Birmingham City continue to defy all previous punditry expectations. A sixth game unbeaten and more importantly, a win came away at Wigan to show the doubters that this is a new Birmingham side. Indeed, it would appear that manager Alex McLeish has noted the new perception of Blues: “At the beginning of the season we got written-off a wee bit and people have seen us now and changed their mind about that, so that’s brilliant.” For Blues fans, their position of eighth in the league table is significant for many reasons.
Firstly, it shows how far the side have come. Recently promoted, Alex McLeish was initially worried that his side were four or five players short of a squad that could compete in the Premier League. Although the season still feels young, we are 15 games in. For Birmingham, to be in eighth place is a positive indictment of how far the second city side have come. Secondly, the Blues are only five points behind local rivals, Aston Villa. This should be an extremely exciting prospect for Birmingham fans. After the derby game earlier in the season, it was easy to see a divide between the two sides even though Villa were not at their best. However, recent performances would indicate that Birmingham would not succumb to a defeat quite so easily if the two had to meet next week.
One of Birmingham’s main problems this season has been a lack of goals. The newly signed Christian Benitez has failed to meet expectations and although Blues have a plethora of other attacking options, there has been a distinct lack of goals at St. Andrews this season. Saturday’s game changed both of those thoughts. Benitez scored their second goal which contributed to the eleven minute annihilation of Wigan’s defence. Blues manager McLeish lavished praise over his side. However, he was correct to warn players and fans not to get too carried away by their current, lofty position: “We know how fickle it can be in the Premier League. You can lose a couple of games and rocket down the table.”
A quick look at the table shows Blues to be just five points off a Champions League place, but five points the other way lie fifteenth place Hull, a position that would not be quite as comfortable. At this point last season, Hull had accumulated 26 points, five more than Birmingham. Their quick demise is now legendary and McLeish will be determined that his over-achievers do not follow suit. However, for Birmingham, there seems to be much more substance to their attack on the Premier League’s top half than Hull’s short lived time at the top.
Whilst Hull were completely new to the league and had what appeared to be an amalgamation of players with different objectives that eventually ended in a slump in form, Birmingham have Premier League experience. When watching them, it is clear to see that they are all pulling in the same direction. They are playing with a purpose. They stifle the opposition’s attack, something shown by their impressive defensive record. They are sharp in midfield and usually take at least one opportunity a game. Although this could all change in a heartbeat, it is more likely than not that Birmingham will continue to defy critics, in the main due to the opportunity to buy in the upcoming transfer window.
Analysing their current squad, it isn’t immediately apparent that they need any new reinforcements. They are well stocked defensively, with a central partnership that will surely be catching the eye of the top four as they look for young, English defenders. Roger Johnson and Scott Dann were two of McLeish’s riskier acquisitions, something that he recognised: “People say you get what you pay for and if you buy Championship players, that’s where you end up but I think these players have got it in them to be top Premier League players.” They have vindicated McLeish’s decision to sign them by applying commitment and accomplished performances to City’s cause.
All of their recent joys are the complete antithesis to the aura around the club prior to Yeung’s takeover. Left delusional by the owners David Gold and David Sullivan, City fans were unhappy by the mess that the board had apparently got the club into. Police investigations, scandal over Karen Brady’s supposed pay-off followed, but now all of that seems to have been forgotten. Birmingham is a team on the up, and with new money and a new owner, it may be that Blues can take part of their neighbour’s motto and pronounce that they are the ones with the bright future.