|Ipswich Town 1 v 1 Birmingham City|
Saturday, 13th April 2019 Kick-off 15:00
Let’s Do the Business at Ipswich and Have a Good End to the Season - Notes for Birmingham City
Friday, 12th Apr 2019 10:30 by HarryFromBath
HarryFromBath assesses the mood in the opposition camp ahead of Saturday’s game at Portman Road by delving into their forums.
“We are six points off the bottom three and everybody has their sun loungers out and are drinking cocktails like we're safe. Doesn't everybody remember that we are the Blues and we never ever do anything simply? Until we’re mathematically safe I for one won’t even consider opening the shed.”
Birmingham arrive in Suffolk on Saturday in a far more relaxed mood than this time last week. A win at home to Leeds on Saturday followed by a merited draw on Wednesday against visitors Sheffield United have reassured most West Midlanders after the team recorded five straight losses in March.
“March really has been the month from hell”, “Well thank God it’s over now. What a month, but that said, this is when our fans are at their best with our backs to the wall. A nine-point deduction, five defeats, just two goals scored, two derby losses with a last-minute sucker punch at West Brom.”
“We will not go down, no chance. We are more likely to ascend the table.” City’s destination is firmly in their hands with games coming up against relegation-threatened Rotherham, Wigan and Reading as well as their trip to Portman Road. “It would be nice to be safe before playing the Easter games.”
“We have the opportunity to prevent teams getting points against us, so even draws won’t be a disaster”, “If we play like we have in our last three games we should have more than enough to win the games needed. What is a bit worrying is how we usually do against teams we should really be beating.”
“Saturday's home win over Leeds was perhaps unexpected but it was a giant step towards safety”, “They were a great couple of results against two teams who will most likely be in the Premier League next season. We are almost safe, but three points at Ipswich on Saturday would be brilliant.”
“This season was about not being in a relegation battle. The reconnection between club and fans has been brilliant this season, and there is a team in there. Monk has had his hands tied. Hopefully the shackles can come off somewhat in the summer, and we will be able to push on next season.”
The Nine-Point Deduction
“The deduction was fair, to be honest.” On March 22nd, the club were deducted nine points by the EFL for breaching profitability and sustainability rules. The EFL said that City had incurred losses of nearly £48.8 million between 2015 and 2018.
Following the sanction, they dropped from 13th to 18th in the Championship, five points above the relegation zone with eight games to play at the time. “A lot of people will say it’s justified but mainly down to the club’s naivety. Other clubs work the system better and know how to cover their tracks.”
“Monk has been a perfect fit for us. We were crying out for longevity and stability”, “We were going to be relegated under Steve Cotterill. Then Monk came along and galvanised the squad and we know what happened then”, “He has done a very good job with his hands totally tied behind his back.”
The 40-year-old one-time Swansea manager replaced Cotterill in March 2018. Fans have credited him for getting the best out of his paper-thin squad while rebuilding bonds between the supporters and the club after a difficult few years, much as Paul Lambert has been doing since arriving here.
“Monk should be commended for reuniting the fans with the players, giving us our pride back, giving us some entertainment for the most part and dealing well with difficult circumstances. He's the best thing that's happened to Blues for a long time, let's allow him to build something for the future.”
“I love Monk. He gets us and the club, handled everything superbly and doing so well with what he's got”, “He came into an horrendous situation. Last season we were dead and buried and he turned us around. He deserves praise for that alone as our football was even worse than in the Lee Clark days.”
“He got them playing with pride, determination and cohesion. This season we have had an embargo, a weaker squad than we did last season and there have been times when our bench only had one player who was of Championship quality”, “He has done a great job and we are lucky to have him.”
“We were never good enough for the top six, which is why we never really got in there. We have a mid-table squad all day long, “Expecting us to be top six with the depth of our squad was a hope rather than a realistic expectation”, “Anybody that thought we would be in the play-offs is deluded.”
“That first half against Leeds was us to a tee. Soak it up and hit them on the break with a lovely multi-pass move for a superbly-taken goal.” Monk has built a solid team which is not afraid to play direct football but which is at its happiest when hitting teams incisively and quickly on the counter.
“We are a solid, tough team, not a great watch but I’m happy with our commitment and nous”, “We have yet to play Ipswich, Rotherham and Reading away from home and our counter-attacking style suits this”, “We now seem to have got back the solidity and focus which we lost for a few games.”
“The issue is the paucity of our squad”, “The squad, punched above its weight for most of the season but now we have hit a wall of tiredness. Other teams are able to rotate”, “The problem that March highlighted was the lack of depth in our squad. Players are exhausted and we look a bit leggy again.”
“I think Monk should have freshened up the starting XI [above, against Sheffield United] tonight, too many of ours look a bit weary.” While many fans would like to see the squad rotated, the sheer lack of options or depth has meant that the team has been virtually picking itself in recent games.
“The decision to persist with keeper Lee Camp looks worse with every match-costing error.” Camp has been criticised for his limp-wristed shot-stopping attempts. Harlee Dean is a comfortable centre-half in possession while partner Michael Morrison’s aerial strength has added six set-piece goals.
“Our defence is passionate but limited and it’s backed up by a goalkeeper who, although funny and a bit of a cult figure, is essentially poor”, “One annoying thing is the number of goals we concede from crosses. We are strong at the attacking end from set pieces so it baffles me how many we concede.”
“We have essentially got no decent cover at full-back if Maxime Colin or Kristian Pedersen are either injured or suspended.” Colin is seen as a decent attacking right-back, possibly lacking a yard of pace to take him to a higher level. Left-back Pedersen unnerves fans with his habit of diving into tackles.
“This summer I'm confident we'll finally, bloody finally, sign someone who can pass a football in the centre of midfield”, “It’s the centre of our midfield that’s lacking, we have a midfield that can’t pass a ball forward with accuracy”, “We haven’t got a single decent ball-playing midfielder in the squad.”
The loss of Maikel Kieftenbeld with a knee injury against Leeds means that David Davis, who himself has recently returned from a serious ankle injury, is likely to start most games. Kieftenbeld, Davis and the Gardner brothers, Craig and Gary, are all seen as hard-working, industrious water-carriers.
“Look at the central midfield options Monk inherited. Any tactic we employ, has to bypass central midfield because our options there are so weak. For a long time now, we have missed one or two central midfielders who are comfortable with the ball so we go direct to the strikers or wingers.”
“We've got no creativity in midfield save for Jota who blows hot and cold and has seemingly given up on his Birmingham career.” Connor Mahoney has blossomed on the right wing, relegating Jota to the role of impact substitute. Jacques Maghoma is a hard-working Championship-standard left winger.
“One reason we have been successful this season is how quickly and effectively we narrow midfield by Jota and Maghoma moving inside when the opposition have the ball”, “We look strong down the right. Mahoney and Colin are good going forward together in contrast to the other side of the pitch.”
“Che Adams and Lukas Jutkiewicz are the first two names on the team sheet.” Jutkiewicz is praised for his hold-up and wider attacking play, but 22-goal Adams has added robustness and invention to his already decent finishing and has blossomed into one of the division’s leading strikers this season.
Birmingham 1 – 1 Sheffield United
“A tremendous point, I’m very happy”, “Four points out of Leeds and Sheffield United back to back?”, “Well done Blues”, “We look tough to beat again and we have got to be one of the hardest working team I have seen for a long while”, “A decent result that gives everyone confidence going forward.”
“Looking at the game, it really wasn't great from both teams. We both cancelled each other out.” Enda Stevens put the visitors ahead on 38 minutes but City struck back within four minutes when Michael Morrison equalised, firing home from close range after the Blades failed to clear a corner.
“The Blades were a very well-organised team, physically strong without being brutal, competent or better in every position and very fit. Their defenders were first to almost every ball with no standout stars, no passengers. They are a model for any team getting out of this division without a budget.”
Birmingham 1 – 0 Leeds
“What an important win, we defended brilliantly”, “Absolutely magnificent, I’m just so proud of this team. What a grafting performance, it was immense, truly immense”, “To limit that Leeds side to a handful of chances and only one on target was a superb effort. What a brilliant win that really is.”
City fans were cock-a-hoop with a victory against high-flying opponents which broke their run of five consecutive defeats. They scored the only goal of the game when Che Adams fired in a crisp strike on 29 minutes very shortly after Patrick Bamford’s shot came back off the post for the visitors.
The starting line-up (above) was as strong as the hosts could put out but Kieftenbeld’s injury, which came after fellow midfielder Gary Gardner had been replaced by David Davis, forced Monk to switch right-back Maxime Colin into a makeshift midfield (below) and play Wes Harding in the back four.
West Bromwich Albion 3 – 2 Birmingham
“What have we done to deserve this nightmare?”, “That result is a travesty”, “Five defeats in a row, blimey. They are showing heart at least but we just need to stop the rot and sharpish. You would not have believed we were capable of such a poor run five weeks ago”, “That one was a real sickener.”
“No way we deserved to lose that game but how many times have we said that this season?” Gary Gardner headed City in front on seven minutes and kept the lead until the interval. The hosts then levelled on 47 via Dwight Gayle only for Lukas Jutkiewicz to head in on 59 and restore City’s lead.
“How the hell did we lose this?” Jay Rodriguez levelled again for the Baggies from the penalty spot on 65 after Connor Mahoney was adjudged have fouled Albion’s Conor Townsend inside the area. The hosts then took the lead for the first time with a low drive from Jake Livermore on 74 minutes.
“It was a very entertaining game of football and we played some good stuff at times. Silly mistakes and a bit of bad luck did us in the end. Is what it is. Bring on the next one”, “There were some really good individual performances and some really dozy ones too”, “Another second half capitulation.”
The familiar line-up (above) saw Kieftenbeld rested for Davis and it also could be the starting XI for Saturday’s game. For many City fans, the difference in quality determined the outcome. “West Brom brought Hal Robson-Kanu off the bench and he changed the game. We turned to Craig Gardner.”
Goalkeepers and Defenders
“Lee Camp is a terrible keeper when it comes to shot stopping.” The 34-year-old one-time Norwich man “does the basics fine but he very rarely gives you a match-winning save or does that something that makes him stand out”, “We would be better playing rush-goalie at times than have him there.”
“Camp’s lettuce leaf wrists worry me”, “He doesn’t dive instead he falls in the direction of the ball with no spring or conviction. This often means he’s late to the shot and it’s past him before it’s too late.”, “His kicking if fine and he’s okay for the bench, but we do need better if we want to crack on.”
“The defeats in March coincided with Maxime Colin being injured.” The 27-year-old ex-Brentford right-back missed three games in March after being taken off against Hull with a hamstring injury.
“Colin has also done very well when covering in midfield, but he looks more out of position on the left as we struggle to get down the left flank”, “He’s technically comfortable on the ball and plays more like a winger when we get the upper hand. He is consistent, but lacks pure pace and a decent final ball.”
Maxime Colin (Birmingham City) v George Boyd (Sheffield Wednesday)
“I like Pedersen but he really does scare the living daylights out of me sometimes.” The 24-year-old Danish left-back and June signing from Union Berlin “switches off and gives away stupid freekicks”, “Granted it's his first season playing in English football but he is too rash in his decision making.”
“Is it me, or do Pedersen's headed ‘clearances’ seem to do more harm than good?”, “He’s as dodgy as hell, making awful clearances or stupid headers back across the box and putting us in real danger when a simple header away will suffice”, “He looks better for it when not diving in at everything.”
“Our defensive cover looks decent with Marc Roberts on the bench.” The 28-year-old ex-Barnsley centre-back struggled with form and injuries since arriving in 2017 but fans believe that Monk can finally bring the best out of him. “I think there is a player there who just needs some confidence.”
“Wes Harding has looked raw on occasions but been a big plus ever since he came in.” The 22-year-old youth product “lacks the composure or distribution to be a centre-half yet, but he's still young and inexperienced and that will come”, “Physically he is as strong as a bull and is a great athlete.”
“I see Harding’s willingness to get forward, his desire in the tackle and to keep going, but he also can struggle to control the ball, give away cheap freekicks, misplace passes and get in poor positions”, “He’s good defensively but going forward he won’t go past his winger, leaving him to beat two men.”
“For a centre-back, Harlee Dean is elegant but often ineffective.” The 27-year-old ex-Brentford man “is clearly at 80 per cent due to his recent groin injury. He won't sprint, but is covering himself well”, “The moment we are safe I would get booked in for an operation as he can’t soldier on like this.”
“Dean often marauds but not effectively”, “I like him and think he had a good season but mistakes have crept into his game in the last few months. His desire to aimlessly bring the ball forward is so frustrating. He doesn’t have the ability to do this. Play to your strengths, win it move it on quickly.”
“I will tell you what, Morrison has been outstanding against the Blades. What a lad.” The 31-year-old ex-Charlton centre-half “whilst being a great leader and a commanding defender, can barely kick it properly with his right foot, let alone his left which resulted in aimless passing around the back.”
“Morrison has reacted too slow for tackle and misjudged the flight of the ball in recent games, but he is usually a safe and reliable defender and makes vital tackles”, “His distribution gets hammered but the reason he consistently hoofs the ball is because there’s no-one in the middle who wants it.”
“It took five minutes for Craig Gardner's yellow card this week. He's slowing down.” The 32-year-old ex-West Brom man “hasn't got any positives to add to the team. He’s a fairly poor passer of the ball and often shoots when better passes are on. He tries to get forward but just doesn't have the legs.”
“I struggle to see what Craig brings to the team. His legs have gone, so he's not a box to box player now, he was never a great passer, his set pieces aren’t any good and he hasn't scored much. Other than fouling, he's done very little”, “He's past his best and was never really a world beater anyway.”
“Come back stronger Magic Maik.” Maikel Kieftenbeld damaged the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in City’s win over Leeds and the 28-year-old ex-Groningen man will be hugely missed. “He is not exactly Pirlo, but has been very composed and sometimes even clever on the ball this season.”
“David Davis’s game has always been about energy rather than quality on the ball.” The 28-year-old ex-Wolves man “is a bundle of energy, but whenever he has the ball his first instinct is to give it back to someone rather than look forward”, “I love him for his energy and for his phenomenal work rate.”
“Davis looked exhausted when they hauled him off late on against Sheffield United. He is not fit yet after his ankle injury and was being played out of necessity”, “He does hold us back, I love the guy for his effort but if we want to move forward, he simply can’t be our main centre midfield option.”
“Gary Gardner has done okay, but I don't think he adds much in the way of creativity.” The 26-year-old Aston Villa loanee “was superb in the first half of the season but his form has waned”, “He’s been good but he’s been overrated purely because he’s better than what we have”, “He is so limited.”
“When Gary runs out of steam, it's as if the team are playing with two holding midfielders. He used to make plenty of forward, progressive passes and looked to get into the box, but he does not do this any more”, “He has invigorated our midfield and been by far the best of our three water carriers.”
Wingers and Wide Midfielders
“Kerim Mrabti is for next season I reckon.” The 24-year-old Sweden international and January arrival from Djurgardens “looks like a nice change from the players we have. He can pass a ball and is good with little one-touch flicks on. He’s skilful but he doesn't seem to get knocked off the ball too easily.”
“Mrabti is quick, busy, positive and puts a proper shift in”, “A nice, tidy player, looks comfortable on the ball and has a bit of pace”, “He isn't a winger. I reckon he's a number 10 or a wide forward in a front three. He seems to prefer laying the ball off or cutting inside rather than driving at defenders.”
“What a player Mahoney is. I hope that Bournemouth aren't paying any attention and let us have him on the cheap.” The 22-year-old loan signing from the Cherries “is superb and his set pieces are terrific. The downside is young players will sometimes make rash decisions but he's a proper player.”
“Mahoney is willing, really dangerous going forward, and he makes things happen. Decision-making with his tackling and his final ball are not always right, but he’s in good company in this team, and at least has the defence of youth”, “He’s dangerous going forward, and will put a shift in defensively.”
Jota (Birmingham City)
“I despair of Jota. He is a riddle wrapped in an enigma.” The 27-year-old ex-Brentford man is “on his day unplayable but it’s a rarity”, “I find him frustrating because for all of his clever play, there is very rarely a final ball. On many occasions he does all of the hard work and then there is no end product.”
“When Jota is confident and running with the ball, he manages to knit the play between midfield and attack better than anyone else we have”, “He's a good player who isn't particularly suited to a 4-4-2 direct team that doesn't like having possession”, “He’s a talented player but sadly just not a fit here.”
“Maghoma goes through periods where he is either on fire or looks average, so many probably don't appreciate the work he does.” The 31-year-old ex-Sheffield Wednesday winger divides opinion. “He still has the best posture on the ball and I just enjoy watching him in full flight running at defences.”
Dominic Iorfa v Jacques Maghoma
“Maghoma? Don’t get me started, he has been absolutely useless for weeks”, “The version I see play drops into positions, but then he's so gormless and slow to react that people run in behind him really easily”, “He spends most of each game looking to avoid wanting the ball, rarely taking on his man.”
“Isaac Vassell has pace to burn and he terrifies defences.” The 25-year-old ex-Luton man suffered a serious knee injury against Aston Villa in October 2017 and missed the remainder of last season. He then picked up a hip injury during his rehab in November. “We will see the best of him next season.”
“With decent balls for players to run onto and stretch teams, we will see whether Vassell can be a threat in this division. He is the obvious replacement for Adams if we don’t go and sign someone”, “There's a proper player there waiting to break free. Time on the pitch and games will heal him.”
Luke Chambers v Lukas Jutkiewicz (Birmingham City)
“Lukas Jutkiewicz is the fulcrum of our attack.” The 30-year-old ex-Burnley man “might not score but my God he does some work for the team”, “If you have him up front, he will at least give us a fighting chance of winning and holding it up when it’s hoofed up. Let him batter a defence for an hour first.”
“Lukas ties up the opposition centre-halves and wins his fair share of battles. It is what gives Adams the space he has”, “He’s a focal point who scores in batches and then goes quiet, but his assists are just as important to us”, “He’s a warrior and a proper City player but he’s just not a prolific finisher.”
“Che has been nothing short of sensational this season.” The 22-year-old former Sheffield United striker “has added consistency, work rate and team play this season. He has been unplayable for defenders. All of his pre-season hard work has paid off. He now looks like the Hulk in a Blues shirt.”
Che Adams shoots at Erwin Mulder (Swansea City)
“His goalscoring this season is amazing but it's more than that. His overall play is beautiful. The little back-heels he makes, the way he shoves 6ft 4in defenders out of the way to hold up the ball and his pace”, “An athlete with skill, pace, awareness, power, intelligence and absolutely lethal finishing.”
“Che leaves defenders with absolutely no margin for error. Keepers cover the near post and he will go across him the other way”, “He hits it so early, doesn’t he? No real power in his strikes, just early and accurate, especially from the right channel”, “He was always a threat, what a player he is now.”
Birmingham Fans’ Thoughts on ITFC and the Game
“We now move on to Saturday's match and an away trip to Portman Road to take on Ipswich. They may be propping up the division and five points from the nearest team to them but they will be fighting for their lives and must not be underestimated”, “We could put the final nail in their coffin.”
“It looks like Ipswich are all but relegated”, “They are effectively down but they have been playing well. If we win at Portman Road and Rotherham pick up at least a point at Stoke, then Ipswich will be relegated this weekend”, “It is not one of our happier hunting grounds, it’s time we changed that.”
“We must also be mindful that back in September Ipswich came to St Andrew’s and took a point off us. On that occasion Jon Nolan and Matthew Pennington scored for Ipswich and Jutkiewicz scored two for us”, “This is the type of game that we tend to lose, especially after getting two good wins.”
City fans are broadly confident of victory, and many of them feel that an early goal will allow them to play their preferred counter-attacking game. “This is a game to start positively and score early. Let’s take the wind out of the Ipswich sails before they give themselves some self belief.”
“Jeremy Simpson will take charge of Saturday’s game at Portman Road.” The announcement of the referee for Saturday’s game was given a passing reference on Birmingham’s forums, but we may see it differently. “In total, Mr Simpson has refereed five Ipswich games, all of which they have lost.”
The busiest Birmingham message board is Small Heat Alliance and it also includes threads linking to any local media stories relating to the club. Birmingham City highlights are available on the Multimedia menu as well as Ipswich Town and for the whole of the Championship and other EFL leagues.
Photo: Action Images
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