Was Millwall a point saved or two dropped?

Birmingham earned a third-successive 1-1 draw on Saturday against Gary Rowett’s Millwall. In a frustrating encounter, somewhat marred by trouble in the Tilton when two Millwall fans celebrated the visitors’ goal, Blues remain mid-table, nine points above the relegation zone and six points off the play-offs.

The Starting XI

When the line-up came out an hour before kick-off, there were a couple of surprises: Clarke-Salter kept Dean out of the team, and we were starting with Juke and Gimenez up top.

I was happier about the former than the latter. Clarke-Salter has been impressive since he came in, and Saturday’s game was no different. Solid, a good passer of the ball, and a nice little run in the first half showed that his confidence is growing.

As many people have said, Juke and Gimenez are too similar to play together. There’s no pace, just big men winning the headers but knocking it down to no one.

If we’re going to play with these two up front, we need wingers like Montero, Maghoma or Bela who can all whip a good ball in.

As much as I like Crowley and Villalba, they’re both number tens. They play similarly and centrally, meaning that the majority of crosses are coming from Colin and Pederson. They can both whip in a decent cross, but not when we’re being penned back and there’s no chance for them to push up the pitch.

I like that Pep went for it at home and really did try to attack, but the lack of goals shows that we’re lacking the correct personnel to play in our new style of football.

Juke and Gimenez seem slightly off the pace compared to what the manager is trying to achieve. Juke and Mrabti looked slightly better together, so the sooner we can get the Swede back the better.

The Game

The first half was a slightly dull affair. Both sides had a couple of half-chances, but nothing really stood out, other than some good saves by Trueman, and a potentially-worrying injury to Marc Roberts.

Millwall took the lead just after the hour-mark. Blues stopped playing to appeal for a foul on Pederson, which wasn’t given. A typical Rowett counter-attack saw Williams score a bit of a screamer.

Blues tried to battle back. Conceding the goal looked like the impetus we needed to cajole us into action. Clarke-Salter converted Crowley’s pin-point corner to equalise on 79 minutes.

Bellingham, who yet again had another cracking game, nearly gave us the lead, but saw his shot just trickle wide of the far post. If we could’ve taken the lead in the five minutes after we equalised, I think Millwall’s head’s would’ve gone and we would’ve held out for all three points.

But it wasn’t to be. After a frantic final few minutes, the referee blew the whistle and the spoils were shared.

What did we learn?

We haven’t replaced Che, and we desperately need to. The ball fizzed about the penalty area quite a bit on Saturday, and we lacked a natural goal-scorer to poach us a goal.

Trueman is playing well, but with Camp and Stockdale expected to leave in the summer, we’ll probably need a backup, depending on Moha Ramos’ progress with the development squad.

We’ve got a decent enough defence, although depending what happens to loanee Clarke-Salter in the summer, we may need reinforcements. I like Harding and Seddon as backups, but we’re a bit short centrally.

Our midfield is looking strong. Sunjic and Bellingham look good as a holding two, backed up by Kieftenbeld, David Davis, and Gary Gardener. Our attacking options include Crowley, Villalba, Bela, Montero, McEachran (although I’m not sure if he’s more defensive or attacking), and Maghoma.

The striker department is where we fall short. Our options are Juke, Gimenez, make-shift striker Mrabti, and Odin Bailey, although the Blues website lists him as an attacking midfielder, rather than a striker.

The 22 goals from Che Adams last season haven’t been replaced.

Our defence is improving, and our midfield play is some of the best stuff I’ve seen in years, although sometimes our passes are a bit monotonous and we lack the killer forward pass. A new goalkeeper and defensive reinforcements, therefore, can all wait until the summer.

The board must pull out all the stops to sign a finisher in January. I’ve no idea who, but some of the options I’ve seen include:

  • Dwight Gayle, Newcastle. Not played much under Steve Bruce at Newcastle. Proven goalscorer in the Championship. He may be a bit pricey, which could represent poor value for money for a 29 year old.
  • Ivan Toney, Peterborough. He scored a 30-yard lob against Dover in the FA Cup on the weekend, and has scored 12 goals in 17 games so far this season in League One. He’s only 23, and shouldn’t be too expensive.
  • Mo Eisa, Peterborough. A couple of years older than his team-mate Toney, but a similar scoring record of 12 goals in 18 games. Should also be significantly cheaper than Gayle.
  • Take Che back on loan until the summer, Southampton. He’s not getting a game at Southampton, and their manager seems to have frozen him out following a poor start to the season. Rather than the Southampton board facing the embarrassment of selling him on so soon after signing him, they could be keen to loan him out to get him some match sharpness and build up his confidence.

I’m sure that there are other strikers for Blues to consider, and from what has been reported, the board are keen to have someone lined up and ready to announce as soon as the window opens. Let’s see.

Next up – Reading v Blues

Following a poor start to the season, Reading sacked their manager and have seen an improvement under new boss Mark Bowen.

Despite recent defeats to Leeds and Reading, they’ve had a good run of results, beating Luton, Millwall and, most recently, Wigan in November, where one-time Blues target Puskas scored a five-minute hat-trick for the Royals.

They’re still four points behind us in the table, but with an in-form striker, Saturday’s game could be a real test for Blues.

Despite rumours that Pep is about to be replaced by Coventry City’s manager Mark Robins, rumours which the Coventry chief executive have dismissed, our travelling fans need to get behind the team in their push for the first win since late October.

Keep right on.

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