During Birmingham City’s nerve-jangling 2-2 draw with Manchester City last week, Nikola Zigic’s 23rd minute equaliser was the first time a Birmingham striker has netted in the Premier League since November. That’s a staggering 937 minutes of action without one of their marksmen beating a keeper. With their recent cup adventures in reaching the Carling Cup final and FA Cup fifth round, Birmingham seem to have found a catalyst for success. Zigic, bought for around £6 million from Valencia, was previously lambasted by critics with just two goals to his name in 19 Premier League appearances. The rejuvenated Serb has since made it two goals in two matches with his headed finish against fellow relegation candidates West Ham United.
24 goals in 24 matches show where Birmingham’s problems in the league have been lying. Matt Derbyshire looked a cunning loan signing from Olympiakos for Alex McLeish’s men, but the 24-year-old is still searching in vain for his first league goal for the club after eight appearances. McLeish’s strikers have only scored six league goals between them all season, and when you consider that the likes of Kevin Phillips, Derbyshire and Zigic have all netted more frequently in cup runs, it demonstrates how the pressure can be eased whilst playing in a domestic cup.
However, Birmingham will need to be firing on all cylinders if they are to avoid relegation. Of the teams looking down on them in the table, Blackpool have scored 38 goals, Everton have found the net 33 times, and local rivals Aston Villa have scored 30 goals. With these sides posing a far greater attacking threat, Birmingham should hope the form of Zigic is not only temporary.
What Birmingham lack in opportunistic predators around the six yard box, they make up for in goals from a range of other areas. Defender Liam Ridgewell has scored three in the league, whilst his centre-back partner Roger Johnson lies with two goals. Set-piece specialist Craig Gardner has also been influential from midfield with five league goals this season. This is all well and good, but to survive you need a differential, a player who is always looking deadly in front of goal. The likes of Peter Odemwingie at West Bromwich Albion and DJ Campbell at Blackpool have exactly this. They have changed games for their sides this season.
Defensively, Birmingham have fared better and kept six clean sheets thanks to the sterling form of Ben Foster between the sticks. The England international is in imperious form and has made 107 saves this season, more than any other goalkeeper in the division. Their record of 33 goals conceded is wholly superior than Blackpool and West Brom’s gaping defences. But the menacing presence of Ridgewell and Johnson at the back is thrown heavily into context by their side’s unenviable record of four goalless draws this season.
Whilst they only managed three shots on target in their scrappy basement battle against West Ham, an ugly 1-0 win over positional rivals was exactly what was needed. Shot-shy Birmingham elevated themselves out of the drop zone with these three precious points. Their mini-revival in the league has also coincided with the arrival of David Bentley on loan from Tottenham Hostpur. The forgotten man of Spurs and England has been in majestic form since arriving and notched up an assist in his team’s 2-2 draw against Manchester City.
McLeish’s men will be praying the goals can flow a little easier as they encounter a brutal end to the season. In the next three months, Birmingham will face relegation rivals West Brom, Everton and Wigan, as well as a Carling Cup final against Arsenal and the FA Cup fifth round clash against League One outfit Sheffield Wednesday. The spirit of heroic victories against Chelsea and draws against both Manchester clubs will need to be summoned if Birmingham can continue their recent hot streak and hopefully clinch some silverware in the meantime.
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