‘Mr Blue Sky’…

29 02 2012

‘Sun is shinin’ in the sky,

There ain’t a cloud in the sky

It’s stopped rainin’

Everybody’s in play

And don’t you know

It’s a beautiful new day, hey…’

 

‘Mr Blue Sky’:

Jeff Lynne (Electric Light Orchestra)

 

Saturday was a ‘Mr Blue Sky’ kind of day. It only seemed right that ‘70s Brummie combo, ‘ELO’, should provide the soundtrack as I drove up to the second city for Forest’s game against Birmingham City.  

Being of a superstitious nature, I had hesitated slightly at first, given that ‘Mr Blue Sky’ is a City anthem, banged out (at maximum volume) via the stadium speakers, as the players take to the pitch – thinking I might in some way be offering the opposition an advantage.

But I decided that was obviously ridiculous, indulged myself in a bit of nostalgic symphonic rock, and instead kept everything crossed that the fabled St Andrews’s gypsy curse might rear its head and assist the Tricky Trees in upsetting the home team’s run of good form. I was hoping, in the title words of ELO’s 1977 multi-platinum selling double album, for something ‘Out of the Blue’.

Talking of which, and I digress too much I know, I have recently contributed my original, treasured, blue vinyl edition, complete with cardboard cut-out space station and full colour fold out poster of the band, to daughter number two’s burgeoning collection.

I have mentioned before about a soft spot for ‘the Blues’, dating back to student days in Birmingham (apart from when Forest were the visitors, of course) and over the years, I’ve always looked forward to, and enjoyed, my outings to St Andrew’s. And as things turned out, Saturday was no exception…  

As I approached the flat capped steward, in the Gil Merrick lower stand, his bespectacled face erupted into the most enormous Caribbean smile, eclipsing the orange glow from a high visibility jacket, as he firmly shook my hand, and welcomed me to the home of Birmingham City FC.

What a rare occurrence, and such a great advert for the club. Full of good intentions, I made a mental note of his number (61 – I think!) and meant to email the club after the game, but never got around to it. Perhaps I should.* If more stewards were to adopt such a friendly and helpful attitude to supporters, I’m sure it would help defuse any difficult situations that might occur during the course of the game.            

As part of the big screen, pre-match entertainment, highlights of the 1981 Blues v Forest 1st division encounter were shown. It was an amazing affair, a see-saw match in which Ian Wallace, Forest’s Scottish international striker, netted a hat-trick but somehow finished up on the losing side –  the home side running out 4-3 winners. I remember it well – I was there…

In-form Birmingham went into Saturday’s encounter, sitting in 3rd place in the Championship and having held Premiership Chelsea to a 1-1 draw, at Stamford Bridge, in the previous week’s FA Cup 5th Round tie.

They also held an unbeaten home record, having conceded just eight goals in 16 games, and no more than one in any game. They shouldn’t have been short of confidence.

Forest by contrast had just clawed their way out of the relegation zone, courtesy of Portsmouth being docked 10 points for going into administration, and a rare, but invaluable, 2-0 home win over bottom three rivals, Coventry.

I had expected Forest to approach Saturday’s match in ultra-defensive mode but manager Steve Cotterill, who has been heavily criticised for his negative tactics, took everyone by surprise – selecting two wide men (Andy Reid and Gareth McCleary) and a striking duo up front (Marcus Tudgay and Dexter Blackstock).

Perhaps the Blues thought it would be a push-over, or maybe they were suffering a hang-over after their battling performance against Chelsea, but they never got going in the first 45 minutes. Forest took the game to them from the first whistle, playing on the front foot, visibly growing in confidence, and deservedly taking a 29th minute lead when Blackstock swept in a right-wing, McCleary,  cross.

Blues manager, Chris Hughton, was clearly unimpressed with his team’s first half performance and sent them back out to kick their heels for a few minutes, before Forest emerged for the second half.

Birmingham, not unsurprisingly, upped their tempo and set off in search of an equaliser. Chris Burke, started to looked particularly dangerous and there was a feeling of inevitably when, on  the 55th minute, he cut inside from the right, changing feet, to curl a superb left footed strike into the top corner of Lee Camp’s goal.  

At that point most of the travelling supporters, who had given great vocal support throughout, took a deep breath and with 35 minutes remaining, expected the worst.

But eight minutes later Forest re-established their lead, becoming the first visiting team to score twice at St Andrew’s this season.

It came from another McCleary cross. Blackstock got a wonderful controlling touch on the ball before hitting the ball, on the turn, into the roof of the net.   

It was a great moment for the Forest striker, who is still fighting for full fitness, following a 15 month lay-off from a career threatening injury. When he is back to his best Blackstock can make such a difference for Forest, providing (in the words of the all new ‘Sun on Sunday’) ‘The Dex Factor!’  

After that it was backs to the wall, although Algerian Adlene Guedioura (on loan from Wolves) continued to threaten with  his surging  breaks, and midfield partner Guy Moussi came within a whisker of hammering in a third Forest goal.

When Birmingham rattled the Forest bar, in the dying moments of the game, and then thrashed another last-ditch attempt past the post, it was clearly going to be Forest’s day.

Three unexpected, but well deserved, points meant Forest had earned back to back wins for the first time this season and would remain outside the relegation places for a second successive week.

On this occasion ‘Mr Blue Sky’ had clearly been smiling down on the men in red. It’s too soon to say whether Forest have eventually turned the corner. There’s still an awful long way to go, and although the manager has to take some credit for this hard-earned win, I still don’t think he’s the right man for the job. I’d love to see inside that old gypsy’s crystal ball…        

Although I was recording the England v Wales 6 Nations match on the red button, I couldn’t resist switching on the radio, as I sat in the queuing traffic heading out of ‘Brum’.

Against all expectations England were leading, and justifiably so it seemed. But immediately I tuned in, things started to unravel at an alarming rate.  A needless penalty led to an equalising kick, and then Welsh centre Scott Williams stripped the ball away from England lock Courtney Lawes, (which should never have happened given the physical mismatch) to stride away for an opportunistic try.

With Wales 19-12 ahead, and the clock ticking down, David Strettle appeared to touch down a last gasp try in the corner, that would have given England an opportunity to make a dramatic equalising conversion, with the last kick of the game.

But clearly ‘Mr Blue Sky’ wasn’t smiling over Twickenham and every England supporters’ favourite KIwi referee, Steve Walsh, went to the video official, who took three minutes to decide the footage was inconclusive.

Wales may have picked up their 20th Triple Crown, with only their second win at ‘Twickers’ since 1988, and they still have their eyes firmly fixed on the Grand Slam, but new look England can take a lot of credit from this performance.

Together for just four weeks, under caretaker manager Stuart Lancaster, England for so long obsessed with winning ugly (under his predecessor, Martin Johnson) may have lost, but they lost pretty – which ironically may augur well for the future,  

England’s young guns had the measure of their Welsh counterparts, 2011 World Cup semi-finalists Wales, for much of the game. By 2015, when the Webb Ellis Cup comes up for grabs again, here in the UK, there might not be a lot to choose between these two home nations.      

England couldn’t pull it off but Gloucester certainly did, continuing their recent run of good form to turn over ‘Quins’, 29-23, at Kingsholm and moving up to 5th in the Aviva Premiership.

I guess 2 out of 3 ain’t bad – pretty much a blue sky day!         

*Having posted this, I did eventually email Birmingham City. Within a few minutes I received a reply from the customer services manager, thanking me for such positive feed back, assuring me she would pass my message on to the steward concerned, and wishing Forest all the best for the rest of the season.             

      

      

       

                       

 

 

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