There’ll be more than one Birmingham City fan staring into the bottom of a pint glass (poured and served in a Birmingham City centre pub, but of course) tonight thinking about missed chances in the wake of the Second City Derby. They’ll look back to Che Adams, being put through on goal after a wicked curving cross from Craig Gardner. Oh, how it slammed off the post. How close it was!
The trouble is for Birmingham is this - hitting the post is just a shot off-target that makes a loud noise. Had they produced and converted more chances of a higher quality, the day may have been theirs. Certainly, for 9 (nine) whole minutes, it seemed that way. Blue smoke emerged from the away end and covered the atmosphere. They had laid a claim to Villa Park as their own territory.
It was through the boxing frame of slugging striker Lukas Jutkiewicz that Birmingham City delivered a resounding concussive blast to Villa Park. With Ørjan Nyland laid out following a collision with Che Adams, Jutkiewicz stood tall and blasted home past the gaping legs of Tammy Abraham. Villa Park fell into a perplexed silence. They were too easily beaten. How could that have happened? On today of all days? Che Adams cracked the post with his close-range shot and the Holte End burst into agonised roars, begging the Villa to wake up and do their damned job. Moments later, Jonathan Kodjia swung and hacked at a loose ball to draw the home side even with Birmingham. Shortly after, Jack Grealish’s plunging dive met the cross of Albert Adomah to put AVFC up in the game. It may as well have enjoyed a Hollywood pen as scribe - there was just the right amount of stardust behind all of this.
Following Grealish’s destined goal, Villa stepped up once more when Tammy Abraham was hacked down in the box. Tammy buried his penalty with darting precision, before stealing away a brief moment before the Holte End to acknowledge the crowd. Kristian Pedersen quickly earned a consolation goal, although one that belied his pre-match promise to destroy Jack Grealish (“I’ll fock him up man”) delivered verbals in a similar style as Dolph Lundgren phoning in some dialogue. Truly enough, Birmingham weren’t able to deliver a physical threat at all to Villa’s main threats. Jack Grealish got a seeing to, including one spectacular challenge that saw him pole-axed by a wontless Maikel Kieftenbeld, flipping up into the air and onto his back. Albert Adomah and Henri Lansbury remained the only casualties, the former who was crunched by Wes Hardings in a desperate lunge.
Of all people, it was Alan Hutton who would seal the deal. Alan Hutton, who in the twilight of his career is finally delivering on the potential that saw him move to Tottenham Hotspur in 2008. Hutton, who would have made Diego Armando Maradona blush with his mirage-like run across the pitch before sealing Villa’s fourth goal of the day, has once more emerged as a key player for Villa. Somehow.
There had been much pre-game build-up in the way of hyping up Garry Monk’s ‘rejuvenation’ of Birmingham. Monk have saved Blues. Monk had restored the ‘feel-good’ times. Monk had got them playing well. Monk was getting the best out of what he had. The truth of it all is that good for Birmingham City FC is ‘bang-average’. Statistically, in terms of chance-creation and shot conversion, Birmingham are not dangerous. They are not strong, stout, stoic or threatening. They are simply a team, one out of 24. Without improvement, which will have to come, they will finish 13th and that will be an achievement for Monk in the eyes of his supporters. For a team that harps on about being based in Birmingham, for a team that bears the name of the city of Birmingham - how can that be good enough for the supposed standard-bearers of England’s Second City? In a fairly weakened Championship deck this season, they stand in-between the also-rans and the has-beens. They won’t be involved in an intriguing relegation fight, and without improving, they won’t challenge for promotion. Any realistic hopes of improving their league position will rest on the league playing out ‘as is’ and without Stoke City, Preston North End and Brentford waking up and kicking on. City’s gameplan fell apart at 55 minutes, and the away team never really recovered, resorting to the tried-and-tested English tradition of launching searching diagonals into the upper echelons of the pitch in desperate hope. The funniest of these resumed from the post-conceding kick-off, where it was passed pack to a midfielder, held still (in the manner of an NFL field goal) and punted to the corner flag, where it impotently rolled out of play.
The fact of the matter is this - Birmingham fell short on their big day, and will have to wait a while for the chance to win at Villa Park. They still have a chance of beating Villa at St Andrews, but honestly - what will that mean? Will it mean anything more than a home team winning a home match? Will it feel as good as today should have felt? Who knows.
Today’s loss will be portrayed as a brave defeat from a Birmingham City side who looked convincing for 30 minutes of a 90 minute match. It’ll be said that they tried ‘against all odds’ to secure victory. It’s an odd way of thinking, because on some days - days like this - you just get beat. Then you wake up, and go again tomorrow. Sometimes, you have to take the defeat on the chin - again and again and again and again.
Aside from flattening Villa via seven or so goals, Birmingham City are almost powerless to overturn this lopsided supremacy. Aside from a decent spell in the 00’s and a League Cup victory in the 10’s, Birmingham have now become the side ‘stuck in the past’ after firmly mocking Villa fans for celebrating their European Cup win in 1982. Birmingham’s last triumph over Villa; relative to the advances of football, is now confined to ancient history. Villa have only ever been knocked out of a cup twice by Birmingham. Villa last succumbed to Blues at Villa Park in 2004. Birmingham’s last triumph over Villa; relative to the advances of football, is now confined to ancient history. 2010 may as well be 2004 and 2004 may as well be 1982. It’s done. It’s not now. It’s not what matters.
The truth is that without decades of supremacy, there is little-to-nothing that Birmingham City can do to win the city back from Aston Villa. As much as I’m a fan of the Villa, I’m a fan of the city of Birmingham - my home. It needs two teams competing week-in and week-out at the highest tier of football in England. This matchup, as it stands, is becoming quite pointless for a Villa side now seemingly on the verge of stepping up another bid for promotion. The emphasis is now, and forever will be, on a Birmingham side that desperately needs to start playing its part.