Last season Birmingham City were one of the surprise packages of the Premier League, finishing in the top half on the their return to the top-flight. However, this season has been one of struggle, and Carling Cup glory aside, one of disappointment, which could ultimately end in relegation.
But what has changed? Since securing ninth place last term, Alex McLeish has only strengthened his squad, with their only notable loss that of the on-loan Joe Hart, although he has been admirably replaced by Ben Foster. Matt Derbyshire, Jean Beausejour and Nikola Zigic also arrived in the summer as McLeish looked to add some more firepower to what was a fairly modest attack, while Obafemi Martins, Curtis Davies and David Bentley all arrived in January in an attempt to revive the Blues’ season. Even that outlay could not quell what is now referred to as ‘second season syndrome’, so what is at the heart of Birmingham’s struggling season?
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To say it is through their lack of goals is an all too obvious explanation. They do not find them easy to come by, but going into their final game of the league game of the campaign, they have registered just two fewer than last season. Their defence has not been quite so solid, but even that is just nine more conceded than last season heading into the final game, which should not equate to such a drop in places. What is telling, however, is the stat that on their way to ninth place last season, Birmingham won 13 games – all of which by a single goal. That makes for a fine margin for error, and when a few of those tight wins turn into draws, or go the other way, it gives the season a whole new complexion.
Birmingham relied heavily on their ability to hold a lead last season, be it thanks to their superb goalkeeper Hart, or their defence, who are so good at defending deep when the team is put under pressure. What the back four are not so good at is defending higher up the pitch, with their lack of pace often exploited. On Sunday, for example, with Fulham the visitors to St Andrews, the home side were carved apart on the break after going behind early on and subsequently having to chase the game a little more than they would like. The same game also exposed the side’s lack of any real creativity, despite the quality from wide in Bentley and Sebastian Larsson.
If Birmingham are to stay up, they may well be relying on Manchester United and Stoke City to do them a favour in beating Blackpool and Wigan Athletic respectively. Getting anything from a trip to Tottenham Hotspur is a tough ask for McLeish’s men, but if they can rediscover their knack of winning tight games in time, it may yet be cheers instead of tears come Sunday.