Birmingham yesterday clinched a hard fought 1-0 victory at the Britannia Stadium to extend their unbeaten run to eleven games. Alex McLeish’s men contained a Stoke side who have become notorious for their impressive home form since their promotion to the Premier League. City produced another solid defensive display to keep their sixth clean sheet in ten games, leaving the newly promoted Blues fifteen points clear of the relegation zone, yet remarkably just five points off the Champions League places. Birmingham’s success has been built on the foundations of a solid backline, with the central defensive partnership of Roger Johnson and Scott Dann excelling. The former of the two has become one of the surprise packages of the Premier League this season, proving that he has been able to handle the step up in divisions after his £5 million summer move from Championship side Cardiff City.
Other Premier League clubs had expressed an interested in Johnson in the past however, were put off by the price tag that Cardiff slapped on him. Alex McLeish decided to take a risk on the defender and it appears to be paying dividends. The 26-year-old has made the step up to the Premier League with a maturity and has taken everything in his strike, improving game by game. His Birmingham side have kept the second highest number of clean sheets in the league, behind only Chelsea, whose defences boasts the likes of John Terry and Ashley Cole and Johnson must take a great deal of credit in this achievement.
A good defensive partnership is key to success in any club and Johnson almost immediately formed one with the former Coventry defender Scott Dann. The two have developed a good understanding and their positional awareness and ability to stick to a carefully crafted defensive system has reaped rewards for the Midlands club in the opening half of the campaign. Johnson may not be the club captain but he has assisted Liam Ridgewell in leading from the back and has been a commanding presence. The defender was particularly impressive in yesterday’s 1-0 win at Stoke, having helped his side resist a barrage of attacks from Tony Pulis’ side in the final stages of the match. Johnson threw himself in front of all that Stoke had to offer and countered the Potters physical attacks with a powerful display. Couple this with a clean sheet against title favourites Chelsea three days ago and you can see that it has been a highly successful Christmas period for both Johnson and Birmingham.
His work ethic, along with the rest of the Birmingham side, has resulted in the Blues breaking a new club record for an unbeaten streak in the top flight. There have been recent whispers of Johnson receiving an England call-up, and although it may be unrealistic to consider him as a World Cup candidate, the former Cardiff man has proved that he can compete in the best league in the world and his fitness and form are likely to play a vital role in Birmingham’s season. For me, Johnson has been one of the surprise packages of the Premier League season thus far.