Birmingham City’s 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Liverpool on Saturday leaves the Premier League future of Alex McLeish’s side in doubt. The Carling Cup winners are only four points off the relegation zone having taken just eight points from two wins, two draws and four defeats in the eight league games since their Wembley triumph over Arsenal.
The Anfield hammering was the Blues’ most emphatic loss since Obafemi Martins’ last minute winner against the Gunners, but it may not be the most costly. Since late February, they have lost to West Bromwich Albion and Wigan Athletic, as well as drawing away at Blackburn Rovers having been a goal up. The dropped points against teams occupying the same airspace around the relegation trap door have been far more damaging than heavy away defeats by Chelsea and Liverpool, but – paradoxically – they find themselves a place higher in the table than before the Carling Cup final – 15th now, 16th then. The gap between Birmingham and the side third-bottom has also doubled – two points separated Birmingham from West Brom on February 27, compared to a four-point advantage over Wigan.
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In the eight Premier League games before the Carling Cup final Birmingham won four, drew two and lost two, taking almost twice as many points – 14 – in that stretch as they have in this. The pre-Carling Cup final run contained comparable league games to the post-Carling Cup final run – fixtures with high-flying Arsenal and Manchester United as well as relegation-threatened West Ham and Blackpool. Back then, however, Birmingham beat their rivals – 1-0 at Upton Park, 2-1 at Bloomfield Road. The morning of the Carling Cup final painted a depressing picture for Birmingham, sitting two places from the relegation zone and just one set of results away from dropping into it themselves. And while life is not rosy at St Andrews, comparatively at least, City are slightly more comfortable than they were before that memorable afternoon in the capital – even if not of their doing.
The results suggest Birmingham are benefiting from the competitive nature of this year’s basement battle. Since only West Brom have been able to put together a run of form to drag themselves out of trouble, the inconsistent form of the teams around Birmingham has allowed the Blues to keep their heads above water. Their goal difference has taken a battering – going from -10 at the end of February to -17 now – after conceding eight goals in their last two games, but while everyone is taking points from everyone else a reversion to the kind of form the Blues were in prior to their Carling Cup win would be a solid base from which to survive. With Wolverhampton Wanderers visiting St Andrews next, a defeat would plunge Birmingham deeper into trouble – but a win would hurdle the 40-point mark to safety. Considering Birmingham’s bad spell is coming at the worst possible time, this would be an achievement almost as remarkable as winning the Carling Cup.