After a spirited and complete team performance on the weekend, Blues had a very short turn around to get themselves ready for their next test. This time it was Preston at Home – a team I always find to be a bogey one and never have any fond memories of. However, Blues had the opportunity to do the double over Preston, for the first time since the 2000/01 season, perhaps that explains my dislike for whenever this fixture crops up.
It was the first time this season that Aitor Karanka named an unchanged side, which many have been crying out for throughout this season, so there was no excuses tonight and it’s down the those on the pitch to prove their worth. Time for some consistency.
I’m not sure if it was the angles that Blues TV provided for the game, but the pitch looked utterly battered and very tired already, almost like many Blues fans after the last few seasons.
Like many of our games this season, the first 5 or so minutes were very cagey as Blues looked to ease their way into the game. The first half chance did fall our way when Kieftenbeld won a second ball, before allowing it to bounce and strike on the half volley which wasn’t a million miles away from causing Preston’s keeper a few problems.
The biggest difference we are seeing from Blues of late is their energy levels off the ball and the way they are pressing their opponents. A couple of occasions in the first 15 minutes , they found themselves pipping Preston in possession deep into their half, but couldn’t quite make the most of those chances, however it was certainly encouraging seeing us win the ball high up and get Bela involved at every possible occasion.
Over 20 minutes had gone and neither side had a real golden opportunity to take the lead. Blues we’re definitely the better of the two and Bela was beating his man at any given chance, but the final ball to capitalise was lacking.
Alan Browne had Preston’s first half chance of the game, a long range drive that almost looked like it was going to curl towards the top corner, which thankfully drifted wide.
Blues continued to ask more of the questions, with Harlee Dean stepping out from the back and playing the ball into Bela, who knocked it into Toral which saw the ball played out wide to Sanchez who cut back onto his left-foot and drove it goal bound, pulling Preston’s keeper into the action and keeping the scores level.
The following 10 or so minutes appeared to die-off a little and Blues were more than happy to have more possession on the ball, whilst catching Preston offside with the line they were playing, which is a bold strategy given the lack of pace between the two centre halves.
The first half came to a close and Blues were definitely the happier out of the two based on their performance. Played the ball around really well, despite some terrible conditions (both weather and the surface). The only thing missing was that final ball and a little bit more composure, which could well have been the difference maker in the second half.
Both teams were back out for the second period and no changes were made to either side. The first 5 minutes saw Preston respond in a much more attacking manner. Blues completely caught out and Preston broke away in behind and somehow didn’t open the scoring, wasting a golden opportunity and smashing the post. Not long after another chance came Preston’s way and Etheridge was drawn into a smart low stop to keep the scores level. Preston definitely in the ascendancy and Blues were being made to weather the storm.
Blues never really got going in the second half and were forced into making a change with Hogan needing to come off in replacement of Juke and Toral also made way for Jonathan Leko.
Within moments the worst case scenario happened and Blues found themselves 0-1 down. Preston given the freedom to drive the ball into the box and Scott Sinclair drove a low strike into the bottom corner. Deserved on the basis of the second half display.
The game started to pitter off and Karanka made another double sub, bringing Gary Gardner and Halilović into the fray, as Blues needed to get a foothold into the game and try and make something happen in the final 15 minutes.
Halilović was getting on the ball at every possibly opportunity he could and looked to create the opening that Blues desperately needed. But, it just didn’t seem to be falling for them and it seemed like it was going to be another miserable ending to a home game this season.
This game was completely getting away from Blues and Preston were up to the usual tricks of doing everything in the book to waste as much time as possible, even Alex Neil was giving it his best attempt.
7 minutes of added time where shown and Blues needed to muster up everything they could to find an equaliser. Leko drove towards the Preston box and his effort deflected off Sunjic and went wide of the goal and it appeared that was the opportunity Blues were desperately looking for. Sunjic did have the opportunity to get a last chance equaliser, but his effort trickled into the Preston keepers arm and that seemed to be that.
It proved to be the case as Blues lost another game at home continuing their poor run at St. Andrews. It begs the question of what are these players so afraid of when playing at home? Why can’t we seem to perform throughout the game like we do away from home? Blues need to find answers to those questions very quickly, because the home form is an extremely sorry sight.
Next up is Coventry at home in 10 days time for the St. Andrews derby, where technically speaking we can class ourselves as the away side if needs be! We can even come out in the Green kit if we want to push the boat out even further.
Let’s hope Blues can find some much needed answers to the home form and finally pick up 3 points (which would be the first time since October).