It’s going to sound incredibly cliché, but this one really was a game of two halves. The big talking point before kickoff was the fact that captain Tom Cairney was missing through illness, and that Mitrovic was going to take the armband, a brave call although I do think out of who we had available, it was between him and Stefan Johansen, and I’d rather it went to StefJo (for reasons I’ll explain later).
Our defence has been suspect at points this season, but my word they took that to a whole new level in the first half, Odoi being particularly culpable as he was exposed so many times down the right-hand side. The person behind me said it best (so GL2, Row 31, Seat 52ish, whoever you are, credit to you sir), the players just didn’t seem to want it, allowing Birmingham players to just walk through the defence on multiple occasions. If they were better at finishing, we’d have been in real trouble. Credit to Rodak who made a good save for their only real threat in the first half. That sort of attitude made its way into the attacking play as well, best exemplified by Knockaert just leaving Christie to charge down the right flank on the 40th minute and not even bothering to help him out, just sitting on the halfway line.
It was the kind of performance that looking at it, you understand why there are so many people calling for Parker to go (of which I’m sort of part of, but not yet a card-carrying member). Overall there was a lack of urgency and the play just wasn’t clicking, on more than one occasion players just weren’t communicating with each other and it cut our attacks dead in their tracks. Those are the kind of moments you need someone like Cairney, who whilst he wasn’t great in the Premier League, is a fantastic Championship player who brings that creative spark into the team, and you could clearly see that it was missing on Saturday.
The game sparked into life on the stroke of halftime, when Mitro and Jude Bellingham had a bit of a coming together. It was an off the ball incident so I didn’t quite see what built up to it, but in that incident, Mitro needed to walk away and leave the 16-year-old to it. That’s why I wasn’t comfortable with Mitro being captain. He’s far too hot-headed to be seen as a leader, and whilst I want that in a player, I don’t want that characteristic in the club captain.
I don’t know what Parker said to the players at half time, but it really had an effect as we came flying out the blocks to start the second half. I suppose there was a little bit of luck in our goal, Lee Camp made a horrendous error, but you have to give Mitrovic credit for being in the right place at the right time. We had a couple of nervy moments, most notably when they hit the crossbar with less than ten minutes to go, but overall I think the defence needs to take a lot of credit for a much-awaited clean sheet, with a particular shoutout to Cyrus Christie. I don’t know if he just found an extra gear to motivate and prove his doubters wrong, but I don’t think he put a foot wrong, both going forward and in defence. Whether or not it was enough for him to be seen as a serious challenger to the likes of Odoi and Sessegnon going forward, we’ll just have to wait and see but it was nice to see him take his chance.
Furthermore, whilst he might not be everybody’s cup of tea, I do think the substitution to bring on Kamara at the point he did, was a fantastic move by Parker and AK47 showed exactly what his purpose is with his two breakaways (if he’d have had longer studs on, he might have caused more damage). I’ve said many a time and I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face, he is not a starter, but if you want that extra burst of energy in the last ten minutes to either chase or close out a game, there might not be anybody better in the division to have on your team.
Overall, you can’t be too fussed as we managed to get the three points which is all that matters (result over performance, always remember that. Don’t be drawn into the ‘we played well, that’s all that matters’ nonsense), but there is still plenty for Parker and the guys to work on before I’ll be convinced they can be a serious contender for a top-two spot long-term.