The sides met in the reverse fixture on the opening day of the season. Solihull edged that one 2-1 with goals from Bradley Andrews and Dylan Wallace cancelling out a strike from Hamza Younis. Both sides were coming into this game on good unbeaten runs. Solihull had won five and drawn one of their last six, Birmingham had won four and drawn two. So, I was expecting it to be a tight and evenly matched encounter. No-one could have predicted what happened in the opening 25 minutes.
Birmingham hardly had a chance to get their breath back before Solihull were at them again bringing the best out of Gabriel Bajrami in the home goal. The home keeper was in for a busy first-half. There was hardly any respite before, in the 14th minute, a neat, sweeping passing move saw the ball end at the feet of Owen Williams who stroked it perfectly past the keeper. 0-2.
A rattle home side tried to respond and, 16 minutes in, finally got a strike off with Rahiem Faulder hitting the target, although it was comfortable for Keaton Chahal. Much better movement from Birmingham though.
That glimmer of hope for the home team was almost immediately shattered though. Only two minutes past the quarter-hour mark, top scorer Jahvan Howell beat the home offside trap before slotting past Bajrami. 0-3.
Halfway through the first period Ash Brown once again kept Chahal interested before, a minute later, Birmingham were the architects of their own downfall. Indecision at the back led to the industrious Shimul winning possession on the edge of the box. With the last defender and goalkeeper drawn to him, the Solihull striker slipped the ball sideways to Howell, who had the easy task of rolling the ball into an unguarded net. 0-4.
Less than 25 minutes on the clock and, effectively, game over. Solihull took their foot off the gas slightly at this point. The bust Bajrami did have to make another good stop to keep out Shimul on 34 minutes and, just before the break, Ash Brown struck a low drive from a narrow angle, which Solihull keeper Chahal fielded with some ease. Maybe a cross would have been the better option but you can't blame a striker for having a pop when their team is four down.
HT AFC Birmingham 0 AFC Solihull 4. The home side were really not at the races for the fist 25 minutes, but credit for that must go to Solihull who blitzed them with their movement up front. A ruthless display of attacking play from the visitors. Birmingham did well to steady the ship in the second half of the first period and Solihull, as you would expect, eased off a little after the fourth goal.
It was twenty minutes into the second period before either side mustered a real chance. When it came, it fell to the home side, who could count themselves a little unlucky to see Ash Brown's powerful header clatter the bar and bounce to safety. However, two minutes after that Birmingham should have gone five down. Bajrami lost patience whilst shepherding Shimul away from goal, bringing the striker down and conceding the penalty. However, the goalkeeper and captain made amends by producing a great save to prevent Howell from collecting his hat-trick.
From that moment onwards it was a case of both sides playing out the remainder of the game. Solihull's Ross Kaar did have a half-chance towards the end but didn't trouble Bajrami, as the game fizzled out towards a conclusion.
FT AFC Birmingham 0 AFC Solihull 4. The game was won inside the opening 25 minutes, i which Solihull showed why they are top of the table and title favourites. Birmingham just couldn't cope with their opening wave of attacks. To their credit, the home side made more of a fist of it after that, but both teams knew the game was done by that time. With a number of games postponed, Solihull extend their lead at the top to nine points. Second placed Feckenham have two game sin hand, third placed Northfield Town (who had plenty of their team watching the game) are a further four points back but have four games in hand on the leaders. Birmingham remain fifth, 17 points behind the leaders with three games in the bank.
Next weekend AFC Birmingham are back at Illey Lane as they entertain mid-table DSC United, who they beat 2-0 in the reverse fixture. Solihull have a weekend off before their next game at home to Continental Star. Solihull won the reverse fixture 1-0.
AFC Birmingham: 1.Bajrami(c), 2.Emiloju, 3.Field, 4.J.Faulder, 5.Rowe, 6.Hyatt, 7.Bennett, 8.Robinson, 9.Brown, 10.Baker, 17.R.Faulder. Subs: 11.Hunter, 12.McCarthy, 14.Preston, 15.McQuaide, 16.Honeyghan
AFC Solihull: 1.Chahal, 2.Andrews, 3.Kaar, 5.Cooney, 7.Shimul, 9.Howell, 10.Williams, 11.Sey, 17.Wallace, 18.Daniels, 19.Delaney(c). Subs: Davis, McIlduff, 8.Said, 14.Chakmak, 15.Colstock
Illey Lane is the former home of the now defunct Bartley Green FC. Situated just outside the village of Illey, wedged between the M5 Frankley Services and the town of Halesown. The ground is accessed via a single track lane (mind the potholes) which, via a sharp right turn through a gated entrance, opens out into a fairly large car park. Alongside the car park are a collection of buildings that house the players and officials changing areas, the bar and the snack bar. The players entrance is adorned with a retractable tunnel which, together with the new dugouts and goals, was supplied by Birmingham City and bears the Championship side's logos. There's also a nice little patio area just outside the bar.
Access to the playing surface, which is raised above the level of the car park and club, is via a set of steps. There's a small hut a the top where you pay your entrance fee. On the same side of the pitch, straddling the halfway line, are the two very smart looking BCFC-supplied dugouts. There is a also a covered seating area and two open-fronted wooden huts that provide covered standing. These huts, for some reason, reminded me of the sort of structures you see at the German Market around Christmas-time in nearby Birmingham city centre. On he opposite side of the ground there is another small covered seating stand as well as the old dugouts, which are now available for spectators to use as further covered seating. Unsurprisingly, given the recent weather, the pitch looked to be a little heavy and cut up in places. However, after saying that, it was perfectly playable.
Illey Lane is now amongst one of my top non-league grounds. If you haven't visited, you should. It's a great place to watch football and, when you consider this is a Step 8 ground at the moment, it is way ahead of other grounds at the equivalent level.
Ground Number: 396