Four home games against the ‘big four’ and four draws. Birmingham’s 1-1 draw against Liverpool on Sunday has culminated in an unbeaten home record against Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea.
It also meant that they extended their unbeaten home record to 12 games, a statistic paralleled by few other teams. Said unbeaten records are of paramount importance to teams like Birmingham, as their home form has been good enough to accommodate poor away form (something that they have avoided), Birmingham find themselves in a strong league position. Being able to compete so admirably against sides of Liverpool et al stature is testament to how Birmingham have proved their doubters wrong this season. Earlier this season, Birmingham were expected to struggle to make an impact on the proceedings in the upper echelons of the league. However, a quick look at their performances against the league’s top teams show just how influential they will be at the end of the season. For Liverpool, their draw on Sunday almost certainly condemns them to a disappointing finish, most likely below fourth place. Whilst this result was not a surprise, the performance from Birmingham stifled Liverpool and barring a few glimpses of the Steven Gerrard of last season, Birmingham looked assured. For Liverpool, being held by Birmingham in a must win game has rendered their season a huge disappointment; Birmingham can count themselves (along with the draw in the reverse fixture at Anfield), as partly responsible for Liverpool’s eventual demise.
In their first meeting against a ‘big four’ side of the season, Birmingham kept Chelsea at bay with a 0-0 draw. That game, on the 26th December, was the first time that Chelsea had been unable to score in the league this season. That record still remains. To have such an achievement on their back shows Birmingham’s defence in a positive light after recent suggestions that perhaps, their defensive capabilities are waning as the season progresses. As of yet, this has not affected Chelsea’s charge to the title but the clean sheet shone a level of scrutiny on Chelsea’s ability to close out games (a scrutiny that has since diminished). Next up was Manchester United, a game that Birmingham were expected to lose even though they were in the midst of their unbeaten run. As usual, they defied expectations and came out of the game with a deserved draw. Whilst Chelsea are currently able to forgive a draw against Birmingham, United are in a position that will leave them rueing lost points. As good as Birmingham have been at St.Andrew’s this season, SAF’s team were comfortable favourites to beat Alex McLeish’s men.
Slightly lower down, Tottenham, Everton and Manchester City have all been held; in fact, bitter rivals Aston Villa are the only top half team to have won at St.Andrew’s this season. Along with Villa, Bolton claimed the only other victory in what has been a stellar effort from Birmingham at home this season. Whilst their play has at times frustrated, fans are appreciative of how fortunate they are to not currently be fretting over their sides safety for next season.
A quick look across the Midlands to Wolverhampton shows just how important home form is. Wolverhampton Wanderers have lost eight times at home this season and as a result find themselves on the periphery of the bottom three; the difference in points from safety is huge. Birmingham, mathematically safe from relegation, are currently 19 points away from 18th placed Hull City. By comparison, Wolves are a precarious five. The big message for sides that have recently promoted has been instilled and increased this season; whilst Wolves and Burnley have struggled to keep up, Birmingham have found a serene passage to a further Premier League campaign through a mixture of excellent home form and solid away form. If Alex McLeish could pay for a similar home record next season, he almost certainly would. So would most managers in the league.
One reservation that remains from Sunday’s game is the reliance on other areas of the field for goals. Cameron Jerome has upped his game remarkably recently and currently finds himself one league goal short of local rival and England hopeful Gabriel Agbonlahor. With Jerome’s 10 league goals, Birmingham are in desperate need of a player that can reach a comparable tally; behind Jerome lies Lee Bowyer on five goals. Liam Ridgewell is currently on four. If Birmingham want to ascend next season, a striker will be needed.