A spluttering, unlovely and frustrating performance saw Town add an unwanted game to their schedule as they handed Birmingham a draw with yet another give away goal and an appalling miss by Joe Lolley at the death.
Substitute Malone almost handed the visitors victory just before Lolley’s gobber, and while a defeat wouldn’t have been particularly palatable, avoiding a disruptive replay would have been a decent price to pay.
Overall, it was Town’s lack of killer instinct which cost them. Other than the threat of Jota, the best player on the pitch throughout, Birmingham were pretty ordinary in a first half which finally saw Mounié being provided with a quality cross – from Hadergjonaj- to convert with some style. The finger on the lips celebration was not as welcome as the Frenchman’s first goal for a long time.
Disregarding the petulance, his movement in the box turned a very good cross in to a great one. It can’t be beyond the wit of our wide attacking players that delivering the ball regularly in to good spaces will result in strikers like Mounié and Depoitre scoring goals.
The lead was established after 20 relatively quiet minutes and the home side should have seized the opportunity to turn the screw on an opponent with a terrible away record and struggling to score.
They saw enough of the ball to apply irresistible pressure, but good work either fizzled out in the final third or was recycled backwards to try to start again (allowing even moderate teams plenty of time to reorganise). The inability to create and maintain momentum is hurting us and giving opponents confidence and breathing space.
Nevertheless, Town’s first half performance was far from poor – not effective enough, for sure, but they were comfortable at the back (Kolongo’s inclusion in the first team has to be imminent) and functioned as well as necessary to see off what appeared to be the fairly minimal threat they were facing.
Comfortable passage to the 5th round seemed a fairly easy goal to achieve as the second half begun. The threat of Jota had become increasingly isolated and if the Spaniard represented the best of the Blues, his midfield compatriot Ndoye’s inelegance more than compensated. How he racked up so many fouls without a booking or a talking to was as astonishing as his inability to control or pass a football with any regularity.
An uneventful start to the second half, again playing in to the home team’s hands, was jolted out of its complacency 10 minutes in when a nothing attack from the visitors broke down and allowed Hefele time to stroll forward assuming no pressure before Jutkiewicz robbed him and curled an equaliser past Coleman.
It was a poor error by the German, who was otherwise solid and composed, and Town’s alarming propensity to shoot themselves in the foot reared its ugly head again.
The equaliser did, at least, breathe some life in to a contest in grave danger of atrophy as the visitors’ belief was revived and while a draw was probably about right, had Coleman not made a good save from Jutkiewicz, the Blues would have gone on to win.
In fairness to Town, a mediocre second half performance was not short on chances. Sabiri, who struggled on his first home start, shot narrowly wide, Billing – who added a touch of quality when he replaced the injured Williams in the first half – had a decent effort saved and there was far more efforts at or on goal when we were playing worse than we had in the first 45 minutes.
Löwe, who had a pretty good return from injury, was replaced by Malone for an eventful 10 minutes for the ex-Fulham man. He got involved in the attack which lead to Lolley’s dreadful miss, feeding Quaner on the left but will be remembered most for a clownish moment in the area when he completely missed a clearance he probably shouldn’t have attempted in the first place with Coleman poised to collect the ball before rather unconvincingly clearing up his mess.
The disappointment of not finishing the tie late on when Quaner set up Lolley so beautifully was probably playing on the minds of the hard of thinking when they booed the team from the field, but an opportunity to progress in the cup relatively serenely had been passed up through an error and a wild finish.
Unlike last week, there were positives to take from the game. Kongolo, assuming the knock he took wasn’t too serious, has surely staked his claim for a start against Liverpool. His strength alone marked him out as on a different level to many of his teammates.
Billing added some class at times and looks ready for the bench while Mounié appeared more interested and effective if given good service.
The negative of fitting in a replay which will disrupt preparation for the crucial Bournemouth game outweighs them, however.