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Birmingham show signs of post-relegation revival

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Paul Fletcher | 19:40 UK time, Sunday, 16 October 2011

At St Andrew's

Birmingham and Leicester both radically overhauled their squads in the summer - and on the evidence at St Andrew's on Sunday it is the club which acted out of financial necessity that is starting to look in better shape.

Blues defeated the Foxes 2-0 to win their third straight fixture in all competitions and deserved their three points after a second-half performance during which they rattled opponents who had not conceded in 412 minutes of Championship action coming into the contest.

It was a second-half display that added to a growing feeling around the club that, within the playing squad at least, an unsettling and uncertain summer belongs firmly in the past.

Chris Hughton

Despite Sunday's win, Birmingham boss Chris Hughton says the season will be a "tough one". Photo: Getty

Birmingham won their first major trophy in 48 years last season when they defeated Arsenal in the Carling Cup final but their relegation from the Premier League, combined with problems at boardroom level, ushered in an age of austerity which led to 20 first-team players leaving in an attempt to raise money and cut costs.

Until the transfer window closed at the end of August, new manager Chris Hughton did not know exactly who would be left, and, with the exception of two cash buys, had to rebuild his side with a mixture of loan signings and free transfers.

Perhaps not surprisingly, several Blues players have suggested the season did not really start until the end of August. Results have certainly improved since then, with one win from Birmingham's first four league fixtures giving way to three victories in five since the start of September.

"When you lose so many players, rebuilding takes time," said Hughton. "You just never know how long it will take. We have benefited from the window closing and we now have a bit more consistency."

And despite losing the likes of Sebastian Larsson, Roger Johnson, Craig Gardner, Scott Dann and Cameron Jerome, they still possess quality players. Four from the XI that started against Arsenal - Stephen Carr, Liam Ridgewell, Keith Fahey and Nikola Zigic - figured at some stage against Leicester, while the excellent Jean Beausejour, who came on as a substitute against the Gunners, remains at the club and struck the woodwork with a fierce drive on Sunday.

Hughton has bolstered his squad with some good signings. Winger Chris Burke arrived early in the summer, followed by players such as striker Marlon King - a scorer from the penalty spot against the Foxes - and New Zealand forward Chris Wood, who is on loan from West Bromwich Albion and showed great composure to slot home his eighth Championship goal of the season against Sven-Goran Eriksson's side.

"We have got a confidence and belief now and we have all gelled together," said Wood, who illuminated an occasionally dour contest with one exquisite flick that played King through on goal.

Blues have also benefited from the return from injury of Zigic, King and Fahey, but it may yet transpire that the Europa League campaign that is currently giving the club's supporters a great deal of pleasure will undermine their hopes of a high finish in the league.

Birmingham have sold out their allocation for Thursday's match at Club Bruges and the fans celebrated their opening goal against the Foxes by chanting "we're all going on a European tour".

But the Championship is an unforgiving competition and, as Leicester themselves are currently finding, will test the strongest of squads.

While Hughton's team prepare to travel to Bruges they will miss another round of midweek Championship fixtures. It means they will have three games in hand on most other teams, lending a slightly skewed appearance to their current position of 15th in the table, but also leaving them playing catch-up on everyone else.

"We want to be in contention," added Hughton. "As long as we know that we are in a position to have a go [to win promotion] that is the aim. But it is a tough one with the European campaign."

Stephen Carr and Darius Vassell

Stephen Carr and Darius Vassell demonstrate the depth of experience in both squads. Photo: Getty

Leicester manager Eriksson probably has a squad with enough depth and quality to contemplate both the Europa League and the Championship but the over-riding focus of his season is winning promotion to the Premier League.

After watching his team concede their second at St Andrew's, the Swede was left scratching his head as he looked on from the sidelines.

Bankrolled by the club's wealthy Thai owners, Eriksson spent an estimated £10m in the summer on 12 new players and his team's 4-0 thrashing of Derby before the international break suggested they were starting to match on the pitch the power they possess on paper.

The Foxes boss had toyed with different systems earlier in the season but after playing a 4-3-3 formation at Barnsley in mid-September, he has settled on a 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond - and it seemed to be working as they climbed from a low of 17th to eighth after the win over the Rams.

Leicester were on a nine-match unbeaten run going into Sunday's fixture and looked very solid in the first half. The match was still up for grabs after Blues took the lead but the Foxes were always vulnerable to a counter-attack after they had been reduced to 10 men following the dismissal of Matt Mills.

Nonetheless, even when Leicester had their full complement of players they lacked width and attacking invention. The unflappable Eriksson chose to pick out the positives after the match, noting that the Championship table can change quickly, and that victories over Watford and Millwall in the next six days will put them back on track.

"I think we are starting to look like a good, solid football team," said the Foxes' veteran manager.

"I wish that we created a little bit more in the first half today and we should do that with the possession we had but we can work on that.

"At the end I think it will be a good season."

But with a quarter of the campaign gone and the table starting to take shape, Eriksson's team are already seven points adrift of leaders Southampton - and they have plenty of improving to do if their manager's prediction is to be realised.

You can follow me throughout the season at



  • Comment number 1.

    Nice to see some attention paid to Birmingham that isn't all about Carson Yeung. I do think we'll finish higher than a lot of pundits predicted at the start of the season, whether that means promotion is another matter. One thing for sure though, Hughton has done a great job so far, after Bruce and Mcleish, I never thought I'd sit there watching the Blues and expecting us to score.

  • Comment number 2.

    Great job by Hughton, I hope Brum come up.

    I'm not a Birmingham supporter.

  • Comment number 3.

    decent blog and great match today! We should have more live footie on the bbc for people without sky sports!! btw, i think mcleish brought chris burke in before he left, not chris hughton!!

  • Comment number 4.

    Nice article Paul, as a proud Bluenose I am cautiously optimistic for the season. If we are in or around the playoffs come January then i think we have an excellent chance to go back up.

    By the way it's Keith Fahey, not 'Kevin'!

  • Comment number 5.

    Chris Hughon has put together a very good Championship squad. My glass remains firmly half full. We have been totally written by most pundits and his suits us, as it completely downgrades expecations and takes the pressure off. The Europa League adventure, rather than a distraction is being treated as exactly that;an adventure. In what's proving to be a very tight league there's no reason at all why Blues can't be in the shake although I do think automatic promotion will prove a step too far. That said finishing in the play off positions would represent an excellent season. My only fear is if the rumours regarding Beausejour, Ridgewell and Zigic departing in Jan prove to be correct!

  • Comment number 6.

    One of the problems in a Leicester type situation is whether players have their hunger sapped by the rewards on the table. If you're already on Premier League money and know you'll be replaced if promoted then where's the incentive? I expect them to make the play-offs but come up short as Derby and Wolves did when they were the rich kids of the division in the 1990s.

    In the Championship, anything less than full tilt can equal dropped points and I wonder if Sven's necessarily the right man to drill those levels of intensity into players.

    Blues will be fine - Hughton is a top coach, great organiser and I'd be unsurprised if they had a decent run in the Europa League. This term might be about consolidation but he's putting the foundations in place.

  • Comment number 7.

    I can say that I was not too impressed with either team in the derby earlier today. However, I do expect Birmingham will improve under Hughton's guidance but it will take time and European adventures will take their toll. As for Leicester surely with the money they have spent they should be more enterprising and Wellens seems to be struggling to get picked.

  • Comment number 8.

    birmingham will win the playoffs, beating leicester in the final.

  • Comment number 9.

    What's a "Birmingham"?

  • Comment number 10.

    A Birmingham is the opposite of an Aston Villa

  • Comment number 11.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 12.

    I hope that Chris Hughton is allowed time to build a squad of players, and will not be subject to another knee-jerk reaction to a few "adverse" results.

    He will always be a legend on Tyneside for the way he got the team spirit together so they could drag themselves out of the Championship at the first attempt. Being unbeaten at SJP was an incredible feat.
    And, of course there's always the small matter of 5-1 with Nolan's hat-trick.

    He is a proper gentleman and a good coach who just needs time and support to become one of the best.

  • Comment number 13.

    Needless to say, Chris Hughton had the last laugh.

  • Comment number 14.

    Now then,

    Thanks for your comments so far. Chris Hughton always strikes me as a very decent, upstanding man and the messages of goodwill towards him here highlight the regard in which he is held. However, if I was a Blues fan I would have concerns that their European adventure might finally catch up with them. To be four rounds of fixtures behind everyone else after a quarter of the season spells problems, surely?

    Having said that, I get the feeling that for the majority of Blues fans what is giving them the greatest pleasure this season is their European adventure. If they don't win promotion it won't be the end of the world. Or maybe I'm wrong?

    As Liam Ridgewell said afterwards when I grabbed a quick word with him, "we've just go to keep chugging along".

    As for Leicester - they were billed as favourites along with West Ham but it is the London club who are starting to look dangerous. Sven does not worried at the moment but, then again, he is no stranger to pressure.

    welshbluenose - Kev to his mates! Thanks for pointing that out.
    ggeo - I'll check that one. Thanks.

  • Comment number 15.

    I'm a very happy Bluenose at the moment. Chris Hughton is doing a fantastic job on very limited resources.

    ''toonfan'' my worry is not that there'll be a kneejerk reaction more that a more fashionable club will try to poach Hughton. Good to see he's a legend on Tyneside.

    Unlike some of the Premier sides in seasons past we have embraced the Europa League and it is a massive adventure for us probably one I'll never see again. 5,000+ going to Brugges on Thursday, the support will be fantastic.

    If we keep playing as we are a play off place is a definite possibility but as someone else pointed out we could lose some of our better players in January because of the financial problems our Board have got us into. KRO

  • Comment number 16.

    On yesterday's evidence, Leicester were unfortunate. They dominated possession and what Beausejour was doing on the pitch after not receiving a second booking before the sending off of Mills I do now know. Deliberately pulling a man down is a bookable offence but I'm afraid the replacement referee bottled it.
    Mills sending off, I'm not so sure it was, he didn't show any studs and won the ball. then playing with ten men, it was always going to be difficult. The second goal flattered Brum, Had it been the other way round, as it should have been, I think the outcome would have been different and Leicester would be in fourth place, not 13th.

  • Comment number 17.

    Cynicall_Sid, You are as big a whinger as your team. What a load of moaners they are and as for the continual back chat and surrounding the ref they were very lucky not to get yellow cards. The substitute ref was one of the best refs I've seen at St Andrews for a very long time.

    As for your team I can't see where you've spent £10M, very poor team and no threat up front.

  • Comment number 18.

    Yep thanks for a blog about Blues. The Europa league is exciting, but I'm not sure I'd put that above promotion to the Premiership personally (can't speak for other Blues fans). It could be a distraction, we've seen at least one game where the players have been tired from Europa. Plus it's strange playing many-a-game on Sundays too! The foundation is there but I'd be quite surprised at anything more than consolidation - would love to go up, but it's likely a season of re-building. Much prefer Blues under Hughton than the ever-conservative McLeish...

  • Comment number 19.

    Paul Fletcher has been extremely generous in his praise of Birmingham in his match report. Leicester were defensively robust and hugely dominant in the midfield in the first half and completely nullified Birmingham's attempts to build any attacks. They were by far the better side, their only downfall being generating their own attacks, although as the away side that's their perogative. The penalty changed the game, which was perfectly just, as was Mills' sending off but without these two singular events Birmingham would have continued to struggle against a dominant Leicester team. Once a goal down with ten men anyone would struggle no matter how expensively assembled their team is. One very key point that everyone has missed so far is that Beausejoir (that's probably not the correct spelling) shouldn't have been on the pitch! His deeply synical foul on Peltier early in the second half was more than enough for a second yellow but the new referee, who was overwise excellent, seemed to bottle the early decision. I felt Leicester deserved an awful lot more credit than they have been given, no wonder Sven isn't panicking.

  • Comment number 20.

    Not intentionally being offensive to Leicester here, I have nothing against them, but if they play like they did at St. Andrews for the rest of the season, attacking-wise, they will struggle to have any real impact. Nugent was invisible, and Vassell gave the ball away almost every time he touched it. Beckford wasn't any better when he came on. Yes, they may have bought in a lot of players, but for the same reason I don't think Sunderland are going to win the Premier League, I don't think Leicester will go up automatically. Yes, the penalty and sending off obviously changed things, but Beausejour's 30-yard shot that hit the bar came before both of those, and it was the fact that him, Burke and King had the defence panicking that led to Birmingham being in the situation to get a penalty.

  • Comment number 21.

    Cynicall_Sid, there's no question that Blues deserved to win the game - Leicester may have been better in the first half but in truth both teams were very stilted and unambitious in the first 45, and Blues were the team who really made the effort and stepped up in the second half. Beausejour might well have deserved a second yellow, but Mills definitely deserved to go. You can't dive in two-footed, and even though he got a bit of the ball he got enough of the man as well to thoroughly deserve the red. The reaction of the Leicester players to a correct decision was shameful as well.

    As for the blog, might I also say how much I appreciate seeing these articles on the Blues from time to time! I was very pessimistic at the start of the season after the player turnover and the chaos in the boardroom (whoever decided Carson Yeung was a 'fit and proper' owner of a football club should take a long, hard look at themselves), but I'm delighted with the appointment of Chris Hughton who seems a very good man and manager and the team start to be gelling after a shaky start.

    To be honest, given that we have nearly an entirely new squad, I'd settle for a season of consolidation in the Championship and with the Europa League as a bonus, and if we happen to get play-offs or better then it will have been a fantastic season. I'm also excited about our younger players like Nathan Redmond, Jordon Mutch and Jake Jervis coming through! Keep Right On!

  • Comment number 22.

    @ bornwithabluenose
    I agree with almost everything you've said. With the financial problems, Yeungs pending trail and virtually a new squad, I thought we might drop straight through this division but I don't now.

    The one thing I disagree with is the fit an proper thing. I participate in quite a few blogs and if you were saying Yeung was not fit and proper when he took over, you and those like you were very, very quiet. Anyway, you should be able to run a football club without subsidy from a billionaire and so what you need to be fit and proper is to add up (the income) and subtract (the costs) and honesty. Most of us can do basic maths and the only objective way to check for honesty is convictions. So after his trial, if aquitted, Yeung will still be a fit and proper person. You and I may not like the way he's running the club and may not trust him as far as we can throw him but that's just an opinion and not a fit and proper test.

  • Comment number 23.

    It great to see Birmingham getting some just rewards for what has been done. Blues have had a torrid time, we lost around 20 players, maybe more will go in January. Its a bit of talking point about Birmingham being in Europe, but for many fans its once in a lifetime, i dont think the fans expect to much, its all about the experience. It will always be a season to remember that Blues was in Europe, the league will come second. Nobody really expects to much this year as we have to be realistic, we are in a crisis still and from the board side of things it still looks bleek and uncertain. But Chris H is just getting on with his job and concentrating on the team playing football.

    I thought on Saturday that against Leicester it would be a tough test of our status as they must be one of the teams going for promotion, and while the first half was completly boring the second half blew into life when Beausor hit the woodwork.

    I feel Blues may have the surprise element in them and they are at this time a good honest hard working football team.

    I think alot of praise should be given to the manager and the players for what they are trying to do and trying to achieve and for me under the circumstances this season is already a success.

    If we do get to the play offs or even automatic promotion then it must be recognised as nothing short of a miracle.


  • Comment number 24.

    Good result lads, hang in there.

  • Comment number 25.

    Watched the game.

    As a neutral I have to say it was a penalty and it was a sending off. The ref got those decisions spot-on.

    On balance Birmingham were lucky to win though. Leicester dominated possession and ought to have tucked a few away.

    What I can't understand about Leicester is why Wellens doesn't play the full 90 for them? Technically he was probably the best player on the pitch. And clearly gave Leicester an extra edge.

  • Comment number 26.

    What can one say for the Birmingham fans... After having gone through the "Sullivan" experience, they found an owner how doesn't live for the headlines. All they need is a bit of stability in order to come back to the surface. I remember them going into Wembley for the Carling Cup final: peaceful, families going to a football celebration all together, enjoying the occasion. And after Bruce and McLeish left the club for better jobs they eventually find a manager in Hughton who will give his all for their club.

    I like Hughton for his work ethic and putting all his effort for his club's progress. I am expecting him to lead Birmingham back at the top. And I hope he stays there for years, to create his legacy in a club having all the attributes of a Premiership side.

  • Comment number 27.

    I wanted to thank you for this great read! Definitely enjoying every bit of it I've bookmarked to check out new things to post Many thanks for this great post! I've been looking for this for a long time

  • Comment number 28.

    Overall the match was short on quality. Not sure that the PL (and staying there) is realistic for either of these sides.

  • Comment number 29.

    Birmingham have to be admired for assembling a top quality championship side with so little money. Just look at their teamsheet: Carr Ridgewell Zigic Beausejour Burke, I could go on. Great result for them on Sunday

    I am a Bristol city fan (that's the bcfc in my username!) and it's going to be a stern test for our new manager against Birmingham on Sunday.


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