In a departure from what some may have expected, this FA Cup tie between Birmingham City and Coventry City turned into a goal fest. The home side clawed back from a two-goal deficit to end up the victors, 3-2.
BIRMINGHAM FORM: For a side who has been busy in both the League as well as making the Carling Cup final, it wasn’t surprising to see them rest some starters. What was surprising was to see them field a two-forward system, but Alex McLeish picked Kevin Phillips to partner with Nicola Zigic up front, in lieu of Cameron Jerome. The other interesting note was an adjustment of the wing midfielders. McLeish swapped David Bentley and Jean Beausejour to the left and right wings, respectively. Ben Foster did not take position in goal, instead giving the start to Colin Doyle.
COVENTRY FORM: I hadn’t seen a Coventry match before. Recent reports show that the 4-4-2 is the preference for the Sky Blues. They fielded a squad more consistent with their Championship lineups, especially their offensive triplet of strikers Marlon King and Clive Platt, and left midfielder Gary McSheffrey.
FIRST HALF: The early first half was a battle between which matched-up wing midfielder would be more effective, McSheffrey or Beausejour. The play carried a lot down that side of the pitch, with Brum right back Stuart Parnaby being very active in overlap with Beausejour. This kept Coventry reserve left back Stephen O’Halloran a bit more honest, not wanting to get caught upfield and out of position. Unfortunately for Brum, Beausejour was less comfortable in that role and they struggled to maintain possession through the midfield.
With all that being said, each of the goals actually came from play on the opposite side of the pitch. Coventry generated much more of the offensive fervor in the first half. The scoring opened when King accepted a pass outside the area. He was able to move through the defensive backline, missing Liam Ridgewell due to an earlier knock. King’s strike from the 18 yard line sunk past Doyle for the 1-0 lead. They made it 0-2 before 30 minutes on a set piece, when McSheffrey’s corner found the head of Richard Wood.
At that point, you had to wonder if Birmingham was sunk. Their offense wouldn’t be characterized as prolific. But at the 35th minute, Bentley gave the Blues hope. He turned in towards the center of the pitch, and from 25 yards blasted a drive that found the upper reaches of the goal for their first score.
SECOND HALF: McLeish restored Bentley and Beausejour to their natural positions after the half. There was more of a sense of urgency from Brum as well. They have been searching for good form, and while Phillips isn’t their first choice at striker, he made it clear that McLeish should revisit a more offensive formation. They weren’t thoroughly outplayed in the first half after all; the two goals for Coventry exploited injury and a set piece defensive breakdown. Granted that the Sky Blues aren’t Premier League quality, but nonetheless there have been many calls for Brum to open it up a bit with a more offensive formation, and perhaps the 2nd half result today will convince him to give it another chance.
Brum leveled as Coventry tried to hold on in the 67th minute. Zigic worked hard to retrieve a ball off the endline and got the ball to Alexander Hleb. He couldn’t control, but the ball bounced to Beausejour at the edge of the area. He passed through to Hleb, and as he approached goalkeeper Keiren Westwood, he fed the ball to Parnaby, who directed it home with the outside of his right foot for the Blues’ second goal.
Coventry was then deprived of the replay six minutes later, when a Bentley corner was sent to the far post. An unmarked Phillips chested the ball down, and with time he laced a shot past Westwood for the 3-2 victory.
THOUGHTS: Alex McLeish has been under a lot of fire this season, but between their home record and their performance in Cup matches, it could be a lot worse. They have to perform better in League matches in order to remain out of relegation trouble. If McLeish can eschew his propensity to get hemmed in and defensive against better (or even equal) competition, I think his team has a good chance of approaching mid-table.
EARL’S MAN OF THE MATCH: Kevin Phillips, Striker, Birmingham City
EARL’S GOAT: Stephen O’Halloran, Left Fullback, Coventry City