Stoke lack attack
Stoke went down to a second half goal from Gary McSheffrey in a game that looked for long periods could go either way as both teams failed to take advantage.
Stoke started without their main midfield of Lee Hendrie, Salif Diao and Darel Russell through suspension and replaced them with Dominic Matteo, John Eustace and Lee Martin. This was Eustace's first start of the season and although he started off with some wayward passes, he improved as the game went on, but his lack of match fitness started to slow him towards the end.
Stoke defended well for the majority of the game with Andy Griffin and Danny Higginbotham comfortably holding the Birmingham strike force of McSheffrey, Bendtner and Jerome at bay, but up at the other end we did not create enough good chances on goal.
The Blues had a goal disallowed for off-side on the half hour when a cross allowed Cameron Jerome to push the ball over the line past Steve Simonsen. The TV replays showed that to be harsh decision but a let-off for the Potters none the less. Ricardo Fuller was Stoke's main trouble maker at the other end and nearly earned a goal just before half-time when Blues' keeper, Doyle and Fuller chased for the ball near the corner flag. Fuller sneaked the ball around the stranded keeper but failed to capitalise by trying to hit the target instead of an advancing Liam Lawrence with the ball going straight to a defender. Birmingham's main goal chance came from Arsenal loanee, Nik Bendnter, who cleverly chested the ball down and volleyed it from 12 yards with Simonsen making the save of the day, tipping it over the bar.
Stoke started the second half the brightest of the two teams with Matteo and Martin both having chances. Martin's attempt should have seen the Potters go ahead after he ran on to a loose ball, but with only the keeper to beat he fired a couple of yards too soon giving Doyle an easy chance to block the shot.
Whilst the Potters were ruing their missed chance, the Blues came along and took theirs. A good cross from Bendtner gave McSheffrey an easy header past Simonsen.
Two more chances before the end gave Stoke a chance to share the points. First, a cross from Fuller was just out of reach of an advancing Mamady Sidibe and Jonathan Fortune had a great chance to bundle the ball over the line in a goalmouth melee in stoppage time, but never managed to get a proper shot on target.
In retrospect, I don't think Stoke missed their midfield trio enough to have made a difference to the scoreline. Matteo, Eustace and Martin all coped adequately with the task and the Stoke defence was mostly resolute with Andy Griffin in particular standing out. But this game highlighted Stoke's deficiencies up front yet again. Only Fuller gave the Blues' defence any repeated problems and it reinforced the manager's case (if any was needed) that another striker alongside Fuller is desperately needed if we're really going to stand any chance of a play-off place.
Birmingham City: Doyle, N'Gotty, Jaidi, Martin Taylor, Sadler, Johnson, Muamba, Clemence (Larsson 59), McSheffrey, Bendtner, Jerome (Vine 59)
Subs not used: Maik Taylor, Campbell, Danns.
Stoke City: Simonsen, Hoefkens, Fortune, Higginbotham, Griffin, Lawrence, Eustace, Matteo, Martin (Rooney 74), Sidibe (Harper 87), Fuller
Subs not used: Zakuani, Wilkinson, Dickinson.
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