Premiership Promotion Preview No.2 : Birmingham City
They seemed as if they’d thrown it all away, but they pulled themselves together on the last match of the season to gain automatic promotion. Birmingham City always seem to do things the hard way and they just about squeezed over the line. The fact of the matter is that they should have never been relegated from the Premiership, but the board have continually refused to accept the blame for the Carson Yeung fiasco.
Yeung hilariously rolled in to Birmingham in the summer of 2007 claiming to have the financial muscle to make them one of the top teams in the world. “Next year Birmingham will be the most popular team in China,” he said. “The whole of China and Hong Kong know very well about Birmingham City, and want this club to be successful.”
Of course it never happened and the main ramification of this dalliance was that Steve Bruce left to join Wigan Athletic. Alex McLeish came in to replace him, but Birmingham couldn’t hold on to their Premiership status and were relegated. Last season, they were expected, quite rightly with the squad they had, to run away with the league but it never materialized.
I saw plenty of Birmingham City last year and they never blew me away football wise. On paper, they had a fantastic team that simply never got going throughout the season, they spluttered and stuttered. They only scored more than two goals in a game on five occasions in the league and for a team that boasts the firepower they have, that simply wasn’t good enough. Kevin Phillips was the only player to hit double figures in the league, with 14.
The Blues have looked to bolster the attack by signing Ecuadorian Christian Bentitez, breaking their transfer record to do so, but it’s a hell of a risk.Fair enough, the lad is 23, scored 10 goals for his country and hit 31 league goals in the last two years in the Mexican League but doubts persist over his fitness and his build. With Birmingham struggling to kill sides off in Championship, can they honestly hope to score goals in Premiership?
Yet, maybe I’m being too negative, but when your top scorer left West Bromwich Albion when they got promoted citing that he didn’t want to be in a relegation struggle, it makes you question why he feels Birmingham City will be in a better situation. If anything, Phillips would have had a hatful of chances for the Baggies and would have possibly been the difference for them last season. Are the Blues such a superior team? With 3 International strikers at his disposal in Benitez, O’Connor and McFadden, McLeish now has to get them scoring more goals.
Or will he finally release Cameron Jerome and give him a real run of games. There is no doubting the boys pace, he is fast, and he has had a taste of Premiership football before with Birmingham, netting 7 goals. He now needs to respond to signing a new 5 year contract with consistency and increasing his goal tally.
The rest of the side has Premiership experience running all the way through it, from the two Lee’s, Carsley and Bowyer, to the back line with Franck Queudrue, Stephen Carr and Martin Taylor. Of McLeish’s new signings, only Bowyer is a midfielder, but that concerns me. Carsley and Bowyer are players that are not afraid to put it about a bit, so having the quality in reserve will be paramount to cover for those two when serving the inevitable suspensions.Of course, bringing another quiet soul in Barry Ferguson may be more trouble than it’s worth, but maybe Ferguson can actually try and save his career with this move. It surely can’t get any worse for him can it?
At the back, is probably where Birmingham are at their strongest. The loan signing of Joe Hart is an inspired piece of business, Hart is easily the best of the young English goalkeepers out there and he can really add a bit more quality for the side. The big changes for the team will be at Centre Half. Liam Ridgewell broke his leg in April so he’s not due back until October at the earliest and Raidhi Jaidi has been released. In for them have come the Cardiff City defender Roger Johnson, who looked impressive for the Bluebirds and another risky international signing, Giovanny Espinoza.
Yet Espinoza has 80 caps for Ecuador, showing he’s no mug and one season in European football already under his belt. A big, uncompromising defender, if he dovetails with Johnson, it could be an inspired signing. The full back positions are full of Premiership experience and shouldn’t need much tinkering with. Carr and Queudrue, once he recovers from a calf strain, have seen it all before and can be relied upon to keep it simple.McLeish has made no secret in his attempts to cover the left back area, so he knows Queudrue has to eased back.
Overall, Birmingham have a sprinkling of experience but need to make sure they score. They have the fan base and financial strength but the biggest task will be scoring more than they concede. That may seem obvious, but the Blues strength will see them hard to beat, so for them to stay up, they have make those draws victories.If they can get one more season out of Phillips, Benitez and Jerome scoring in support and the two Scottish enigma’s, O’Connor and McFadden finally begin to deliver, they’ll be fine.