Bedworth 0 Birmingham Blues 1
This final game of the season was a league decider. A win for Birmingham Blues would see them pick up the Premier League title. Anything else and they would finish as ‘also rans.’
Prior to the game, Blues were dealt a major blow when striker Clive Macey had to withdraw from the squad due to a freak back injury, causing player/manager Paul Feeney, to reshuffle his already selected formation, by pushing himself into a more attacking role and reintroducing Nino Barresi into his accustomed midfield position.
This was Birmingham’s third opportunity to seal the Premier League crown, following points dropped to Boldmere St Michael’s and MSA Burntwood, who had now been given an unexpectedly chance to pip the Blues and snatch the coveted title from their grasp.
Blues opponents Bedworth were determined to provide the sternest of tests, having enjoyed a strong season themselves, and their team had always pushed Birmingham hard, especially in recent encounters. Indeed, in the corresponding fixture, it took a very late (and unlucky) Bedworth own goal to rescue a point for the Blues.
In his pre-match team talk, Paul Feeney left his players in no doubt regarding the difficult task that lay ahead, outlining the strengths of the opposition, and what needed to be done to nullify their threat, whilst playing on the front foot themselves, as they looked to pose their own threat upon the Bedworth goal.
Once the game started, it was clear that this was going to be a very tight and nervy affair, played in warm and energy sapping conditions.
Following the first ten minutes of high energy, fast paced football, the game settled into a predictable pattern, with both sides struggling to impose their authority upon the game with any regular possession or sustained threat upon their rivals goal.
A draw was not going to be enough for Birmingham to take the title. They had to somehow breakdown Bedworth’s defensive shield that was starving them of any open space in which to build momentum. In addition to this, Birmingham had to ‘keep their own back door firmly shut.’ The consequences of not doing so would have been dire, and keeper Ross Everton was called upon to make several important interventions in what had become a very cagey first period.
Close to half time, Birmingham could count themselves unlucky when the excellent Pete Giddings was found unmarked by a superb cross field ball from Nino Barresi. Pete’s excellent first touch set him up for a strike on goal which glanced off the far post, with Bedworth’s goalkeeper well beaten.
The first half ended goalless, with Birmingham Blues having it all to do in the twenty five minute second half. A goal was desperately needed, but Blues had to be ever mindful that the Bedworth side carried a significantly potent strike force themselves. It was therefore never an option to throw caution to the wind! It was a case of keeping playing disciplined possession football, and hopefully a chance would come. And when it did, it HAD to be taken.
As the clock ticked away, the tension all over the pitch and along the Blues touchline was palpable, with the Bedworth supporters becoming ever more vocal as both sides willed their teams to break the deadlock.
Nearing the end of the third quarter, there were signs that the game was opening up a little. Striker Paul Feeney produced a thunderous drive, which was pushed away by Bedworth’s keeper, whilst at the other end Ross Everton was equal to everything that Bedworth were able to throw at him, although he was relieved to grasp one particular shot that almost squirmed beneath him.
Something had to give, and sure enough when it came, it was as a result of a defensive error by the Bedworth keeper, who when throwing out a loose ball to one of his defenders, didn’t take into account the quick reactions of Mark Evans, who stepped in to steal the ball and tuck it under the advancing keeper and into the net, much to the delight and relief of the entire Birmingham squad.
But, with a long stretch of the game still to be played, there was still a lot to do. The precious lead that had been gifted to them had to be defended at all costs.
Defensive stalwarts, Roger Purchase and Pete Giddings, were producing dominant performances. Their reading of the game was frustrating Bedworth, by limiting their strikers to long range efforts that were all dealt with comfortably. There was one exception though, when a powerful effort was saved by the Blues keeper who pushed a high shot away in a confident style.
Key midfielder, Alan Hodson, continued to work tirelessly as he and the other midfielders gave everything for the cause Their steely determination was there for all to see. Birmingham had worked so hard to gain this slight advantage, and they were not going to give it up lightly.
Hard toil and endeavour was going to be required to see this game out, with Bedworth now applying pressure all over the pitch, which made it difficult for the Blues to keep the ball and manage the game comfortably. As the game wore on, tiredness was now playing a part. The second half seemed to be lasting an eternity. And with each Bedworth foray that was repelled, there was a collective sigh of relief. Every interception, every block, and every clearance brought victory just that little a bit closer. But still the game went on. A lengthy period of additional time had provided Bedworth with a lifeline, and although there was nothing in the game for them, a single goal would deny Birmingham from picking up the league title.
To a man, including substitutes, Simon Krstic, and Roy Williams, they held firm. Some of the play wasn’t pretty, but it was pretty effective!
Eventually the final whistle was blown, and Birmingham Blues had achieved their aim. They had retained their title and become successive Premier League winners.
Bedworth had been difficult opponents, and the Blues players will have enjoyed this success, in the knowledge that this victory had been earned by each and every one of them, all making a telling contribution.
This was a display that epitomised the team’s ethos of ‘togetherness.’ Not only in this match, but throughout entire campaign. So, credit must go to the whole squad because the league table never lies; a defence that has leaked just seven goals; a potent strike force and industrious and powerful midfielders who have done their jobs so well. Special congratulations must go to our very own Golden Boot winner Mark Evans and Player/Manager Paul Feeney who makes it all happen.
Blues manager Paul Feeney said ‘I am so proud of all my players, it is quite an achievement to win back-to-back Premier League titles. This year the league has been a lot more competitive, with our opponents all strengthening their squads, but we have held firm, kept our belief and played the game ‘our way,’ resulting in us being rewarded and crowned as 2022/2023 Premier League Champions.
Every player has been superb, even when asked to play out of position, or stand down when the team has been adapted to play against specific opponents.
Everybody should be proud of themselves for what they have achieved!
A short, well deserved break now and then on to next season. Wouldn’t three in a row be nice?’
(Match report by Bart O’Shea)