Wolves 1-2 Birmingham: Five Things We Learnt

Gardner and Davis celebrate Blues’ second – sportinglife.com

Goals from Maikel Kieftenbeld and David Davis saw Birmingham to a 2-1 win away to their West Midland rivals, Wolverhampton Wanderers. But what did we learn from the game?

Blues were clinical

Birmingham did not have many chances. At 0-0 Che Adams, a versatile forward under six foot was forced to play as the lone striker, struggled to get to high balls against a dominant Richard Stearman. Unlike previous games however, Blues took the chances they created, despite not having a proven number nine. The poaching instincts instead came to Maikel Kieftenbeld, who anticipated Carl Ikeme’s spill after Craig Gardner’s cross to tap home. Blues attacked a sluggish Matt Doherty down the right again for the second goal and David Davis, who often relishes playing his old club, curled the ball in.

Wolves uninspiring

Wolves were structured reasonably well out of possession in the first half, but with the ball, they did not create anything. Jack Price floated in a couple of decent set pieces that led to off-target headers from Richard Stearman and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, which were the closest the hosts came.

Second half pressure

Two things changed matters in the second half. Firstly, Paul Robinson was sent off for allegedly lashing out at Bodvarsson, secondly, Nouha Dicko entered the fray. Dicko used his raw pace and power to force Birmingham’s defence back, allowing Helder Costa to get into the game more than he had in the first half. The duo combined on 63 minutes when Costa crossed for Dicko to head goalwards, forcing a reflex save from Tomasz Kuszczak. The striker got his goal 11 minutes later, pouncing on Costa’s drilled cross to set up a nervy finale.

Blues dug in

Previous criticisms of Zola’s Birmingham had been a lack of fight and defensive organization. After Wolves got a goal back, that final 17 minutes was their chance to prove to fans that they had those things in them – and they took it. Gardner had unified the troops by taking them out to dinner during the week and when his exit was enforced by Robinson’s red card, he gestured encouragement for his players to battle on without him. Youthful replacement Krystian Bielik emulated his and Robinson’s mentality by putting in some crucial blocks despite a mini-knock. Bielik was ably assisted at centre-back by another youngster, full-back by trade Josh Dacres-Cogley and the more experienced Ryan Shotton, imperious in the air.

Wolves too reliant on individuals

The Blues rear-guard was able to prevent shots from central areas partly because of Wolves’ lack of variation. As good as Costa and Dicko were in the second half, Andreas Weimann’s wasteful use of the ball down the right meant they had to do too much on their own. With Ivan Cavaleiro out through injury, Paul Lambert was unwilling to introduce Romain Saiss or Bright Enobakhare after using just one substitution. The hosts therefore lacked the invention and pace to stretch the Blues back-line and force play in different directions.

Wolves should have gained a point but lacked the final third bravery and quality required to do so. Rivals Birmingham showed the battling qualities needed in a derby – to truly rebuild bridges with supporters, they must replicate the same commitment in every game between now and May.