for the final half hour of a 180-minute tie. The first ninety was a contender for our worst performance of the season and the second game did not start any better.

I wrote recently about our problems against teams who come to St. Andrew's and play five-man midfields and the agonising defeat to Blackpool was no different.

Holloway's men set up with Angel and Barry Ferguson sitting deeper as Stephen Dobbie, Thomas Ince and Matty Phillips pushed on when the Tangerines countered. However, as good as they were on the break, they started the game very defensively sound.
Blackpool kept the ball well in the opening exchanges and looked to utilise the wide men who had had so much success in the first leg. But the most impressive aspect of their set-up was when they lost the ball. With lightening speed they retreated and ensured every man was back behind the ball. Dobbie dropped deeper to stifle the space through the middle and Ince and Phillips were instantly doubling up on the wingers and tracking them all the way back to the full-backs.

This left Blues bereft of creative options and often lead to Curtis Davies launching the ball towards the head of Nikola Zigic - much to the delight of Ian Evatt and Alex-John Baptiste who won headers, and cheap fouls, all night against the Serb.
Blues' direct approach played into the Seasiders' hands as their aerial dominance often lead to their spare midfield man (who more often than not was the brilliant Barry Ferguson) being able to pick up the loose ball and find the full-backs or wingers quickly. It was criminal of Blues to allow Ferguson and Angel so much time on the ball to dictate proceedings.

A ball, under no pressure, inside of David Murphy gave Thomas Ince the chance to put Blackpool ahead twice early on, but Colin Doyle saved well on both occasions. Dobbie then scored from a corner after beating Doyle at his near post before Blues gave Angel the time to take a touch, get his head up and pick out the run of Phillips who scuffed his finish to seal Blackpool's Wembley return.

It was the third goal Blackpool had scored in the tie and the trio all came around the half-time mark. In the first leg, Thomas Ince scored one minute into first-half stoppage time, whilst tonight, Dobbie's strike came on the 45-minute mark. The final goal of the triumvirate came in the 48th minute - instantly decimating Hughton's half-time team-talk and almost killing the game as a result. These goals point to a lack of concentration from Blues players who, to their defence, have endured a mentally draining season. However, in the big games, concentration can often be vital and this occasion was no different.

Naturally, following Phillips' strike, Holloway's side began to drop deeper and sacrificed the intense pressure game that had served them so well, replacing it with a deeper, more compact, defensive line. A brilliant pass by Burke breached that and then Davies nodded home to make it nervy for the Tangerines.

But, they managed to hold on to, deservedly, take their place in the showpiece final against West Ham. For Blues, it's been the end of an unforgettable season and just reaching this stage was a mammoth achievement.

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Martin Laurence

Martin Laurence is a lifelong Aston Villa fan, statistical analyst and editor-in-chief at www.WhoScored.com. My Posts

Chris Quinn

Chris Quinn is a journalism graduate who has been a season ticket holder at Birmingham City for 10 years. My Posts

Richard Jefferson

Richard Jefferson is a West Bromwich Albion season ticket holder of more than 30 years and contributes to wbaunofficial
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