Club Focus – Birmingham City – Tough times for Blues but things could be a lot worse

2010 is in serious danger of becoming a bad year for Birmingham City. Recent defeats to Sunderland and Blackburn mean that they have now lost six games since January – the same amount of defeats suffered prior to the turn of the year. Since their unbeaten run ended they have accumulated just ten points from a possible 30 – a paltry return that is in stark contrast to earlier fortunes.

Although the game against Blackburn was a reasonably even contest that could have ended up as any scoreline, manager Alex McLeish and Birmingham fans will be thinking, with increasing concern, whether their team is beginning to suffer a similar fate to their local rivals, Aston Villa. While Birmingham do not have as much to play for now, they will want a good season finale to avoid undoing all their good work in 2009. A defeat to Portsmouth in the FA Cup knocked them out of their one remaining cup and a series of disappointing losses has seen any harboured hopes of European qualification diminished. The spark that was evident in the unbeaten run between October 27 and January 17 has tethered away, replaced by an inability to find sufficient influence and a winning mentality.

Alex McLeish was philosophical in defeat but the over bearing emotion was that of disappointment. Not only was he disappointed at the poor defensive error made by his side in the build up to the first goal: “I’m disappointed tonight, not happy with some of the defending, and I’ve kicked their backsides,” he said, but also at the referring decisions that ultimately cost his side. Addressing the first goal, McLeish said: “I’m hearing that the ball was outside the corner flag quadrant, so that’s really disappointing to hear something like that cost you a goal.” Whilst that is a pedantic take and one that would not have been necessary had his defensive coped with the resulting corner correctly, it is symbolic of a change in luck and fortune for Birmingham – something that McLeish has recognised: “Sometimes it happens, you go through a spell where you ship soft goals when otherwise you’ve been absolutely brilliant in defence.”

McLeish understands that it was a big ask for his side to continue their defensive brilliance and consistent form, comparable to the summarisation provided by Lee Bowyer after the defeat: “What we were doing before was not realistic. We are coming down to our level now,” the midfielder said, which suggests that those closely involved with the Birmingham outfit did not expect a continuation of form worthy of European qualification. McLeish correctly pointed out that given his side’s reputation and the backgrounds of individual players, their efforts have still been extraordinary despite a recent slump.

Pre-season, signings like Roger Johnson and Scott Dann were perceived as an early indication that Birmingham would not survive – the trust in Liam Ridgewell to play at an alien position for him at left-back, the reliance on a formerly retired right-back in Stephen Carr, a midfielder that had previously failed in the Premier League in Barry Ferguson and a young inexperienced loanee from Manchester City, Joe Hart, were all deemed to be insufficient talent to keep Birmingham up. But as McLeish added: “These guys, some of them have come from the Championship, some of them have been written off. I’ve got nothing but praise for them.” Thus, they should be lauded and their recent efforts forgiven.

Had the form of the last six or seven games been the form they displayed all season, they would be in a relegation battle and fans would rightly be able to have concern and critical views of the playing and management staff. However, taking everything into consideration, this is just a minor blip in an otherwise successful campaign. Having players from the Championship was always going to result in occasional deficiencies and for Birmingham fans that will hopefully be rectified in the summer with some new recruits brought in to add experience and ability to the squad. While it is always disappointing to see your side lose, fans will have to take a generalised and philosophical view on recent events. Many loyal Blues supporters would have expected a season festering at the foot of the table.

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