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Birmingham City Are Tough To Love

Birmingham City/Wigan Athletic Premiership 25.09.10 Photo: Tim Parker Fotosports International Alexander Hleb Birmingham & James McCarthy Wigan Photo via Newscom

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.

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  1. Jon Sharp

    September 26, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    I used to go to St Andrews now and then in the 70’s and, returning now after a prolonged absence of watching football (I now live in the US), I have to say that not much has changed in the style of play since then. Birmingham have always been too good for the 2nd tier and not good enough for the top tier. Withthe exception of Trevor Francis who set the place on fire back in the day, there has never been tremendous excitement up front. However, I do believe some of the posts here reflect short memories, and I am not talking about the 70’s. Last week against WBA, Blues went in at half time clearly the better team and, it would seem based on WBA’s performance todate, that is no small achievement. The week before they were clearly the better team against Liverpool and should have won. They should have won away against Bolton when they gave up a 2-0 lead. So what has gone wrong? Against Wigan I felt it was the midfield that did not do it’s job. Too many balls given away through sloppy passing just when Blues were committing to attack causing Wigan to look good and threatening on the counter. Square balls across the middle by Bowyer, Gardener and even Ferguson that were too easily anticipated by Wigan. Games are won and lost in midfield and on Saturday Birmingham just didn’t have confidence in this critical part of the pitch. Even Hleb (who I agree with Robert is the best talent on the pitch) was unable to make any sense of the midfield and has probably upset Ferguson’s rhythm there a little bit. The game ended up a draw because of the consistently good defending by the B’ham back four and a solid performance between the sticks by Foster.
    Going forward, I am hoping McLeish can carve out a prominent role for Hleb in midfield that is synergistic with Ferguson (I am not sure if it’s possible, but …) We need more width on the left with someone who can start putting in the same kind of crosses Larson has been doing from the right (can Darbyshire do that – anyone know?). Then we need some consistency in front of goal from Jerome, and Zigic needs to wake up from the nightmare he appears to be in.
    But all round, this is one of the strongest looking teams Blues have had for a while. I am optimistic that McLeish, having sorted out the defense can re-settle the midfield and then start on the front men. But then, as a Blues fan you need to be an eternal optimist!

    • RayCrossan

      September 27, 2010 at 4:52 am

      Totally agree with all of that Jon, especially about the silly square balls going astray and inviting cheap pressure from the opposition ! , except the part about Zigic . It’s US that’s in the nightmare , not him !

  2. robert

    September 26, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    I chose to record a Blues game for the first time because I love Hleb. I watched the entire first half just because I wanted to see his posessions. I couldn’t manage the second half. Terribly boring football.

    Still love you Hlebby. Shoulda never left Arsenal. ‘Course… you know that.

  3. jim

    September 26, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    When its bad under Mcleish its terrible, but i think playing 4-5-1 away from home could be ok, providing zigic can step up, but i don’t see that happenig soon.Michel has been out simply because he is a holding player simuliar to fergison.I question the reason in signing a player like this, but Mcleish must see somethink in him, i think he could be a long term replacement for fergison. To be honest Kenwyne jones would have been a better signing than zigic. But we have Hleb who is a better player than all the above so we could finish 9th again! As long as the right team is picked!

  4. Bluenosesol

    September 26, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    I am beginning to despair once again as I watch the latest developments unfold at St Andrews. The new regime are slowly painting themselves into a corner. McLeish was on 200k when he left to join Blues and we have awarded him a 3 year contract worth 6 million!!. It is evident that McLeish suffers from Brucie Syndrome. He can not tactically intervene to improve the teams performance and when we take a lead we invariably play defensively to protect it. Brian Clough would tell you, that you are far more likely to concede playing defensively than by attacking. Neither can McLeish judge a players capabilities. Every penny at Birmingam is precious, yet he has spent 16 million pounds on 3 players who sit on the bench, whilst every body else buys impact players who they introduce immediately. Anyone with half a footbaling brain can see that Zigic is already an unmitigated disaster and Michel who was player of the season and ever present at Sporting Gijon has been isolated and destroyed. Come on Alex, prove me wrong, I pray you do, but doubt it somehow.

  5. tc

    September 26, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    After years under sullivan and gold of being fleeced at every turn i think it’s turned alot of supporters away.Bringing them back with defensive football and poor tactics won’t help to redeem the situation.Unfortunately McCleish has the same failing as Bruce,trying not to lose rather than trying to win.

  6. Hughesy

    September 26, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    You are correct in your assessment that Birmingham are indeed one of the smaller premiership teams. The Wigan game was one of the worst games of football I have ever seen – no wonder it was the last shown on match of the day. Ultimately the quality of football is usually poor and in Zigic I think Birmingham have bought an absolute donkey

    • RayCrossan

      September 27, 2010 at 4:45 am

      Hughesy ,
      You’re bang on , Saturday’s game was woeful , I couldn’t believe the amount of times Blues gave the ball away when under no pressure. This was a constant problem when we were last relagated , sides like Utd that couldn’t get the ball off us , but never mind , “they’ll give it to us in a minute anyway ! ” and we always did ! always !
      We can’t slip the ball around ALL of the time, like Arsenal ( not many can ) but when you keep on trying to do such a thing ( just because you’ve practised it in training ) you are going to get caught out big time.
      After I’d cooled down on Saturday , I came to a rather sad conclusion . The Wigan scoreline ( all things considered ) was unfortunately a good result ! We deserved to be beaten !!!
      ps And yes , Zigic is possibly one of the great all time donkeys I’ve seen at StAndrews , and I’ve seen a few, £6 million down the drain.

  7. Spiegel83

    September 26, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    Has Birmingham been more popular in the past? Or is attendence a constant problem?

  8. NO

    September 26, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Have you never heard of the formation 4-4-1-1? The problem is that we’ve lost a hugely influential player in James McFadden to injury for 6 months. Now we’re asking players like Jean Beausejour and Nikola Zigic to play at the same intensity and that’s difficult for players that are new to the league and the country.

    …and it’s not just Blues finding it difficult lots of other Premier League sides are struggling with attendances too. But I’m presuming if you don’t know this then you must have your head in the sand.

    I also certainly wouldn’t class Blues as one of the smaller Premiership sides. I’d say the opposite Blues are one of the big players in the league and Blues are probably the 9th or 10th biggest club in this league.

    In conclusion you pretty much don’t have a clue!

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