MATCH REPORT – Watford 3 Birmingham City 0 (Jason Rose)
One swallow doesn’t make a summer but when you have had to sit through some of the dross we have had to sit through at the Vic you have to enjoy the wins as and when they come along.
It was definitely a big step forward from Saturday and even the last home match. Scoring very early always helps to settle the nerves and to follow that up soon afterwards with a second builds the platform for a good home win. The performance itself wasn’t without its own bumps in the road. The first half an hour in particular was as impressive as we have been this calendar year but we do still have a tendency to let our foot of the gas and after a stoppage for an injury our intensity levels dropped and you felt we had let Birmingham off slightly with just a two goal deficit at the break.
In the second half City improved and we dropped our levels allowing the visitors to create some good chances which luckily for us they spurned. Once we produced one moment of quality and scored our third the result was never in doubt.
With an injury to Ismailia Sarr and suspension to Hamza Choudhury there was no choice for Chris Wilder in his first home game as this week’s Head Coach but to make changes from Saturday’s abomination. The lesser-spotted Jeremy Ngakia was recalled in favour of Gaspar and right wing back, with Ismael Kone and Leandro Bacuna coming into a three man midfield to help Imran Louza and allowing Joao Pedro to work further forward to get closer to Keinan Davis in attack.
I was intrigued to see how we would perform without both Choudhury and Sarr because to many of us they have been problems in their own way to how we play. My feelings with regards Choudhury is that when we are at home he slows us down in transition with the ball, without the ball his skills of being able to snuff out problems is not within doubt but when we are at home and the emphasis is on us to dictate play the Leicester loanee does not move the ball quickly enough. His replacement Bacuna played very differently to how Choudhury normally sets up, Bacuna pushed up ten yards on the back three allowing them to have the space to distribute the ball, this extra space made allot of difference to us and meant we moved the ball quicker than normal. In the interests of balance I need to point out that Birmingham did give us allot of space to work in and did not press us anywhere near as much as recent opponents so that did allow us to be more adventurous and progressive moving the ball. As I have said before I like Choudhury but this was a definite improvement in play without him and I still think he is an important player for us particularly away from home.
The other noticeable absentee to the starting line up was Sarr who has gone off the boil quite rapidly in the last few weeks so how would we mount attacks without apparently our biggest threat? If anything our attacks were more structured without him and Ismael Kone was a more than able replacement. The young Canadian linked up well with the rest of the midfield and with Joao ahead of him. He capped a solid display with an assist for the third goal and overall we did not miss Sarr at all. Whether the Senegalese winger will be fit enough for Saturday I do not know but I don’t think he should walk straight back into the team after the team performance last night.
We started on the front foot took the lead in the 5th minute when some decent hold up play from Keinan Davis got us going, he released Ken Sema on the left who pulled the back to the penalty spot where Imran Louza swept the ball into the back of the net to give us a strong start.
A fine solo effort from Keinan Davis who picked the ball up in the left channel and drove aggressively into the City box and smashed the ball past the City keeper high into the roof of the net to end his own personal drought that has stretched back to October. His emphatic finish belied the fact he had struggled to hit the net or even look like scoring since the World Cup break but hopefully the Genie is out the bottle now and he can go on a bit of hot-streak of goals. Overall his performance was good and a bit more like the one we had expected from him when he signed from Villa. He was clearly motivated by the fact it was Birmingham and he charged around like a man possessed. The goal clearly boosted his confidence but he managed to get himself booked for a poor challenge and it could be argued was lucky not to get a second yellow for pulling over the City defender as he burst through. Wilder was absolutely correct in taking him off not long after that incident and even more so when his replacement Britt Assombalonga notched the third to put the game to bed. I still think Davis has fitness issues because after an hour he was blowing heavily and that has not improved despite the fact he has had a large string of games without injury, maybe that’s just who he is and it will follow him in his career no matter where he ends up in the summer.
The third goal when it came was set up by sub Mario Gaspar (who has replaced the excellent but clearly knackered Ngakia) dropping the ball over the top for Kone who powered his way past City’s version of Sideshow Bob to lay the ball on a plater for Britt Assombalonga to (eventually) prod the ball home for his first goal for us after a near 11 year gap from his original debut in a yellow shirt. Like Davis the goal visibly gave Britt more confidence and if he not been horribly scythed down he may well have had another.
A quick word on last nights referee who I thought was overly fussy and the game was littered with soft free kicks, it felt for long periods in the first half he gave City everything. It was almost as if he was a bit sorry for City in giving them so many soft free kicks. The cards he dished out were probably fair enough but there were a couple of “orange” cards for the two City centre halves for some really poor challenges. It says allot about his performance that even though it wasn’t great it is nowhere near the worse one we have seen this season. The standard of refereeing in the Championship is terrible so being less terrible that some of the other is damning with faint praise!
It was just so nice to enjoy a fairly convincing win although it is important not to get too ahead of ourselves in starting to think about the play-offs or any nonsense like that. It is a very small step in the right direction but we absolutely must follow this up with another win/performance against a struggling Wigan side on Saturday. The trouble is we have struggled to string consecutive performances all season but now is the time to get some momentum and finish strongly.
I had contemplated not going last night but I am glad I did, I will be there again on Saturday to see what comes next.
Take care and stay safe