Aaaaaaand relax. After seemingly securing our Championship status once this season, yesterday’s 3-1 win over Rotherham confirmed that Blues will once again be in the second tier of English football next season.
Following a difficult March for the club, April has proved much more fruitful. We’ve turned a five-game losing streak into a five-game undefeated streak, reacquiring the nine points of which we were stripped.
The draw at Ipswich was to be expected from Blues, but we looked to have put that poor second half performance behind us with a goal in the first couple of minutes against Derby. The excitement of the first half was not matched in the second half, and 2-2 was probably a fair result.
We probably could’ve nicked it, but a point against a team now in the play-offs is, as Monk said, a good one.
All attention then turned to Rotherham. Our fate was in our hands, knowing that a solitary point would make our final two games of the season much more enjoyable.
The first half was dreadful. We looked leggy, void of ideas, and struggled to land a punch on the ever-scrappy Millers. We couldn’t deal with their Delap-esque throws, and following a strong performance against Derby, reverted to the second-half performance against Ipswich.
Monk then switched from a flat midfield to a diamond for the second half. Jota often, though not always, relishes the free CAM role, and Davis’ Kieftenbeld-like qualities shone through.
Whilst Digger got punished for dawdling on the ball a couple of times, he was first to the second balls much more frequently in the second half.
Rotherham started to look shaky, a feeling that Blues know all too well. It was surprising that, being in the much more comfortable position in the table before kick-off, we were the more nervous-looking team.
But Monk’s half-time talk proved to make the difference that was needed. 10 minutes into the half, a lovely shimmy and strike from Maghoma levelled the score. With Rotherham on the ropes, Che used his pace and struck a low cross from the wing to Jota, who enjoyed his neat finish in front of the sold-out Blues end.
Rotherham were then throwing everything at us, but we managed the game well, something we haven’t always done. Some call it time wasting or bad sportsmanship (see Burnley in yesterday’s late game vs Chelsea), but seeing out the game in the way we did yesterday was something we failed to do against Swansea and Preston this season, so it was welcome.
With plenty of space opening up in Rotherham’s defence, Maghoma provided the assist for Mrabti to get his first goal for the club deep into stoppage time.
For the final 30 seconds of the game, with Blues leading 3-1, I was finally able to relax. It was probably my favourite 30 seconds of football I’ve watched all season.
So what now? Our final two games are against Wigan and Reading, the former mathematically safe and the latter virtually so. With what we’ve been used to in the last few games of the last few seasons, these two games feel like a luxury.
Monk has rightfully said that he’ll ensure that the players’ minds aren’t on the beach, and that he wants to give the fans something to cheer. I’d like us to try out a few new players. With credit to our fitness department, I think the stat goes that eight of yesterday’s starters have played 40 full(ish) games this season.
We should use this time to bed in some new blood and potentially leave out the players who are unlikely to be with us next season. I’d like to see some more game time for Trueman, Roberts, Harding, Dacres-Cogley, Lakin, Mrabti and Vassell.
I don’t know much about our youth teams, but Jude Bellingham looks to be a special talent. He trained with the first team ahead of the West Brom game last month, so Monk clearly sees something in him.
Mahoney will return to his parent club next season, and despite being a great servant for the team, it may be worth leaving him out. I think it’s likely that Che will move to a Premier League team, and we may try to shift Jota on, so they could also make way in the final two games.
Obviously Monk isn’t going to make 11 changes to Saturday’s starting line-up. He’ll do all he can to ensure that we finish the season as strongly as possible.
But with two games left for Blues to enjoy, it would be nice to see what we’ve got to look forward to next season.
Photo Courtesy: Roy Smiljanic / BCFC