The watertight defensive partnership formed by Scott Dann and Roger Johnson saw the Blues concede just 48 goals, an admirable feat for a newly promoted side. A total of 13 league wins – seven of them arriving in a remarkable 11 game period – ensured that the Midlands side enjoyed their best top-flight finish in over half a century, one that earned manager Mcleish universal acclaim.
A forgettable finish to the campaign – a meagre seven points were taken from the final ten games – ended any lingering aspirations of European qualification, yet it was little more than a blemish on an otherwise exemplary season. However, as a resurgent Everton yesterday stormed fortress St. Andrews to inflict Birmingham’s first home defeat in 12 months, the toothless hosts looked every inch the team who have experienced victory just twice in their last 19 league outings.
£6 million record signing Nikola Žigic has failed to hit the net, hindered considerably by the apparent reticence of Mcleish to hand him more than late cameos. Conversely, Craig Gardner has been a revelation in midfield, notching three vital goals from midfield to compensate for the impotence of the Birmingham strike force. Lee Bowyer looks a shadow of the player who gelled so effectively with Barry Ferguson last year, James McFadden is a long-term absentee while Cameron Jerome has struggled in the lone striker role. The high profile loan capture of former Arsenal star Alexander Hleb considerably raised expectation amongst the St. Andrews faithful, a subsequent two point from a potential twelve have dampened the flames of optimism his arrival lit.
To clarify, for one to claim that Birmingham are in a relegation battle would be presumptuous. It would, however, be equally presumptuous to assume that Birmingham’s impressive ninth place finish of last year will guarantee their Premier League survival. The division is as unforgiving as it is unpredictable; another two wins from their next 19 games would leave the Blues embroiled in the relegation scrap many expected of them last season.