My trip to St Andrews was an eagerly anticipated one. Looking forward to visiting Birmingham is not a feeling many people in history have experienced,but it promised to be a competitive game. Not only that, but I'd managed to take advantage of having a friend at uni close by, so I could blag some accommodation for the night. Lovely stuff.
The lengthy early morning journey took me on a winding route across the Midlands. From Cambridge to Peterborough, Leicester and Nuneaton, before arriving into Birmingham at 10:40. Far too early. Fortunately though I'd planned on a quick detour to Leamington Spa to drop off my overnight bag and pick up the rented Charlton. Plenty of nostalgic away-day discussion,as is always required on your first trip to a new ground. Given the length of time that I'd been waiting for the day to arrive, I was getting a bit excited.
At Birmingham New Street we spotted a Palace scarf. Of course, West Brom away. They understandably didn't look thrilled at the prospect of watching their side. We ignored them and made for St Andrews.
Thanks to some dodgy initial map reading, we took a detour through what appeared to be an almost entirely abandoned area of Birmingham. The city is a very odd place. It doesn't quite seem to work properly. But after some calculated guesses we stumbled upon the steady stream of fans heading to the game.
As the ground finally came into view, I spotted an inspirational figure. Headphones Norm! He's got something of a cult status, with his skunk hat and attachment to a radio to listen to the scores. Surely this was a good sign...
St Andrews itself was quite a pleasant ground. We'd been allocated one half of the end stand, and were in good voice as kick-off approached. The only downside was that our drum seemed to have been denied entry. The Charlton squad got a rousing reception as they made their way down the tunnel after their warm-ups. Come On You Reds.
|St Andrews at kick-off, before the rain arrived|
Neither Richard Wood nor Yann Kermorgant had recovered from the injuries sustained six days earlier against Wigan, so Dorian Dervite and Johnnie Jackson came into the side as replacements. Jackson had been given the role of support striker playing behind Church, but ended up playing more as a midfielder. Cameron Stewart started on the left, with Pritchard retaining his position on the right despite some recent criticism. Cousins and Stephens remained as the central midfield duo, whilst Wilson, Wiggins, Morrison and Hamer completed the team-sheet. Three games without conceding a goal, but given the lack of a Kermorgant on the pitch, creating chances and playing incisive attacking football was going to prove tricky.
The first half began with numerous exchanges of possession, as both sides struggled to keep hold of the ball. Particularly problematic for the Addicks was the lack of an outlet to target up front. A number of hasty long balls were aimed at Church after the midfield struggled to advance up the pitch.
Birmingham were unfortunate not to go in front. Chris Burke had space on the right byline after Charlton failed to clear, and after what looked like a mis-hit cross, Hamer fumbled the catch under pressure from an attacker. The rebound was headed in, but the referee had awarded a free-kick for a foul on the keeper. Soft.
Neither side dominated, but Charlton improved as the half went on, stringing some nice passes together and advancing up the pitch. Most of the longer balls were ineffective and easily dealt with, but the Addicks did manage to fashion a few chances thanks to nervy defensive errors, as well as some good play. A defensive slip saw Church free in space, setting up Jackson who fired wide, and a deflected cross bounced kindly for Jackson again, but he couldn't get enough on his stabbed header and it was well saved by ex-Addick Darren Randolph. Church almost had room to fire a shot from inside the area but was challenged by Burn just before he could pull the trigger. Jackson had a free kick on the left side of the D but hit it comfortably over the bar. Stephens saw the ball aimed towards him inside the box, but he got underneath his volleyed effort and undercut the ball, which spun comfortably for Randolph to save.
Shortly before half time, the danger of the lanky Zigic was made clear. Charlton were having to make a lot of passes, patiently awaiting an opening - Birmingham hoofed a goal kick straight at Zigic, who won the ball and nodded it to Lee Novak. His shot was heading for the bottom right hand corner, but Hamer dived at full stretch to make an excellent save. It was a vital stop.
Few other notable events to report, apart from one magnificent utterance: Having only lost a header, one Addick just growled the words "Fuck off Zigic!" The randomness of it made me laugh, especially given the fairly tame crime committed by the big man. He's not actually that skillful in the air, but just an enormous lump. If Birmingham kept aiming at him, a chance was bound to fall their way. That said, Lee Clark's tactics had been questionable at best. Aside from releasing the dangerous Chris Burke down the right wing on a couple of occasions, there was no coherent game plan.
Charlton had been solid, creating the odd chance and winning most of the aerial balls aimed at Zigic. Pritchard struggled, his touch seeming a little heavy, the usual spark to his play missing. Some called for a sub, but Powell kept faith in his men and returned the same eleven to the pitch for the second half. Jackson and Church were having to work really hard, but their pressuring of the defenders was leading to regular errors.
When that golden opportunity to score presented itself, Charlton had to grab it.
Birmingham were caught high up the pitch, presenting Church with a chance to run at the lone remaining defender. He almost made it past, but was shepherded wide by Bartley after struggling to get the ball out from under his feet.
Charlton attacked again. The lively Cameron Stewart cut in off the left wing and looked to shot low towards the near post. Randolph saved the shot, but only managed to parry it back into the danger area, where Jackson was advancing. The close-range effort was blocked by Randolph, the ball rebounding off a defender across the face of goal towards a wide open Dale Stephens. He coolly side-footed home. GET IN THERE!
|Stephens and Jackson celebrate|
The away end erupted. The players flooded over to celebrate. Renditions of all the usual songs followed. The breakthrough was deserved based on the way Charlton had grown into the game.
Despite the goal I still felt that the sheer unpredictability of where the ball falls after a long hoof aimed at Zigic meant there was a chance Birmingham could score, no matter how poor their play had been up to this point. The fears almost became reality when Zigic almost got a shot off, only to be denied by a Morrison challenge. Soon after, Hamer was rounded but Adyemi's effort was cleared off the line. Morrison again the saviour.
Birmingham seemed to have an element of coherence about their approach following the goal, but even their long ball game was disorganised, with Zigic often isolated. Charlton managed to settle the game after the initial panic, and should have had a penalty. Wilson had broken towards the box after some good counter-attacking play, and he was clearly tripped by the defender. Once again the referee baffled us by giving nothing. He was hopeless all day.
The Addicks were able to take advantage of Clark committing more men forward, counter-attacking effectively. Church continued to charge around, even despite a brief injury worry when he was caught in the build up to the earlier goal. He had a chance to shoot after Stewart set him up 10 yards out, but didn't quite have the time to get his effort off cleanly. Church burst down the right, only to find he had insufficient support with him. Soon after, he chased down the ball near the byline, stealing the ball off Caddis and winning a corner. A vigorous and fully deserved rendition of "SIIIIIMON CHURCH! SIMON CHURCH!" followed.
Powell had kept the same men on the pitch, and as the last ten minutes approached, the home side were still struggling to create meaningful chances. However,that feared ricochet following a long ball materialised. Lovenkrands was free 10 yards out, the ball finding its way to him. All he could do was blaze over. Don't panic...
Jackson was withdrawn, but not before he'd been on a 50-yard lung-busting run to force the ball back to Randolph. The retuning skipper's efforts were heartily appreciated by the 855 travelling supporters. Jordan Cook came on to lead the line. Birmingham continued to hoof it long, but their further efforts were repelled.
The whistle went. Game over! A win for the mighty Addicks!
A glorious result, even if it was against a Birmingham side who were largely woeful. That doesn't matter when you've won away from home. The joy is there.
A chorus of "Since I Was Young" boomed out as the players drifted over to show their appreciation. Jackson led the applause, being the superb captain and clubman he is. The chorus kept going. Each and every player was heralded as a hero, and rightly so. The job was done, and everyone was thrilled with the result. Finally the song came to a close, but only because the players had cleared the way for Chris Powell to salute the fans. He really does love this club, and we all love him. He made for the tunnel looking extremely proud and thankful of the support. There was time for two of his tunnel jumps, too. The man is a god amongst men.
I love this club.
|The players thank the jubilant away following|
Charlton were excellent, but it needs to be pointed out just how poor the home side were. There was no coherent game plan. The midfield pair were largely absent in their influence. Particularly striking was just how badly they coped defensively. Under the high ball there was no conviction. Hopeful balls forward were put out for a throw, instead of being controlled, recycled or given to the keeper. They dithered on the ball occasionally, and lacked the composure to emulate the controlling display of the Addicks' centre back pairing. Morrison and Dervite won most of the aerial contests, controlled the pace of the game with some calm passing, and waited for the right moment to kick the ball long. Wiggins and Wilson were also excellent, contrasting with the Birmingham defence by keeping the ball in play and looking to go forward. Wilson should've had a penalty, whilst Wiggins assisted Stewart well down the left. I've been really impressed with Wilson lately,and he again demonstrated today why he's a valuable member of the side. Solly is missed, mainly because it prevents Wilson playing the more advanced midfield role.
Simon Church, My Lord. It was a heroic effort from him all day, as his isolated role required heart, stamina and bursts of energy. He had plenty of that. It was no accident that his name was chanted the most. He's really developing as a player this season. A fully deserved man-of-the-match reward is on its way in the post.
Jackson's return was long overdue, and his role today required him to be fully fit. He assisted Church in attack, but as the game went on, the bulk of his work was done in midfield. He showed real heart in chasing down the ball late on. It really was Johnnie Jackson running down the wing, at that point. The leadership value he brings to the side cannot be overstated. Well played skip.
Stephens and Cousins again had good games, the former passing the ball well and taking his chance to score, the latter tidying up in the deeper role. He might not play eye-catching football, but Cousins is another who has developed since coming into the side.
Pritchard was far better in the second half. His confidence was lacking in the first half, but Powell kept faith in him and was rewarded with a stronger performance. He's attracted much criticism lately, and whilst I admit he does make errors going forward, the defensive job he does is important. He showed his value in that regard after half time. The narrowness in defence is a reason we aren't often overrun centrally, and Pritchard is important in that regard.
Despite the absence of Kermorgant for both games, that's two away wins in a row. I can't help but think that Yann would've torn Birmingham apart today, such was the space available. He is definitely missed in attack, but the past run of results has been made possible by the defence. Around seven and a half hours without conceding is a phenomenal effort. Chris Powell deserves a lot of credit for the turnaround, but so do the defenders themselves, as well as Ben Hamer. Morrison is really leading the back line well, and although Wood was missing after some excellent performances, Dervite came in and did a fantastic job as well. The role of Cousins in front of the back four has also helped, as there's less exposure to onrushing midfielders thanks to the protection he offers.
17th in the table is by no means a relaxing position, but all the positive signs are there. With Yann back we will be a stronger side in attack, but no weaker in defence given his aerial ability. Powell has had to cope with a complete absence of investment, but he has stitched together a side and given them the confidence to win matches. Every time we suffer a bad run, he turns things around. Powell's value to this club is enormous. Each and every fan let him know as much after full time.
Any away win is special. Birmingham were poor, but Charlton were far better in the second half and deservedly took the three points.
Despite the driving rain and chilling wind, the walk back to the station was a happy one. I could've walked all the way home after a day like that. A Birmingham fan kindly offered us congratulations. Wolves fans provided interesting conversation on the train to Leamington. And I had to suppress a chuckle whenever I spotted a Palace fan.
A lovely portion of pie and chips (proper food) was consumed and we settled down at my night's accommodation to watch Match of the Day, and later the 20-seconds we were afforded on the Football League Show. We worked out that Steve Claridge had played for 23 different clubs in his lengthy career, and much laughter ensued when Manish introduced Birmingham as "One of your old clubs, Steve." Further laughter was had at the idea of Claridge not celebrating a goal against his former club - he'd never be able to celebrate at all.
It was a thoroughly entertaining trip. I always enjoy visiting a new ground. The sense of adventure, combined with seeing your beloved team play, makes it fantastic. A win makes it even better.
The lengthy Sunday return journey has allowed me to type all this up, and despite the near-four hour time I'm sitting on these bloody trains, I'm quite content. Reliving the game is a great way to pass the time. Dreaming of what the future holds is part of it too. The camaraderie, the loyalty through good times and bad, the anticipation, and of course the raw passion of the match itself - that's what football is all about. Enduring the bad times means enjoyment of the good is far more satisfying. A fantastic weekend.
Looking back, this was the first time I'd seen us win (in the league) this season. I missed the Leicester home game and couldn't make Blackburn. Don't usually have to wait until November to witness that moment!
Great video of the Charlton goal, and ensuing celebration of the players and the entire away end.
Also, this is a fantastic watch: The away end after the final whistle.