Birmingham City 1-1 West Brom Six Things: Blues encourage and frustrate

Michael Morrison and Harvey Barnes challenge for the ball – www.bcfc.com

It was a familiar story for Birmingham City against West Midland neighbours West Bromwich Albion on Friday night; they created plenty of chances, but had to settle for a 1-1 draw with the promotion contenders. Here’s six things from the game.

Birmingham’s bold start

Over the last six months, Garry Monk has done some very good work with his side, who were well-structured from the outset. Strikers Lukasz Jutkiewicz and Che Adams didn’t apply direct pressure on the West Brom centre-backs, yet they – and Ahmed Hegazi in particular – looked uncomfortable in possession and that was part of why they found it hard to get their key attacking players on the ball: top scorer Jay Rodriguez took just eight touches in the first half. The hosts got their rewards on 27 minutes when, not closed down by Chris Brunt, the impressive Gary Gardner dinked a ball to the back-post, where Jutkiewicz beat Craig Dawson in the air and Jota eluded Conor Townsend’s attentions to bundle home.

Mixed three minutes for Jota

Jota enjoyed a bright first half and he was given a chance to complete a three-minute double-salvo when Kyle Bartley handballed Jacques Maghoma’s cross. The Spaniard’s predictable run-up though meant Sam Johnstone correctly dived to his left and stopped the shot, giving West Brom the motivation to re-group as Matt Phillips levelled. The hosts received criticism for their defending for the goal but bad luck could be applied; Kristian Pedersen effectively had the situation under control until his clearance haplessly cannoned off the impressive wing-back and Harlee Dean and Maikel Kieftenbeld both made last-ditch challenges. Lee Camp might have done better with Phillips’ effort but the visitors defended far more sloppily on many other occasions, yet weren’t punished.

Chance conversion issues

Blues had many more opportunities after the equalizer. Jutkiewicz won another back-post duel to find Adams who, not picked up by any of Albion’s three centre-backs, fired over from close-range. The ex-Sheffield United forward linked up with Jutkiewicz nicely after the break and forced a good save from Johnstone with a low shot, before other counter-attacking opportunities came for Jota and Maghoma.

Brunt and Livermore must switch on

Darren Moore has started Chris Brunt and Jake Livermore in central midfield in each of the seven league games. The former is a capable technician but is perhaps not used to the defensive duties that come with his new role while the latter was guilty of ball-watching. Neither offered much going forward so they could not afford to fail to track runners as they did and leave wide open spaces in front of the defence, which was a big part of why the hosts were largely dominant. The Baggies still had their moments late on when Harvey Barnes crashed against the bar before Phillips saw his shot blocked, but it finished honours even.

Do Albion yet have an identity?

West Brom have the quality to be a real force in the Championship – they showed that in their 7-1 demolition of QPR and Dwight Gayle’s goalscoring master-class against Stoke. Away from home though, the cultural mishmash can become more apparent: Moore wants his side to play out from the back and the team hasn’t always looked comfortable doing that. Until the game plan is more closely aligned with the team’s capabilities, they risk isolating big-hitters Rodriguez, Gayle and Barnes.

Blues frustrate and encourage

Birmingham City must be the only team in English football who, so consistently, frustrate and encourage in equal measure. In all of their games bar perhaps Middlesbrough away and QPR at home, they have got around 90% of their performance spot on, but one or two small issues within their display have turned out to be costly. With the first win somehow yet to come, financial problems looming – and a 12-point deduction for administration an unlikely worst-case scenario – they now need to see the fruits of their labour.