Destination St. Andrew’s in search of points
Burnley got back to winning ways last Saturday with a 1-0 win over Leeds, but we travel to Birmingham tomorrow having lost first place in the league following a week when our promotion rivals both benefited from stoppage time goals against the run of play.
Middlesbrough now lead the Championship and, should Brighton get a win tonight against Fulham, we will go into the game at Birmingham in third place and very much in need of a first win at St. Andrew’s in just over nine years.
Just five weeks ago we came away from Huddersfield with what looked a commanding lead at the top of the league. We were seven points ahead of Middlesbrough and had a nine point advantage over Hull and Brighton, but both Boro and Hull had two games in hand with Brighton having just one in hand on us.
Hull appear to have all but blown it. They have won only one of their last eight games, but our three successive draws gave the other two that chance to get even closer to us and they’ve taken it. Middlesbrough beat Hull with a stoppage time goal scored by David Nugent and that has kick started a run of five successive wins and the only points Brighton have dropped in five games were against us; they are unbeaten since February and have lost only twice since mid-December.
That’s basically three clubs all in good form with two of them just about certain to win automatic promotion to the Premier League.
George Boyd, who has enjoyed four promotions so far in his career, said ahead of our trip to Birmingham: “There are no worries or concerns in the dressing room. We know we are five wins away from the Premier League.
“People forget the run we are on. We are 18 games unbeaten, one of the form teams in the league and sitting second at the minute, so there’s certainly no tension in the camp. I’ve had this feeling in previous promotions when you’re on a run like this, when you go into every game thinking you are going to win, and that’s how we feel now.”
Boyd, player of the year last season, has come in for some criticism this season but he’s very much a first choice player for Sean Dyche and has only been out of the side through injury.
He’ll play tomorrow but an injury could force us into our first change since Huddersfield. David Jones came back that day after missing the Fulham game. He wasn’t well last week and had to be substituted during the second half. It looks as though he’s going to be OK but that might not be the same for Sam Vokes.
He came off with a groin problem and, although it is nothing serious, he is touch and go and a decision will be left as late as possible. Dyche said: “It’s just a minor abductor muscle injury but we will decide on Friday whether the game comes around too quickly or not. We have options, which is important at this stage of the season.”
I would think Ashley Barnes is the most likely replacement. Chris Long is currently out with an injury and Rouwen Hennings lost his place on the bench similarly at Brighton and hasn’t returned although I’m sure he’ll be able to return if required.
I suspect Vokes could be out and, if so, we will line up: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, George Boyd, Joey Barton, David Jones, Scott Arfield, Ashley Barnes, Andre Gray. Subs: Paul Robinson, Tendayi Darikwa, James Tarkowski, Dean Marney, Matt Taylor, Lloyd Dyer, Rouwen Hennings.
Having just avoided relegation in 2014, it was another poor start for Birmingham last season with only two wins in the first sixteen games. A change of manager changed things. Gary Rowett came in from Burton and by the end of the season they were comfortable in the top half of the table.
A much better season was predicted and that’s how it started. They were in the top group for some time and a win at Bolton in October saw them peak in second place. They remained in the top six until mid-December but haven’t been back since although their level of consistency has meant they’ve never dropped below ninth, the position they currently occupy.
Clayton Donaldson and Jon Toral are two to watch when they go forward and both played a part in our home game against them in August which ended 2-2. Toral, who has eight goals, opened the scoring and Donaldson, leading goalscorer with nine, won the more than dubious penalty from which they went 2-1 up.
There’s also likely to be a very familiar name in the Birmingham line up. They currently have Norwich’s Kyle Lafferty on loan and he scored his first goal for them last week in a defeat against Brighton.
It’s difficult to know what their team will be with Gary Rowett potentially considering some younger players. I do to think he’ll stick with experience tomorrow and wait until later in the season to give those younger players a chance.
They lost to Leeds in midweek when their team was: Adam Legzdins, Paul Caddis, Michael Morrison, Ryan Shotton, Jonathan Grounds, Maikel Kieftenbeld, Stephen Gleeson, David Cotterill, David Davis, Clayton Donaldson, Kyle Lafferty. Subs: Tomasz Kuszczak, Jonathan Spector, James Vaughan, Viv Solomon-Otabor, Jacques Maghoma, Jon Toral, Diego Fabbrini.
LAST TIME WE WERE THERE
It was a Wednesday night trip to Birmingham in March 2014, just three days after that historic 2-1 win at Blackburn had taken our points total to 69 in 34 games. We couldn’t quite make it a fourth successive win but we came so, so close, leading three times before having to settle for a point in a 3-3 draw.
We started well enough and I did think all we needed was a goal to settle us. It came right on the half hour from Dean Marney who netted from close range after a cross from Ross Wallace, restored to the starting line up, had been headed back across goal by a defender.
To be honest, there was no sign of what was to come. It remained at 1-0 going into half time and it was still 1-0 when the clock went past the hour as Federico Macheda, on loan from Manchester United, came on. We replaced Wallace with Junior Stanislas but on 64 minutes they were level with Macheda getting onto a free kick knocked in from the half way line.
Not to worry, we were back in front three minutes later with a Michael Duff header at the far post from a Kieran Trippier free kick. I didn’t mention that Marney hasn’t scored for us since; the same applies to Duff.
We didn’t keep the lead for long this time. Two minutes on and Manchester City loanee Emyr Huws scored his first league goal from distance and it stayed at 2-2 until four minutes from the end of normal time when Sam Vokes gave us what looked set to be a winner, tucking in a low cross from Stanislas who had done really well to get the ball in.
The night was far from over for more than one reason. Macheda got his second in the fourth minute of stoppage time, a goal that Sean Dyche thought should have been ruled out for handball.
A draw it was and then the nightmare started. The M6 had been loaned out for filming meaning we had to contend with two shockingly signposted diversions that took us past a collection of West Midlands football grounds. Once clear of that the fog came down. It was like an old fashioned pea souper. We did finally get home, well into the early hours of the morning.
The teams were;
Birmingham: Darren Randolph, Jonathan Spector, Will Packwood, Paul Robinson, Tyler Blackett, Olly Lee (Federico Macheda 60), Tom Adeyemi, Emyr Huws, Chris Burke, Lee Novak, Andy Shinnie (Nikola Zigic 79). Subs not used: Colin Doyle, Aaron Martin, Jordon Ibe, Paul Caddis, Albert Rusnak.
Burnley: Tom Heaton, Kieran Trippier, Michael Duff, Jason Shackell, Ben Mee, Scott Arfield (David Edgar 90+2), Dean Marney, David Jones, Ross Wallace (Junior Stanislas 62), Danny Ings (Ashley Barnes 75), Sam Vokes. Subs not used: Alex Cisak, Kevin Long, Michael Kightly, Keith Treacy.Share this page :