Nechells Sports Centre – Saturday 24 January

After an encouraging performance against unbeaten Doncaster Eagles,there was hope of an upset against second placed Loughborough Student Riders, in the push for a play-off place and to keep City of Birmingham with the advantageover the remaining contenders for 3rd place – Derby Trailblazers, Sheffield Sharks and Sporting Club Albion. Coach Wilson had hinted earlier however that this was likely to be a very different proposition.

So, having witnessed my boy feature in the under 13’s victory earlier in the day, I turned up fashionably late. My excuse this time – we’d been given the under 13’s kit to wash, so I was sitting in the launderette reading my newspaper, and someone had nicked my jeans and T-shirt that I’d put into the machine too. It’s just lucky that I don’t drink Carling Black Label.

Things looked pretty rosy with the scoreboard showing City of Birmingham just 2 points down on my arrival, 24-26. This it turns out, was after Loughborough had opened up a 10-point lead by the 9th minute.

Where I’d struggled to find a seat in our last home game against Derby, I struggled to find many other fans this week, the disappointing turnout possibly due to the local FA Cup derby match and resulting traffic.

Confident of seeing the seniors equalise and go ahead in the second quarter, my hopes were dashed fairly rapidly as the visitors opened up a nine point lead, their number 5 Brown starring consistently. Despite the best efforts of Jordan Dawes, and rebounds plus an assist from Keith Jarrett, Loughborough’s defensive pressure meant that highlights for CoB were few and far between in this period. Missed free throws also contributed, and only a 3 pointer from David Malcolm in the final minute after captain Williams rebound and Liam Sheridan’s drive, prevented Loughborough from going into half time interval with a cushion of more than 20 points, 38-57 at the interval.

Luckily, the Body Beat dance team were on hand to brighten things up again during the break, the crowd marvelling at their skilled coordination and poise.

The 3rd quarter began promisingly, Jarrett collecting further rebounds, with Trout and Catlow also starting strongly, for Williams and Dawes to claw back 4 points. Further concessions and misses however saw Eke and Malcolm replace Jarrett and Trout, and Loughborough’s 19 point cushion restored, which awakened the home team. Whilst Catlow continued to star defensively, a rebound for Dawes sparked two baskets from him, which were followed by another three from Williams (two from distance). Club CEO Kirk Dawes had joined their bench to add some gusto, voiciferously willing on the troops. Jarrett came back in, and a free throw from him after consecutive rebounds and misses from Catlow and Eke, were sandwiched by two 3-pointers from Malcolm. Having restricted Loughborough during all of this to a pair each of 2-pointers and free-throws, the deficit was reduced to 10 points going into the final quarter, and hope restored.

Restarting the 4th period at 61-71, the teams traded equal blows. Dawes scored from a rebound, before assisting Williams in CoB’s next attack, and then scored from Malcolm’s assist before assisting Williams once more and scoring again. Despite a couple of smart steals from Wright and Catlow though, serious inroads were not being made into the Loughborough lead due to misses as time started to run out. However a timely 3 pointer from Williams then pegged Loughborough back to within five points, as Chief Dawes issued a war cry. This prompted Williams and Wright to attempt 3-pointers in a make or break effort, but alas it only resulted in gifting possession back to the athletic away side, who successfully converted the possession to restore an 11-point lead, before the remaining time moved from the minutes into the seconds.

Despite the best efforts of Catlow (who ended up on the shoulder, literally, of one of the Students – rather him then me), and Dawes with another score, Loughborough pulled away again to open up a 14-point lead. Trout rounded things off, picking up a rebound and 3-point play. (I had to look that one up – it’s when a player scores despite being fouled and also converts the resultant free throw – you can get 4-point plays as well, for the same thing from outside the D. But you knew that, didn’t you?)

So, the players shook hands as the clock ticked to zero, 79-90 the final score. A promising performance, all thing considered, and evidence that CoB have a decent shout of that 3rd place. Looking at the league table, with the remaining teams games in hand, it appears too close to call. Derby leapfrogged CoB into third place, but do still have the apparently unbeatable Doncaster to entertain, as well as key matches against Sheffield and West Bromwich.

More will be known by the next trip, away on Valentine’s day, but as CoB’s next two matches are against the same two teams, it is likely that they will need to win all four of their remaining matches to stand a chance of reaching the play-offs.

So a big crowd will be needed to cheer them on, on February 21st against Sporting Club Albion, for the final home game of the regular season. Get ready to make some noise