'Crash, bang wallop' works for McLeish
Birmingham 2 West Ham 2
Monday 08 November 2010
The sight of his coach Andy Watson heading into the night kitted out in what appeared to be a leather kilt startled even Alex McLeish. But then rapid makeovers were de rigeur here on Saturday, Birmingham achieving a positive new look after forsaking diamonds and West Ham's finery being all but transformed into tatters by the end.
McLeish, the Birmingham manager, has been striving to "make things a wee bit more creative in the last third" by deploying Alexander Hleb at the apex of a midfield diamond. "It's not easy to fit him in given the style we've played over the past year – a lot of graft, hard work and more robust," said the Scot.
The formation had sparkled in Birmingham's previous home game, against Blackpool. However, by their manager's frank admission, it failed to provide a cutting edge to worry West Ham, who merited the 2-0 lead secured by Frédéric Piquionne and Valon Behrami.
Switching to a direct approach, and replacing Hleb's elegance with the energy of Craig Gardner, Birmingham swiftly drew level through Cameron Jerome and Liam Ridgewell and would have claimed a winner had Daniel Gabbidon not diverted Jerome's effort on to a post. "If we're playing at breakneck speed, it's crash, bang, wallop and there's no time, Cameron's pouncing on things," said McLeish. "But when it's all methodical, then we probably need different personnel. It all comes down to getting the right formula."
Birmingham are just a point better off than after 11 matches last season, and despite having upgraded their squad with the signings of Hleb, Jean Beausejour and Nikola Zigic, they have won only three of their past 21 League matches. McLeish insisted he was not perturbed by that statistic but noted that a surfeit of home draws led to relegation in 2007-08, and this was the third stalemate in six games on their own ground.
The plight of West Ham, who are propping up the Premier League with seven points from a possible 33, is identical to Portsmouth's at this stage a year ago. Pompey finished bottom. The common denominator, manager Avram Grant, now faces home fixtures against promoted duo West Brom and Blackpool that could decide his future at Upton Park.
During the opening hour, his side's fluid attacking set up the prospect of a first League away win in 24 attempts and Ben Foster had to be outstanding in the home goal. Grant condemned as a "farce" referee Michael Oliver's failure to award a penalty when Beausejour pulled Lars Jacobsen's shirt late on. However, the more pressing issue was why high balls and set-pieces should have so easily disconcerted Robert Green, Matthew Upson et al.
Jacobsen, adopting the old too-good-to-go-down stance, stressed the need for results to match performances. "We just have to get out of there," said the Dane. "When you look at the team, the players and the way we play, we don't belong there."
Man of the match Foster Match rating 6/10
Possession Birmingham 54% West Ham 46%
Shots on target Birmingham 5 West Ham 8
Referee M Oliver(Northumberland) Att 26, 474.
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