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View From The Town End: Birmingham City

If Reading win tomorrow they'll acomplish something not seen since March and that's win back-to-back away games. Standing in our way is a Birmingham team who have been on the up since appointing Gary Rowett and to get a Blues fan's point of view we spoke to Gabriel Sutton from The Football Lab.

Michael Steele/Getty Images

How would you sum up Birmingham's season so far?

Under Lee Clark, it was a story of Jekyll & Hyde performances. If only the first half of games counted, we would have had 20 points from the first 12 games, but instead ended up with 11. Although we always played at a high tempo in the first half, we would very often drop back 10 yards in the second half of games, and players just ran out of energy. Not being able to sustain performance levels was a massive problem for us under Clark, but it hasn't been the case with Gary Rowett in charge. Since he's come in we've been able to play well for the whole 90 minutes.

Lee Clark was replaced by former Blue Gary Rowett earlier in the campaign, is that a move the fans approved of?

Fans were happy with Rowett mainly because he was well-liked as a player for Blues, but I would have taken him regardless. Having been to watch his Burton Albion side a few times, one of the things that impressed me about Rowett was his level-headedness. As an example, he doesn't tend to panic buy in the loan market after a few bad results, which Lee Clark did far too often last season. That kind of approach creates a sense of trust and unity within the dressing room, and it spreads throughout the club. Call it 'honeymoon period optimism', but I believe that Gary Rowett is one of the best young managers in this country, and we are lucky to have him at the helm.

The ownership of the football club has often hit the headlines in recent seasons, how does the situation stand right now?

Owner Carson Yeung was taken to jail on suspicion of money laundering 6 months ago, but it sounds like he may now be able to appeal against his sentence, and he still wants control of the club. However, we now have a board member called Panos Pavlakis, who seems to be the main person running the club at the moment. Although he has not communicated with the fans openly, I understand he has arranged meetings with some supporters groups, and is at St Andrews on a frequent basis. Pavlakis was the one who made the decision to sack Lee Clark, and I'd like to think that he is somebody who can offer this club the leadership it needs at boardroom level.

Any fond memories of games between the two sides?

Winning promotion against you in the 08/09 season. I watched that match on TV and jumped up when Kevin Phillips put us 2-0 ahead, but your lot scored seconds afterwards and the rest of the match was horrible. I spent the last half hour perched on the edge of my seat, watching through my hands, whilst checking the Sheffield United score every 5 seconds. Your lot should think yourselves lucky that whenever you've gone up it's been pretty straightforward - we never do promotions the easy way!

Any not so fond ones?

I went to the Madejski towards the end of the 07/08 season. Andre Bikey scored a couple of good headers, but we were really poor that day, as we so often were away from home. It was frustrating because we conceded 2 soft goals from set pieces, and yet your lot couldn't buy a goal in most games after that. Ultimately Fulham's revival under Hodgson meant we both suffered the drop that year.

Which Birmingham player should Reading fans be wary of on Saturday?

Andrew Shinnie was dreadful for us last season, but he's one of many who has improved under Gary Rowett. We need him in the team, because he offers that crucial link between midfield and attack, and his resurgence may be one of the reasons why Donaldson has improved of late. I gather Chris Gunter has struggled a bit for Reading this season, so I hope Rowett plays Demarai Gray on the flank, as Gray is very quick and can beat his man one-on-one.

Anyone that Birmingham fans aren't looking forward to facing?

I'm hoping Gareth McCleary isn't back to full fitness. He really impressed me last season, and scored a cracking goal against QPR. If he doesn't play then maybe Oliver Norwood, who strikes me as a good passer of a ball. It seems 2 years of regular football at Huddersfield has helped him develop, and we may start to see some of the talent that attracted Manchester United to sign Norwood as a kid.

Score prediction?

I'm going for a draw. After shipping goals in recent times, I get the impression Reading are looking to tighten up at the back, go a few games without losing, and rebuild confidence gradually. Blues have been good on the counter-attack under Rowett, but I'm expecting Reading to defend deep, so I can't see the game becoming stretched in a way that would suit us. I'll say 1-1, in a tight game.

Finally, any advice for Reading fans making the trip?

Whilst there are a few pubs around the ground, they tend to fill up quickly and not many are away fan friendly. You may be best off going for a drink in the City Centre, just outside New Street, there'll be loads of fast food places there too. The distance from the City Centre is walkable, but a taxi to the ground won't cost you much more than a fiver. Hope you have a good trip - until around 3 o'clock!

Thanks again to Gabriel and you can follow him and the lads from The Football Lab on @_footballab