By Nick Xydias (Birmingham City supporter)
At the time of writing my initial article (Jesse Lingard: The Boy’s A Bit Special) on Jess Lingard on 23rd September 2013, he had just single handedly destroyed Sheffield Wednesday on his debut for Birmingham City with 4 goals of terrific quality. There was no doubting his outstanding quality. The real issue was whether he would be able to showcase his talents on a regular basis in a side struggling for consistency and self-belief.
One thing we have learned to expect from Birmingham City this season is the unexpected. One game we play with belief and desire, the next we sort of sleepwalk slowly and convincingly into oblivion without a care in the world. Matters are often not assisted by Lee Clark’s often puzzling tactical and personnel changes. It’s within this backdrop that Lingard’s contribution has to be judged.
On 25th September 2013, Blues dumped League Cup holders Swansea 3-1 out of that Cup in the third round with their most convincing performance of the season at that stage. Lingard was not given permission to play by Manchester United but must have been impressed by an emphatic win against a Swansea side containing many first team starters.
Blues next game was in the league on 28th September 2013 against Reading away. A classic case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show”. Blues lost 2-0, with Danny Guthrie scoring from two set pieces. Lingard played the full 90 minutes but in all honesty it was a poor display from Blues going forward. Little invention, very few chances and if your defence can’t deal with two basic set pieces, it’s bound to be a quiet coach trip back up the M40.
Blues returned to winning ways on 1st October 2013 at home versus Millwall with an emphatic 4-0 win. The following video contains the highlights.
Lingard was excellent throughout. His movement was intelligent, his pace impressive and against a poor Championship defence, he was always likely to be a real source of danger. He was tripped on the very edge of the box in the 10th minute but his subsequent penalty was saved by David Forde. He scored the 4th in the last minute with a neat 6 yard box header and was then substituted in injury time. This game was significant in that Lingard played wide in a front three containing Zigic and Green and his ability to deliver crosses of great quality was there for all to see.
Blues next game was a 2-1 defeat against Bolton at home on 5th October 2013. It was, in all fairness, a poor performance insofar as Blues’ attacking players were concerned. Lingard played up front with Matt Green initially and then Zigic but did not create any real chances of note and was not given any real supply from which he could profit. A late penalty shout for the home team livened things up somewhat but it was not a game that Blues ever looked like winning.
As far as Jesse Lingard was concerned, he was getting game time and seemed to be enjoying the responsibility of providing goals for a team not otherwise blessed with freescoring strikers. Blues fans were no doubt chuffed when, on 18th October 2013, it was announced that Lingard’s loan spell would be extended until 14th December 2013.
Whilst Blues performance against Bolton was a frustrating one, at least you could sense the players were giving their all against a team fighting hard for their lives. What followed against Leeds United away on 20th October 2013 was beyond abject. It was utterly appalling.
There’s a scene in the recent “Peaky Blinders” BBC tv series where a barman in a pub close to St Andrews points out to drinkers the Blues team having a crafty pint before a match. Well against Leeds, it looked as though the first team and, in particular, the defence, had been on a four day bender just before kick-off. It was almost as though the Chief of the Keystone Cops had taken over from Steve Watson as Blues defensive coach.
Matters were not helped by Lee Clark making 5 personnel changes and a change of formation. Nikola Zigic, who has almost scored at will against Leeds United in recent seasons, found himself on the bench, with Lee Clark quite incredibly preferring Lee Novak in his place.
3-0 down at half time and 4-0 at full time. Lingard played the full 90 minutes but in all fairness, his influence on the game was as much as mine. As the 4th went in, my son turned to me and said “ Dad, are we always going to be rubbish?” “No son”, I replied “there are going to be times when we are very rubbish”.
Lingard picked up a knock after a heavy tackle in the Leeds game and returned to Manchester United for treatment on a knee injury. He therefore missed a vital point earned in a battling 1-1 draw against Derby County at Pride Park on 26th October 2013. He also didn’t feature in the heroic home defeat on penalties to Stoke City in the Capital One Cup fourth round on 29th October 2013 where Blues battled back superbly from 3-1 down with 10 men to score twice in the last 5 minutes and force extra time. Again, they went behind but Olly Lee took the match the penalties with a last gasp equalizer to make it 4-4. Even though Blues lost on penalties, they had managed to salvage a great deal of pride and belief in very adverse circumstances.
Blues next game was at home against Charlton Athletic on 2nd November 2013. Optimism was rising. We had performed with such desire and commitment against a Premier League outfit that surely 3 points against Charlton was a formality?
There’s a phrase and an intonation used when uttering it that only Blues fans can really relate to. It’s the phrase: “typical Blues”. It effectively refers to Blues unerring ability, as a club and a team, to kick you very hard right in knackers when you least expect it. Over decades we have cured strikers of goalscoring droughts, helped teams overcome winless streaks and given teams in desperate need of points a little help in a cold, harsh world. We’re very kind like that.
Birmingham City 0 Charlton 1. Lingard couldn’t play because of his knee injury. Lucky boy. We were so awful, so lethargic, so lacking in any creativity that the game seem to last an eternity. At the full time whistle, my son looked at me with a confused contempt as if to say: “ And you CHOOSE to support this team?”
Blues last match before the international break was at Huddersfield Town on 9th November 2013. Blues welcomed back Jesse Lingard, who completed 83 minutes. Lee Clark managed to get the players fired up against his former club and they repaid him with a committed and spirited performance, in which they turned over Huddersfield 3-1. Lingard played wide in a front three with Zigic and Novak and his movement and anticipation were there for all to see. He was wrongly adjudged to be offside after being put through by Nikola Zigic but then provided 2 assists for Kyle Bartley to power home headers from a corner and then a free kick respectively. His delivery for both goals was sumptuous.
Jesse Lingard was selected for the England Under 21 squad for the matches versus Finland and San Marino. Lingard came on as a substitute versus Finland and set up the 3rd in a 3-0 win. That should do he confidence a world of good and he seemed, quite rightly, pleased with himself when interviewed after the game.
Blues now enter a period in which they play some very winnable games, giving them a chance to climb the league table. After playing highflying Blackpool on Saturday 23rd November 2013, they then face Barnsley, Doncaster, Middlesbrough and Bournemouth. It’s by no means certain that Lingard will stay at Blues beyond 14th December 2013 but our hopes of keeping him will certainly be enhanced if the prospect of a long, wintery relegation battle subsides.
I have no doubt that when Jesse Lingard returns to Manchester United, he will have the quality to succeed in the Premier League. I still think that seeing out the season with Blues will be beneficial to him in the long term but there can be no doubt that his set-piece delivery, pace, movement and finishing are all Premier League standard. As the national media continue to froth at Ravel Morrison’s wonderful form, it’s worthwhile remembering that he didn’t do too badly from his experience with Birmingham City.
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