Tuesday’s victory over Nottingham Forest stretched Birmingham’s unbeaten run to 14 games in all competitions. Interestingly, Forest are currently denying Birmingham the accolade of longest unbeaten run of a promoted side in the Premier league.
The Blues next fixture is away to Portsmouth, a game that current form would indicate a Birmingham win and, if they do, will enable them to join Forest in this 13 game unbeaten run in the league. However, this season has produced much stranger things than a Portsmouth win over Blues.
Birmingham have been the club of the season to many neutrals. They have been the epitome of everything great about the Premier League this campaign, a season that has seen many unexpected happenings. Now 21 games in, this year’s contest has been one of the most enthralling for years gone by. Whether it is so exciting because of a digression of quality from the top four is debatable, but for the footballing purists and neutral observers, Birmingham is undeniably one of the success stories.
Whilst Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool have all struggled to really meet pre-season expectations, and Wolves and Burnley are showing form that suggests they may go down, Birmingham are doing exactly what all pundits thought they would not. They are only seven points away from the generally accepted number of points to avoiding survival, with just under half the season left. Their team consists of many similarly moulded players – strong, defensive and not amazingly gifted in the skill department. The obvious exceptions to this are Christian Benitez and James McFadden but generally speaking, before the season started, Birmingham’s team on paper seemed geared towards a relegation battle.
There were no players that had tasted any success or sustained time at the top of any league, let alone to Premier League, Barry Ferguson being the exception. But, somehow, this amalgamation of seemingly average footballers has produced an unbeatable side. Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool have all come unstuck against the Blues this term – any suggestion of this before the season begun would have been laughable. Although Birmingham are a notoriously tough team to beat as they have been defensively minded in recent history, nobody expected them to be so impenetrable. The third best defence, the best form in the league and a healthy transfer budget are all accolades that Birmingham currently hold.
Eight games in to the season, they had seven points and a board that seemed unwilling to take the club forward, appearing to want to get their hands rid of such an unattractive club as soon as possible. Carson Yeung’s takeover was confirmed and their transformation began as they went on to beat former manager Steve Bruce’s Sunderland 2-1. It was almost as if this date was the club ridding themselves of the past. Beating their old managers club was symbolic of the changing times at Birmingham – the fans no longer have a reason to berate Bruce for leaving them for Wigan. Alex McLeish has taken Blues to a level Bruce never achieved.
Everything about the club has begun to change on varying degrees. The outside perception of a small Midlands club has been transformed to an image of a strong, healthy and prosperous Premier League outfit. The views of former Aston Villa player and The Mirror columnist Stan Collymore are perhaps the biggest indication of how Birmingham have changed the way people view them. Stan, a Villa fan awarded McLeish his ‘hero of the week’ award in his Mirror column: ‘Alex McLeish. The Birmingham manager made club history with a 12th top-flight game unbeaten. Love it.’
McLeish has now started with the same 11 players for the last nine Premier League games but the signing of midfielder Michel may change that. Although McLeish has mentioned Michel will need time to adjust, it would seem that Michel will be taking the place of either Barry Ferguson or Lee Boywer. However, the good form of both those players may allude to McLeish being unable to justify their removal from the first team. Many pundits and fans have pointed to the unchanged side as the main reason for Birmingham’s unbeaten run- would Big Eck risk losing this run by changing a previously undefeated side?