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Birmingham v Spurs, 01.03.08

BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
SATURDAY 1ST MARCH, 2008
BIRMINGHAM CITY 4 (1) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 1 (0)

Birmingham scorers:-
Forssell, 7, 59, 81
Larsson, 55

Spurs scorer:-
Jenas, 90

Referee: - Mr. Lee Probert

Attendance: - 26,055

Teams:-
Birmingham (4-4-2):- Taylor; Kelly, Jaidi, Ridgewell, Murphy; Larsson, Muamba, Johnson (Capt.), McSheffrey (sub Parnaby, 69); Forssell (sub Jerome, 82), McFadden (sub Zarate, 82)

Subs not used: - Doyle; Nafti

Booked: - Johnson (foul on Hutton)

Spurs (4-4-2):- Robinson (Capt.); Hutton, Kaboul, Chimbonda, Tainio (sub Jenas, 46); Malbranque (sub Keane, 46), Huddlestone, Zokora (sub Gunter, 73), O’Hara; Berbatov, Bent
Robbie Keane took the armband for the second half.

Subs not used: - Cerny; Lennon

No Bookings

Judging by the performance of the players all in yellow, representing the Carling Cup winners, Spurs were still at the post Cup-Winning party. Such was the disarray demonstrated on the pitch by our team that Birmingham had a festival of their own, all at our expense. The Brummies ran to their biggest Premier League win of the season, and completed a League double over Spurs for the first time since the 1975-76 season. This was Spurs worst defeat of the season, and therefore the worst performance by far under the management of Juande Ramos.

Disappointing as today’s result is, the fact of the matter is that Spurs one remaining target for this season is to win the UEFA Cup, and whilst the club went on record this week as saying they owed it to the teams above and below them to give full respect to League matches, as long as they remain in the UEFA Cup, then surely Ramos is going to use the squad in his league matches. As far as Spurs chances in next Thursday night’s game against PSV Eindhoven go, there is little to be divined from today’s game.

There were numerous changes made to the starting line-up, and during the game, style and strategy changed so much that I don’t think the players had too much idea of who was doing what. We started with a fourth choice centre- back, Younes Kaboul, who was partnered initially by Pascal Chimbonda, whilst Teemu Tainio covered at left back. By the end of the game at least four players had held a central defensive position, as Chimbonda moved to left back when Tainio was replaced by Jenas at the break, and Zokora moved next to Kaboul. Eventually Zokora (who could be held accountable for two of the second half goals) was replaced by Gunter by which time Spurs were playing three central defenders with Hutton and O’Hara as wing-backs.

Despite the disarray, Spurs did have loads of chances. Following the early Forssell goal, Spurs spent most of the first half camped in Birmingham territory, and at half time many people were convinced that we could have won the game. We were soon on the back foot though, as Paul Robinson made two early second half saves, and it wasn’t long before one of the ex-gooners in the team, Sebastian Larsson (who scored the last minute winner at The Lane) fired home a free kick to send the home side on their way to a win which lifted them one place up the table, but still only one point off the relegation zone. Of course, Spurs do need to gain two or three wins in their remaining games to secure their right to play in next year’s Premier League, so they cannot afford to forget altogether about domestic commitments.

Spurs had a couple of forays into the opposition area, but it was Birmingham who got the early pressure with a couple of corners, defended with not enough conviction by spurs. From the third, Ridgewell rose in the middle of the area and his header reached McFadden beyond the back post. The former Everton player chipped in a cross, which Forssell rose to and headed beyond Robinson for his first goal since Birmingham Boxing Day win over Middlesbrough (their last league win).

Once again, Darren Bent suffered the pressure of his price-tag, as many Spurs fans lost patience with him ages ago. Whilst he was often guilty of ineptitude in front of goal, he did win a battle for the ball after 12 minutes, feeding it back to Jamie O’Hara who hit a good low shot that passed just outside Taylor’s right hand post. O’Hara was by far the best Spurs player, and of course he had everything to prove and gain by trying to convince the manager of his right to be in the squad next week.

A Birmingham free kick was headed by Kaboul and had Robinson beaten as the ball passed outside the post for a corner. After 19 minutes, Dimitar Berbatov picked up a loose ball and headed for goal, hitting a shot across the keeper, which rebounded into play off the post. After 27 minutes, Hutton won the ball in the opposition half, and fed Huddlestone who picked out the advancing Bent, who was blocked by the keeper. Berbatov was then heavily involved in some spurs pressure before Tainio fed O’Hara who tried a low right foot shot collected by Taylor.

Zokora hit a great ball to O’Hara from right to left. O’Hara passed back to Tainio who threaded one for Malbranque, who moved to his left and crossed winning a corner. A few minutes later, Malbranque made a good lay-off to O’Hara, who hit a good shot, again held by the reliable Taylor. Birmingham skipper Damien Johnson got the only booking of the game for a foul on Hutton near the half-way line.

If you re-read the report so far, you can see why I had optimistic views about the second half. Jenas moved into his usual midfield role, and Zokora was pushed into the centre half role, whilst Chimbonda went to left back. Robbie Keane had the freedom of the midfield behind the front two, but later in the game he partnered Bent and Berbatov was the more supportive striker. Within the first minute of this half, Paul Robinson was down well to a 22 yard rocket of a shot hit by McFadden, and he then made a great close range save from Forssell as he met a cross from the left.

Spurs were trying to get forward, but lacked composure. Keane was fouled on the edge of the box, and Jenas rolled the kick to Kaboul, who hit a right foot shot a yard over the bar. It was Zokora who conceded a free kick in the danger zone just outside the area, and Larsson sent the home fans into raptures with a pile-driver that beat Robinson all ends up. Four minutes later and the game was lost for certain. Kaboul hit a short ball down the line, intended for O’Hara, but the ball was easily smothered and collected between the three Blue shirts in that area. The cross came in and Zokora (perhaps involuntarily) hit the ball towards the goal to the left of Robinson. The Spurs keeper dived and parried, but Forssell swept up for his second and his team’s third goal.

With half an hour left, Spurs still got forward, hunting for a goal. Huddlestone tried a free kick the bounced off the wall, and when it was feedback over the defence, Robbie Keane’s reaction shot was easily held by Taylor, who was then tested by another Huddlestone effort, that he tipped over. From this corner, all bent could do was loop a weak header wide of the target. After 69 minutes, McFadden again teed up Forssell, whose shot was well blocked by Zokora. He was soon replaced by Gunter. The fact that Lennon remained unused on the bench and that players such as Malbranque, Jenas and Keane only played 45 minutes is a clear indication of where Ramos’s priorities lie. Bent had a header blocked from an O’Hara cross, and then it was Berbatov’s turn to see a shot tipped over by Taylor. Even when Spurs were gifted a chance inside the Birmingham box, Huddlestone could not hit the target.

The final Birmingham goal came when the referee waved play on after a Spurs foul, and with the defence stood still, McFadden chipped the ball to Forssell who went to the left side of the area, then fired across Robinson for his hat-trick and seventh league goal of the season. Forssell and McFadden were replaced to the deserved acclaim of their crowd, and the agony was not over for Spurs as on-loan Argentinean striker Mauro Zarate ran rings around the defence and threatened to make it five.

Spurs did get a consolation when Jenas made the break from half-way, exchanged with Bent and scored from close range as we entered added time.

I can only close with a comparison with our poor home performance against Slavia Prague before last Sunday’s magnificent Cup win, and hope that next Thursday night’s team performance matches that.

· Squad numbers,appearances,bookings & goalscorers
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