Two wins in a row, joint fifth on points, and some relatively quality football on display. Whisper it, but are Blues pretty good?
Charlton v Birmingham
Most pundits didn’t give us much of a chance against Charlton. They were second in the table before kick-off on Saturday with a few good results under their belt so far this season. But for some reason, I thought we had a decent chance to get a result, only in part due to the fact that they were missing their star striker.
As I said after the Stoke game, the international break was the first opportunity for Pep to spend a decent amount of time with the whole squad, including the new recruits. And it looks like it was time well spent.
Camp and the back four all looked settled. I can’t remember too many defensive mistakes in the Charlton game. Camp didn’t have to make his first save until the 72nd, which, as Pep said, the sign of a great away performance. Limit their chances, keep it tight at the back, and try to get at the opposition on the counter.
Sunjic and Davis performed well in front of the back four, although I think there is still more to come. Sunjic hasn’t really been pinging the ball like we’ve all seen on YouTube, but has protected the defence well. Davis seems to be playing in a Kieftenbeld-esque position, but not as well as Dutch Mike.
Kieftenbeld knows his strengths, which are getting the ball back, passing it short to someone nearby with better passing ability, and the very occasional 30-yard screamer. Davis sometimes tries to do a bit too much, over-complicating his position, often resulting in stray passes.
The front four – Mrabti, Crowley, Jude and Juke – were excellent. Crowley is the key for me; he is comfortable on the ball, never panics, and is always moving into a position where he can receive the ball. He works well behind Juke, passing it out wide to Mrabti and Jude who can use their pace and whip it in for Juke.
Or, as was the case on Saturday, pass from one winger to the other. The build up play for the goal was nice – Colin, who had an excellent game, ran with the ball from his own half through a couple of Charlton players, played it through to Mrabti, who cut back to Jude for a nice finish. Two winning goals in two games for Jude, the first in front of the Tilton, the second in front of a sold-out away end – a Blues legend in the making.
The last 10-15 minutes were tough, although we handled long ball after long ball well. The skirmish between Bowyer, a second ball and our bench added a few more minutes to the extra time, but we held our nerve, managed the game well, and left London with all three points.
What did we learn?
It looks like Pep is starting to find the shape of his team. The back five seems to be a distant memory, although it may return depending on the opposition. Camp in goal with Colin, Dean, Roberts and Peds in defence, with Sunjic and Davis just in front, looks to be settled.
It’s the attacking end that may be more adaptable. The 4-2-3-1 formation, with Crowley dictating our attack in the number 10 role behind Juke works well. Our options for the wingers are Jude, Mrabti, Villalba and Mags, and we also have the option of two up front with Giminez, who looked lively when he came on, although the ball just didn’t quite drop for him.
The football – at times – against Charlton was positive. Avoiding another 3-0 away defeat was a welcome change. Despite our 40% possession, we had nine shots compared to Charlton’s eight, with six on target compared to their three. Our players seemed to know their roles well, we looked organised, and forced them to resort to playing it long, which Roberts and Dean handled well
It’ll be interesting to see if we sign Josh McEachran, who has been on trial with the club. If we do, and he’s fit, I’d imagine he could replace Davis and line up alongside Sunjic.
Blues v Preston
Our next game on Saturday is against fifth-placed Preston, who are level on points with us but have a much better goal difference.
They’ve had some good results at home this season, but are yet to see their first away win. Fingers crossed we can keep it this way.
Photo Courtesy: Roy Smiljanic / BCFC