Most pleasant surprise this season in the Premiership? Birmingham City, who moved up to seventh place in the English Premier League after beating Blackburn, making it almost two months since their last league defeat against Arsenal in the Emirates.
The club was taken over by Carson Yeung (who is a major shareholder since 2007) in the summer and he has showed willingness to pay big bucks by bringing Ecuadorian Cristian Benitez for 10 million pounds ,Cardiff City’s Roger Johnson (in his inaugural Premiership season) for 5.9 million pounds and Scott Dann for 3.5 million with loanees Teemu Tainio and Barry Ferguson completing a productive pre-season transfer period.
2009-2010 is the first season for manager Alex McLeish in the Premier League, after he previously had successful terms at Hibernian, Motherwell, Rangers and the Scottish national team. Alex McLeish always said he wanted to manage in the Premier League and now everybody knows why, as he is emulating his predecessor’s (Steve Bruce) success at the club.
So what is McLeish’s secret? Probably the fact that his side have one of the best defensive lines in the Premier League, (conceding only 17 goals thus far, which is impressive for a recently promoted side) helping Birmingham develop a winning mentality, especially at home where they have suffered only two losses (including a painful one to Aston Villa) in 8 home games, making St. Andrews a (relative) fortress. The likes of loanee goalkeeper Joe Hart, who paid the price for the business ventures of the new chairman at Man City, Roger Johnson, touted as the club’s next captain and Liam Ridgewell, give Birmingham the endurance they need to be a successful mid table side. Surely McLeish knew that strengthening the back line will be more crucial, as that seems to be Birmingham’s main source of power and stability, along with the odd creative piece of skill.
However, the club’s goal scoring rate is disappointing managing only 18 goals. The blame for that miserable statistic is mainly on the 10 million pound man, Cristian Benitez, who has scored only 2 goals in 10 appearances. Although the Ecuadorian international plays well and is a constant threat he didn’t manage to produce enough goals. The same will be said for Cameron Jerome who scored only 3 goals in 11 matches including a recent brace against Blackburn. Still the club have a very good midfield comprised of Ibrox legend, Barry Ferguson, James McFadden, Lee Bowyer and Sebastian Larsson that provide mobility speed and strength in the middle of the pitch.
With performances conveying the impression that Birmingham are playing better in each game, the side can continue their success as Cameron Jerome can build on his latest impressive performance and Lee Bowyer continues to prove himself crucial as he did against Fulham, Wolves and West Ham respectively. Furthermore, Birmingham’s mentality against the better sides may have changed for the better as they finished in two successive draws in their previous games against Liverpool (away) and Man City (home), as opposed to their losses against Arsenal, Man Utd, Tottenham and (I know the Zulus will hate seeing this) Aston Villa.
However the side’s success comes in a time with their League schedule is pretty comfortable, meeting Blackburn, West Ham, Wigan and Wolves who are not the lions of English football, to say the least. With Birmingham traveling soon to Goodison Park and the Britannia Stadium the side’s great run will be in danger. But McLeish’s side seems very confident and no doubt they will give a run for their money as they did thus far.
So how will the season shape for Birmingham? a higher finish than 10th position will be a regarded as a phenomenal success for a side that was considered in pre season among the main candidates for relegation. Currently it seems more than possible as they have a 6 point margin over Sunderland in 10th position and they wont give it up that easily. Yet, I presume that McLeish will be more then happy to just achieve another year’s stay at the top tier of English Football. Hull City’s horrible second half of the season can serve as a warning, despite their survival in the top flight.