Birmingham City's five-point plan to threaten the top six
Birmingham City have had a lot to contend with this season, making their current position just outside the play-off places a hugely impressive showing so far. Blues fan Chris Quinn presents the recipe for the club’s present success.
Take a look down the Championship table, and even as low as League Two, and you will find clubs that were relegated from the Premier League and still not yet recovered. It’s easy for a club to slip out of the top flight and struggle the following season. Players are sold as clubs look to offset their losses and managers often leave due to poor performance. But this new regime needs time to implement their own ideas and processes.
Birmingham have been faced with all of these problems. They were relegated last season from the Premier League. The monetary loss has led to rumours of the club being on the brink of administration, whilst the manager, Alex McLeish, jumped ship to local rivals Aston Villa.
Stars such as Roger Johnson, Scott Dann and Cameron Jerome were all sold and replaced with lesser-earning men like Steven Caldwell, Adam Rooney and Wade Elliott. The squad size has been reduced and with more games in the domestic league, not to mention European commitments, there was a fear that fatigue could halter Birmingham’s ambitions to bounce straight back.
So, with all circumstances considered, it may be surprising to see the Blues seventh in the Championship table, unbeaten in nine and with a game in hand. How have they managed this?
1. Making the right appointment
After McLeish left, finding the right manager was crucial. Someone with experience of promotion was essential and in Chris Hughton, the Birmingham board had found their man. The former Newcastle boss has transformed the club, starting with a revolution in the style of play. Blues fans have been treated to high-tempo football where the focus is on ball retention in a positive manner. The recruitment of cultured individuals such as Elliott has fitted into Hughton’s vision for the team and the players are feeling positive vibes from the stands as a result.
2. Home form
As the worn-out clichà© goes, win your home games and any away points are bonuses. Birmingham are unbeaten at St Andrew’s in the league this season, winning nine and drawing four of their thirteen games. They also boast the best defensive record at home in the Championship, conceding just six goals, whilst scoring 22 to blow opponents away.
3. Squad rotation
As if having to play extra league games with a smaller squad wasn’t bad enough, Birmingham had also been rewarded for their Carling Cup victory the previous season with European football. That added a two-legged qualifier and six group games to the Blues’ bulging schedule. With three games in seven days, retaining a freshness amongst the players was never going to be easy.
However, Hughton managed to change the team from one game to another to ensure that their sharpness and energy levels meant they could be competitive in each and every game, a tactic which has paid off in recent weeks…
4. Post-European Blues?
… as Blues have put their European adventure firmly behind them to embark on a hot streak which sees City currently sit top of the form table. They haven’t conceded in their past four games in all competitions, but have managed to score fourteen goals in that time, including a mauling of Millwall where they romped to a 6-0 victory at The Den.
Those results are part of an ongoing nine-game unbeaten run, but this will be sure to come under threat as Blues face Leeds and Southampton in their next two games. However, two good results against fellow promotion hopefuls will further fuel the St Andrew’s faithful’s hopes of bouncing back at the first time of asking.
If Hughton’s side do have a weakness, it is their away form. Three wins and three draws on the road have come in between seven defeats and while they have scored as many as they have conceded away from St Andrew’s, you have to take into account those aforementioned six goals which may give a slightly unbalanced view of things. That win in London, coupled with back-to-back away wins in the FA Cup against Wolves and Sheffield United, suggests that they may be turning that corner, but Hughton would obviously like to see this transfer over to the league as well.
5. Strike power
Birmingham fans have been complaining for years that their team has failed to carry a sufficient goalscoring threat, something which cannot be a criticism levelled this season.
Hughton can call upon the experienced Serbian international Nikola Zigic (four league goals), the prolific Marlon King (nine) and the poacher Adam Rooney (three). The loss of West Bromwich Albion loanee Chris Wood has weakened the striking department in numbers (Wood scored nine goals in 23 league games), but not in intent.
Youngster Nathan Redmond is continuing to turn heads with his performances and has bagged a couple of goals already this season from his sporadic playing time, whilst on the other flank Scottish winger Chris Burke is proving to be one of the buys of the summer. Signed by McLeish (credit where it is due) just days before he left, when Burke isn’t teasing defences with his dribbling skill, the ex-Rangers man is looking to add to his seven league goals already this campaign.
Top that off with centre-back Curtis Davies halfway to reaching double figures and it is clear to see that Birmingham’s attacking threat has already reached the kind of levels they struggled to attain in the Premier League under McLeish.