Birmingham City mugged Peterborough with two late goals to secure a 2-2 draw at St Andrew’s last night.
Lacklustre Blues were heading to a desperate defeat against Posh, until with five minutes to go Gary Gardner pulled one back and then soon after Scott Hogan bagged his ninth of the season.
Here’s what stood out on a surprising evening.
There can be no lipstick put on this pig. As grateful as everyone was to see two late goals give Blues a point, the comeback should not obscure the fact that Blues were lucky to get anything from this game.
Let the record show they were poor for 85 minutes, really poor. Physically they were a long way short of where they needed to be – and if you’re not running or fighting hard enough it becomes difficult to make any tactics or formation work.
The stats will show that Blues had more shots than Peterborough, that they had as much possession and actually completed a higher percentage of passes. That does not even begin to tell the story of a really flat display.
Only Scott Hogan, Teden Mengi, Marc Roberts and the three subs, can claim to have played anything like well enough.
Perform like that at Derby and they’ll get ravaged by an enterprising side in a false position in the league.
Blues ended the game with three wingers all on the left of the team. Jeremie Bela had been at left back since half time, Jordan Graham came on to replace Jordan James as a wide central midfielder and Onel Hernandez operated in the front-line.
It was then that lop-sided Blues began to pepper the Peterborough area, from which they scored twice and stole the most unlikely of points.
Therefore, logic would suggest that if Blues had started with wingers the danger to the Posh goal would have been there for the whole match. Right?
Maybe – but according to Bowyer that’s not the whole story. He wanted three central midfielders, Ivan Sunjic, Ryan Woods and James, to match-up Peterborough’s three.
An underload in the middle of the field might see Blues ‘passed off the park’ according to Bowyer.
As it happened there were times when Blues were ‘passed off the park’ – and they were all when James, Sunjic and Woods were out there.
Ironically just when the team shape looked distinctly odd, that’s when they asked more questions of the visitors.
Bowyer would not admit it but for a few weeks, perhaps longer, it felt like containment has been prioritized over creativity.
While that was understandable when every winger and No. 10 was injured, it might be time to take the handbrake off and risk losing matches with the aim of winning more.
Bowyer has been critical of Hogan for not doing the basics he’d expect a striker to do. Whether he’s scoring or not the head coach wants the 29-year-old to fight for the ball, make runs and compete in the air.
To be fair to Hogan he did a lot of that. He was engaged throughout, kept making the runs that so often do not get rewarded and put away the one chance that came to him.
He also set-up Jutkiewicz for a good opportunity in the first half and there were definitely signs of pre-lockdown Hogan.
With three goals in his last four games it seems that confidence and purpose is once more filtering back into the center-forward’s displays.
He’s on nine goals this season and has 18 matches to play – a return of 16-plus has to go down as a credit-worthy campaign.
Gary Gardner deserves praise for a performance in which he scored his second goal in three – and while his volley might not have been as sweetly struck as at Fulham – it was no more than he deserved.
Gardner has struggled for quality in recent games but coming off the bench he delivered an electric shoock to the team, showing greater energy and urgency than any of the other central midfielders and jolting the side into life.
The other subs had an impact too. Bela just about held up his end of the defensive bargain and sent over six crosses in just half a game. His willingness to play different roles reflects well on im.
Even Graham, playing a more central positions than he is used to, might have grabbed an assist but for Jutkiewicz’s egregious late miss. The apparent ease with which he creates space for a cross really is something Blues could do with more.
Bounce from the bench is not something Blues have had much this season.
Clear blue water
This was a game that the Blues could not afford to lose. Victory over Barnsley at the weekend meant they had a 12-point lead on the bottom three and while no-one’s thinking of a relegation battle, defeat here would have seen Peterborough close to within nine points with two games in hand.
As things stand Blues are on pace to stay out of trouble – which would be just the second time in six seasons – and with players like Troy Deeney, Tahith Chong and Taylor Richards to come into the team they should have enough to stay clear.
But let’s not pretend it’s anything other than a very hard watch at the moment.
A lack of fluency in midfield and dearth of quality in attack has made every Championship game an arm wrestle for a couple of months now.
Chong and Richards can not return fast enough.