Being unbeaten at home for one of the smaller Premiership sides is something that should always be celebrated but at Birmingham City, things are never that simple. They have now equaled the clubs longest unbeaten home record of 18 games, it hides another story entirely. Now, 6 games in, the club have 7 points and sit mid-table but once again, the crowd was just over 2/3rds of the capacity.Fingers could be pointed towards the Wigan fans, not known for their travelling exploits yet that doesn’t cover it every other week.
City have had something of a stand off with the previous owners, when prices were kept at Premiership prices following relegation. A perceived lack of entertainment added to the fans frustration and despite a return to the top tier and the club being sold to Carson Yeung, attendances still leave the ground looking bare in certain areas. Despite the 18 game unbeaten home run, Birmingham have only won 2 of their last 12 Premiership matches.
Fans frustration can often be judged on what we call the George Graham formula. An often repeated mantra by fans who stop going is the lack of real football being played. This attitude is then criticised by others, who will often use George Graham’s period at Arsenal as proof of success over entertainment. The feeling is that if you win matches, then fans will come to see the team but as Birmingham City’s fans have proved over the last few seasons, it’s not necessarily true.
Of course, playing wide open attacking football gets the fans off their feet but it does leave you open to counter attacks. Against the better Premiership sides, this is akin to soccer suicide, offering the opportunity for the Chelsea’s and Manchester United’s to run riot. Crucially for promoted sides, keeping it tight, especially away from home can be all the difference. Yet, as Derby County showed under both Billy Davies and Paul Jewell, using those tactics doesn’t necessarily negate better sides.
After Liverpool had dismantled a Derby County side 6-0 who were playing what seemed to be a 5-5-0 formation, rather than the 4-5-1 it was supposed to be, fans were harsh towards the tactics. The feeling that by playing for a draw, they’d invited defeat left a bitter taste in the mouth. They were getting hammered and Davies kept to a tactical plan that clearly wasn’t working.
Birmingham yesterday entertained Wigan Athletic and played Cameron Jerome up front as a lone striker for an hour. I appreciate that using Hleb and Bowyer to bomb on as support helps but everyone seems to be playing 4-3-3 with just one striker and no wingers. Safety first at home against Wigan Athletic? Come on Alex Mcleish, show the fans some credit.
Birmingham City fans would be right in feeling that playing at home against anyone apart from the top 6, the side should at least show a little more attacking invention. No-one is expecting a side to go gung ho, but really, games like this are what keeps sides up in the Premiership, not what they achieve against the big clubs. The fans, as they did yesterday at St. Andrews, have a right to make their frustrations known.
If the fans begin to chant a formation or simply don’t bother turning up should tell you all you need to know. Alex Mcleish has been around football long enough to appreciate the fans concerns but yesteray had 3 strikers on the bench. For me, Birmingham’s best results in the last couple of seasons have been when they’ve gone with at least two strikers up front, rather than looking to negate the opposition.
The World Cup was full of sides playing a 4-3-3 system that employed wingers and strikers that could drop back when defending. Unfortunately, the new season has seen plenty of sides simply revert to a 4-5-1 and no option for width and balance. By replacing the attacking options with the safety first choice, the fans vote with their feet and their voices and no amount of unbeaten games will change that.
The frustration is born from playing so negatively against sides they consider at best, equals that they stop attending. When you’re only charging a top price of £34 for an adult ticket, cheap by comparison to some in the Premiership, you’d look to be selling out every home game. With almost 8,000 empty seats, that clearly isn’t the case. It may be value for money, but for some it certainly doesn’t represent entertainment value for the Birmingham fans.