REPORT: Blues V Leicester – a game of two halves

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Blues faced the Foxes for a pre season friendly which felt like a normal midlands derby day. It finished 3-2 to Leicester but there was much more to the game.

Out of the traps

Blues were out of the traps right from the first whistle. It looked like a completely different team to what we saw at Burton. The foxes couldn’t cope with our brilliant through balls and sense of direction from the likes of Gray and Shinnie.

Debutant Maikel Kieftenbeld showed why Gary Rowett signed him. The Dutch midfielder played some superb balls to help his team-mates going forward and also was aware of everything around him. Tactically he played well – spotting danger and covering the defence.

However the standout player for me in the first half was Andrew Shinnie. He moved the ball well and was the focal point for Gray and Cotterill on the wings. He also played he part at the back too, winning a few crunching tackles.

Striking gold

As the game settled Blues has the upper hand and were pushing for that opening goal. It came in the 23rd minute – Gray was brought down and Cotterill was up to take the free-kick. All that Kasper Schmiechel could do was watch. A beautiful strike from the Welshman flew into the net, hitting the underside of the bar.

A minute later Blues were attacking again. This time Cotterill found Gray who was already sprinting towards the touch-line. When we got there he cut inside former Aston Villa man Marc Albrighton and curled the ball into the top right hand corner from an acute angle.

The ball was returned to the center spot and Kasper Schmiechel stood with his hands on his hips in disbelief.

Defensive work

In the first half Blues were compact and overall defending well under pressure. Jonathan Grounds was very much a leader on the left, giving out orders and also helping out new signing Kieftenbeld. Morrison took charge of the other side of the field controlling the line and making some important blocks.

As for Tomasz Kuszczak he didn’t really have much to do until after Blues’ goals went in. Leicester were looking to gain momentum but were denied by the tall Polish International. Diving down to gather the ball and being agile to block a few well hit shots, he definitely showed he’s still got it.

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Sloppy second half

The second half was a different story to the first. Blues weren’t able to defend as a unit as they did in the opening 45 minutes and were left exposed from the likes of Mahrez who powered through the flanks and were able to play simple balls into the six yard box. At this time Kuszczak looked shaky and the defence couldn’t cope with these darting runs.

Their Premier League quality showed as they brought one back on the hour mark through Robert Huth. Half time substitute Andrej Kramaric flicked on the corner to Robert Huth at the back post who has an empty net to aim for.

With only 15 minutes to go it was all Leicester. New signing and highly rated Okazaki was brought down just outside the penalty area and Riyad Mahrez stood over the ball for the free kick. His effort hit the post and Danny Drinkwater was there to scoop the ball over the helpless Kuszczak.

The comeback was complete after Mahrez ran at the Blues defence before finding Okazaki in the box who hit his free header into the net infront of the travelling fans.

The margin could have been widened with two minutes to go Jonathan Spector cleared Jeff Schlupp’s effort off the line.

Cotterill the comedian

David Cotterill kept the Blues faithful entertained, not only with his first half strike but with, shall we call ‘banter’, with the officials. Because it was only a friendly Cotts thought it would be funny to annoy the referee early on in the game. The spray came out and with only David as the wall for the free-kick he removed the spray with his boot. This followed a telling off by the ref but it was all smiles.

However it wasn’t for the Leicester fans. When Cotterill was standing over the ball for his free-kick you could hear the fans singing “You’re just a S*** Cambiasso”, only to find he was celebrating in-front of them moments later with a salute.

It was good to see he found the funny side and he deserved his moment in-front of the travelling fans. Here’s his interview with Blues TV:

Spanish flare

Jon Toral entered the field and even though he only got about five touches you could tell there was something special about him – the next Fabregas maybe? A few shouts of “Olay” from the Blues fans while applauding his efforts to get the ball down and play it forward.

He probably should have played from the start, although Shinnie had a great game, Jon looked very sharp and looks to be a good signing for Blues.

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The Gaffer’s words

The Blues boss, who signed Kieftenbeld from Groningen after triggering a release clause in his contract last week, commented on the 25-year-old’s performance:

“Maikel showed what he’s showed us in training,” said Rowett, after his side’s final friendly of pre-season. “I think he looks a terrific player. Very, very composed on the ball, he picks up good positions defensively.

“I think you saw his intelligence when once or twice he filled in little holes from people going forward, showing a bit of tactical knowledge. “On the ball he made some lovely passes and again showed what a really good signing he’ll become.”

Rowett on Cotterill’s celebration:

“I noticed he celebrated his goal by sliding along the pitch in front of them. “It was quite a reply. “Cotterill has a strike rate of about 1 in 40 in training so it was nice to see that one fly in!”

Rowett was disappointed with goals Blues conceded against Claudio Ranieri’s Premier League Foxes.

“All three were poor to concede on our part. We’ve left a man on his own at the far post for the first goal and then failed to react quickly enough on the second.”

“Leicester are a very good team, but we have gifted them goals as well. We need to work on cutting out silly mistakes and conceding sloppy goals.”

Optimism

I spoke with a few Blues fans after the game and they were certainly happy with the performance and said they are looking forward to next week.

I agree, last season we won all of our pre-season games and look where we ended up at the start of the season. If we played like we did in the first half yesterday we can grab all three points next week.

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