Birmingham 2-0 Huddersfield Eight Things: Fighting Spirit

Blues 2-0 Terriers –

A battling performance saw 10-man Birmingham City boost their Championship survival chances with a 2-0 win over weakened Huddersfield Town side. But what have we learnt from the game?

Committed start

Within five seconds of the first whistle, Huddersfield were forced to pass back to centre-backs Martin Cranie and Mark Hudson, such was the ferocity of Birmingham’s earlier pressing. Eager to make an impression on new head coach Harry Redknapp and battle for their safety, they were full of intent, Che Adams causing problems through his bright runs into the channels.

Jutkiewicz’s early attempts

Maikel Kieftenbeld put in a series of strong challenges early on. One of them won a throw for his side and when David Davis took that quickly, Lukasz Jutkiewicz knocked the ball around Cranie for Adams to chase and the forward was tripped in the box by Hudson. Jutkiewicz’s eighth minute spot kick was well-placed but lacked the power to beat Joel Coleman. The striker’s aerial prowess and power made him a handful for the two centre-backs early on, but he could not find his shooting boots, firing over from 25-yards on 12 minutes.

Patient Terriers

Attacking left-back Tareiq Holmes-Dennis curled wide before Tommy Smith’s deflected low cross from the right flew just wide of the far post with forwards lurking. Those types of openings would have been encouraging if they came frequently, but instead they were Huddersfield’s stand-out moments. Brief periods of tidy, one-touch football were overshadowed by much longer periods of monotonous play along the back-four, or back-three when Dean Whitehead dropped in.

Adams dismissed

The West Yorkshire side could camp a little further up the pitch after their opponents were reduced to 10 men on 23 minutes. Adams was punished for what appeared an innocuous challenge on Cranie with a red card, Blues moving to a 4-4-1 system in his absence. There were small murmurs of frustration from home fans at dropping deeper, but the team was right to remain disciplined. Huddersfield lacked intensity in their play, even if Tomasz Kuszczak had to tip over Phillip Billing’s long range effort on 37 minutes.

The opener

Birmingham did enough to suggest they could trouble a goalkeeper themselves, winning a couple of free-kicks around the box that Craig Gardner might have done better with. Their opening would come from a Gardner delivery, the midfielder’s left-footed cross flicked across goal by Michael Morrison for Jonathan Grounds to nod home on the line.

Shotton and Morrison partnership back

Morrison cut out a couple of searching crosses from Joe Lolley at the near-post while centre-back partner Ryan Shotton was imperious all afternoon. The duo were key to the impressive pre-Christmas form under Gary Rowett and their return to form and fitness, as well as playing in a compact system that suits them, could be key to Birmingham’s survival chances.

Wagner’s subs ineffectual

Huddersfield Town boss David Wagner had made 10 changes from the side that won 1-0 at Wolves on Tuesday, planning to keep players fresh for the play-offs. However, he also introduced key man Nahki Wells for Holmes-Dennis at half-time, switching to a 3-4-1-2 system, then added Aaron Mooy to the fray. Neither could make the required impact, with Mooy lacking his usual creativity and Wells blazing a free-kick over the bar before volleying wide.

Blues position strengthened

Birmingham’s 10 men showed more fighting spirit than Huddersfield’s 11. One wonders, had they showed that kind of commitment after Christmas, whether they would be closer to the top half than the bottom three. They will at least avoid relegation however with a victory next week at Bristol City, or if one of Blackburn or Nottingham Forest fail to win. It seemed Huddersfield, with more telling tasks to come, were happy for Birmingham to have their day.