McLeish content after bore of attrition
Birmingham City 0 Stoke City 0
Sunday 23 August 2009
There must be better ways, even in Premier League football, to spend £81.5m. Carson Yeung may be on the point of sealing his protracted takeover of Birmingham City but it is not very clear what he has bought.
Four points from three games – one of which was at Manchester United – is not a bad return but if the man from Hong Kong has intentions of using St Andrew's as a base to entertain business contacts, he might consider taking them to the pictures.
Birmingham City, especially when faced with the resolve and ruggedness of Stoke, are about establishing themselves in the Premier League rather than offering up entertainment. The fact remains, however, that their only goal has come courtesy of a rush of blood from David James that earned them victory over Portsmouth, who seem likely to become this season's Newcastle.
And as if proof were needed that at this level of football, only results matter, Alex McLeish's side was applauded off. "I don't think we are too disappointed," the Birmingham manager said. "We were troubled by their long balls before the break but in the second half we made some changes that took the game to Stoke, we took control in the midfield and might have won. We will need some inspiration in the last third to get the goals that will keep us in the Premier League. Today was total stalemate apart from one moment of brilliance."
That was a full-stretch save from the Stoke goalkeeper, Thomas Sorensen, as Sebastian Larsson's first touch of the ball – a free-kick – was met by Garry O'Connor's head. It was the kind of save Peter Reid, who is on the point of being appointed Tony Pulis's assistant at Stoke, would have remembered from his time managing the Dane at Sunderland. Pulis said the deal to bring in Reid was not yet done and depended on obtaining clearance from the Thai FA, with whom Reid is contracted. Pulis added that one of Reid's chief attractions was that he was "a true football man and a typical, bubbly Scouser. We could do with a bit of bubbliness in the dressing-room." Actually, they could have done with some on the pitch.
The first draw of the new Premier League season was not a thing of beauty and few expected this match to be anything other than an attritional slog. Stoke's task was complicated by the loss of James Beattie with a knee injury when the game was barely a dozen minutes old.
Thereafter, their chief threat rested with Ricardo Fuller, who was given two opportunities but used his hand to put one cross over the line and then, after O'Connor had headed Matthew Etherington's ball across his own area, found the top of Joe Hart's net.
Birmingham had prepared for Stoke's arrival by employing their reserve keeper, Maik Taylor, to punt long balls towards their defenders in training, in an attempt to mimic Rory Delap's long-throws. Given the panicky way McLeish's back-four dealt with the first five, there was a bit of work still to do when kick-off arrived.
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