Sunday’s defeat to two excellent Fulham goals handed Birmingham their third league defeat in less than a month. As such, Birmingham’s European hopes have effectively been ended and it now seems that they are embroiled in a battle for mid table places with Everton, Fulham, Stoke and Blackburn.
Stephen Carr, who has captained the side for the majority of the season, was at fault for Fulham’s late winner after conceding a rash foul on the edge of the area which allowed England hopeful Bobby Zamora to slot his free-kick past the ever impressive Joe Hart. Manager Alex McLeish was quick to deflect complete blame from Carr: “he’s upset, he’s very disappointed. But you know he doesn’t make many mistakes over the course of a whole season and I’m sure Stevie Carr will want to bounce back next week.” Carr has amazed commentators and football enthusiasts this season – having previously retired from the game after leaving Newcastle United, Irishman Carr joined Birmingham City on this day a year ago and has been impressing ever since.
At that point, Birmingham fans were not thinking of having a top half finish in the Premier League but just focussing on gaining immediate promotion back to England’s top tier. Carr has been instrumental in that leap as he has filled the gap at right back after Nicky Hunt returned to Bolton. His wealth of experience led to McLeish awarding him captaincy instead of Lee Carsley, the infrequency of Carsley’s position in the starting eleven being the main reason. Now 33, Carr epitomises much of what Birmingham are perceived to be about.
The diminutive right back focuses much of his attention on the defensive duties that come with the right-back role, with the occasional burst past Sebastian Larsson. As a collective unit, Birmingham are set up to imitate Carr – they are defensively solid and robust and they sporadically venture forward at appropriate times; if there was to be one criticism of Blues this season it would be that they do not attack enough and when they do, there is a distinct lack of threat up front.
Sunday’s formation showcased Birmingham’s attacking problems – Fulham are not a particularly attacking side and prefer to pass the ball around and gradually build an attack. For that reason, a four man midfield would have sufficed as Fulham’s pace of play always allows the opposition defence time to regroup. Instead, McLeish decided to play a five man midfield with James McFadden in an advanced role and left Christian Ben