Football: Impressive Blues out of luck; Birmingham City 0 Chelsea 1.
There is only one Premiership lesson left for Steve Bruce's rebuilt Birmingham City to learn - how to master the crucial art of winning when you are playing badly.
Arsenal first perfected it in 1971, it was a crucial part of Liverpool's success in the late Seventies and early Eighties and Bruce himself helped master it with Manchester United in the Nineties.
Sadly for Blues, Chelsea now seem to have acquired it, too. And that was enough to rob Bruce's men of three points.
All that money and now it seems the Chelsea multimillionaires have bought themselves a lucky manager, too.
It might have been Flybe.com v Emirates as far as the battle of the shirt sponsors were concerned, but, when it came to lift-off on the park, Chelsea's first-class passengers were left in the hangar.
Some of the match-day fixtures and fittings around St Andrew's still smack of the former Nationwide League but, on the park, where it matters, refurbished Blues are now a bit more than just cheap and cheerful.
In the end, they lost to a deflected goal from Chelsea substitute Joe Cole just five minutes after his arrival on the pitch. But it was still a vibrant first home display of the season which should have sent the fans home disappointed but full of hope.
Blues' clutch of five home debutants could be happy - particularly the three Chelsea old boys, Mario Melchiot, Jesper Gronkjaer and Muzzy Izzet. But it was the absence of Blues' fourth man to have worn a Chelsea shirt that maybe proved most crucial. On-loan Mikael Forssell, yet to earn the tag of 'Chelsea old boy', was once again forbidden to play in this fixture by his main paymasters. And it left Blues' most expensive home debutant, Emile Heskey, to plough a lone furrow up-front.
It was hardly a defensive move by Bruce, though.
With a five-man midfield containing men like Gronkjaer, Izzet and the other new face making his home bow, Julian Gray, with attacking full-backs Melchiot and Stan Lazaridis, rampant Blues took the game to the opposition.
Chelsea should have gone in front early on when Didier Drogba latched onto a howler from Melchiot. But he somehow placed the ball wide of the post and that left the field clear for Chelsea to be run ragged for the rest of the first half.
Birmingham, being the home side, naturally sported blue. Chelsea, however, appeared to struggle to find each other bedecked in black and grey.
Chelsea's away strip certainly has to be the drabbest kit in the Premiership and they put in a first-half performance to match. It was almost all Blues. There were handball shouts in the box against both Paulo Ferreira and Geremi, Heskey headed powerfully wide from a short Izzet cross and two Lazaridis crosses, one deep, one to the near post, both caused panic in the Chelsea box.
There was also a Robbie Savage free-kick which, initially misjudged by Petr Cech, had the Chelsea goalkeeper back pedalling furiously to tip the ball over from underneath his bar but Birmingham's hopes of breaking the deadlock hinged on two key moments.
From Wayne Bridge's ridiculous back-pass, Heskey went clear on goal, only to be denied by the legs of Cech. Then, on the stroke of half-time, came a double let-off. After Melchiot's long throw had unlocked the door, Gray stroked a right-foot shot against Cech's left upright, only to blaze over when the ball came back to him at a tighter angle.
The second half proved a more competitive affair as Chelsea improved. Not surprisingly, the game having now become a real contest, a fair amount of needle crept in.
Most of it, almost needless to say, involved the invariably disruptive presence of Robert William Savage, culminating in a late tangle with Mateja Kezman that saw the man from the Balkans lying flat on his back. Savage claims, with some justification, that his elbow was an accident but he was still lucky to stay on the field.
It did not look like an accident on the TV highlight and even a lenient official like Barry Knight who managed not to reach for his cards once in 90 minutes, might have sent off Savage had he seen the replay. If Blues should have ended the match a man down, they were very unlucky to end the 90 minutes a goal down, not just in terms of the game's overall pattern, but in the manner of the winner itself.
Had Chelsea gone ahead through Geremi, from whom Maik Taylor saved full-length early in the second half, there would have been less cause for complaint.
But, when the newly-arrived Cole cut in from the left, his low shot was not one to trouble Taylor until it hit namesake Martin Taylor and twisted cruelly out of the Blues keeper's reach into his bottom right corner.
Drogba had an opportunity to make it safe when his pace and presence caused a mix-up between the two Taylors but, with a clear sight of goal, he screwed his shot wide. Frank Lampard wasted an even better chance with a lazy finish.
Blues kept battling to the end, Heskey and Savage both firing just over. But not even the presence of their lucky 'late goal' charm, Stern John, could save the day.
In the last minute, Blues enjoyed their third and perhaps best shout for a penalty when, from John's clever nod-down, Ricardo Carvalho's challenge saw Heskey go tumbling down in the box. But his impression of a sack of potatoes cut no ice with Mr Knight.
Scorer: Cole (68). BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-5-1): Maik Taylor; Melchiot, Martin Taylor, Upson, Lazaridis; Gronkjaer (John, 76), Savage, Izzet, Johnson, Gray; Heskey. Subs: Bennett (gk), Clemence, Carter, Tebily.
CHELSEA (4-4-2): Cech; Ferreira, Carvalho, Terry, Bridge; Geremi (Cole, 63), Makalele, Lampard, Smertin (Tiago, h/t); Gudjohnsen (Kezman, h/t), Drogba. Subs: Cudicini (gk), Gallas.
Referee: Barry Knight (Orpington, Kent). Attendance: 28,559.
Blues man of the match: Robbie Savage - as eye-catching an influence as ever.
Birmingham City's record signing Emile Heskey, who perhaps had Blues' best chances to score, battles with Chelsea's John Terry
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|Publication:||The Birmingham Post (England)|
|Date:||Aug 23, 2004|
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