After the recent turn in results, Birmingham’s season has stagnated somewhat. Tenacious midfielder Lee Bowyer told the Press this week: “What we were doing before was not realistic. We are coming down to our level now. We are realising. We are not going to go away and win every game. We are going to lose at places like Fulham.” Bowyer’s assessment of Birmingham’s current form and overall ability is reasonably accurate.
In their excellent run of form, which culminated in defeat to Chelsea after avoiding such a result for fifteen games, Birmingham played above all pre-season expectations and resembled a team that would be capable of pushing for European places later on in the campaign. However, realistically, the squad at St.Andrew’s was never going to be able to keep up with such high levels of form and eventually, their form has worsened and they now find themselves in a positional limbo. They are not going to be relegated, in fact, they are not even contemplating relegation but at the same time, they are not going to push for Europa League places either. They are currently eight points behind seventh place, which, should certain events occur, would be the last European spot awarded. Of course, that deficit is mathematically possible to be overturned in three or four games but the majority of fans will realise that there is a gulf in quality between Birmingham and the other sides pushing for those Europa League places that means Europe is out of question this season. By the same token, incredibly, Birmingham are fourteen points clear of relegation, and it is this statistic that Birmingham fans should show more reverence to.
As Bowyer said: “at the start, had people been offered 17th place they’d have taken that.” That is a feeling that should still remain. Birmingham entered the season with a seemingly patched together squad, very little positive expectations for the season ahead and a favourite for relegation. Now that they have cemented their status as a Premier League club for another season and with the new regime in place, this season will hopefully be seen as the pivotal moment in the bright future that Birmingham appear to be embarking upon. As football enthusiasts, of course fans will have been disappointed to see the unbeaten run end, and to see the slight drop in form, but common sense and realism should prevail – any position better than 18th this season was always going to be greeted with relief and that relief should not turn into discontent just because the team reached the lofty position of eighth halfway through the season. Fans that do feel slightly deflated after the latest set of results should take note of Hull City’s precarious situation last season, as after their amazing start to the season, the league witnessed a remarkable slump in form that almost yielded a bottom three position for the Yorkshire outfit. Alex McLeish and his players have steered the club clear of such an unfortunate scenario and for that, the efforts this season should be applauded.
Now it is just a question of what the rest of the season means. It should never be said that a game of football does not mean anything but the remainder of Birmingham’s season could be perceived that way. As said, they are, barring an event of biblical proportions, clear of relegation so there should be no worry of playing for safety. But, they are also looking unlikely to gain a place in Europe so they are now playing for position, pride and for some of their players, tickets to South Africa later this year. All footballers want to do well all the time so fans should not worry about complacency, particularly with a stickler for effort like Alex McLeish, and they are an inherently industrious team that always give complete effort and commitment to the cause.
There are also players looking to secure places in their nation’s squad for the World Cup. Joe Hart looks like an increasingly attractive prospect for England Head Coach Fabio Capello and Hart will want to keep the amount of goals he concedes to a minimum in order to maximise his chances. Roger Johnson will also be angling for a late surge towards the plane and could potentially fit in should the injury prone central defence suffer such a fate. So, for Birmingham fans, the remaining games, and in particular their cup game against Portsmouth, should be looked upon with enthusiasm and not the, ‘what could have been thoughts’, that could be conjured when thinking about their excellent run.
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