After Saturday’s 1-0 win over Wigan Athletic, Birmingham City are flying high in eighth position. They have defied all critics who expected them to be battling against relegation but the second city side have now reached 40 points and look comfortable.
It’s hard to find any negatives for Birmingham this season, they went 15 games unbeaten including 13 in the Premiership. This set a new record, the previous being 11 unbeaten, set 101 years ago.
It’s not been all plain sailing for Alex McLeish’s side though, before their terrific streak started against Sunderland, they were in 17th position after a 3-1 defeat at Arsenal.
Birmingham’s home form has been outstanding but early signs showed that St. Andrews may not be the fortress blue noses had hoped it to be. After a win and a draw against Portsmouth and Stoke respectively, defeats to local rivals Aston Villa and Bolton Wanderers followed. McLeish, who was still unsure about the fitness of Ecuador striker Christian ‘Chucho’ Benitez opted to play 4-5-1 and this prompted the fans to sing ‘4-4-2’.
Even though McLeish laughed off the chants, the following home game against Sunderland he opted for the 4-4-2 and that’s when the four month unbeaten streak started.
Benitez, who is on loan from Mexican side Santos Laguna made an instant impact. He and fellow striker Cameron Jerome formed a threatening partnership. Although they don’t get too many goals, they frighten defences with their pace and trickery.
The impressive thing about Birmingham this year though is their defence. They have the joint fifth best defensive record in the league including 10 clean sheets. Newly promoted teams are often known for leaking too many goals but you can not say that about McLeish’s men. With Joe Hart’s performances earning him an England re-call there have also been calls for centre-back partners Scott Dann and Roger Johnson to also be called up. Maybe that’s a bit premature but the duo, signed for a combined £9million have turned out to be brilliant pieces of business.
McLeish knows a lot about working on tight budgets, he did it with Rangers and is succeeding now with Birmingham. In the engine room you have £1.2million signing Barry Ferguson and Lee Bowyer. Many thought that both players were coming to the end of their career’s but they defied their age and are putting in splendid performances week-in, week-out.
Something that’s been missing from St. Andrews has been silverware. With only one major honour in the club’s history, the 1963 League Cup win, Birmingham fans have been desperate for more. This year could be the year that happens. After impressive victories over East Midland’s pair Nottingham Forest and Derby County as well as at Everton, the Blues travel to troubled Portsmouth with a trip to Wembley for the semi-final’s definitely in sight.
All that from a squad that McLeish has assembled on a shoe-string since he arrived at Birmingham in November 2007. It’s hard not to be impressed.