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View From The Town End: Birmingham City

Just four Championship games to go folks, starting with the visit of Birmingham City tonight. Ahead of the game we spoke to Blues fan Gabriel from The Football Lab.

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

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

Better than could have been expected. Before the season I was worried about relegation, and unenthusiastic about the prospect of having Lee Clark in charge for another year. After a poor start, I felt it was right for the club to part company with Clark when we did, and we now have, in my opinion, one of the best young managers in the country in Gary Rowett. Over the past six months we have been well-organized, hard to beat and good on the counter-attack.

The last time the two sides met Gary Rowett was just settling into the role of manager, how do fans view his work so far?

Fans, myself very much included, have been delighted with the progress we are making under Gary Rowett. The way he has managed our club creates a sense of belief and trust among players and supporters, which wasn't quite there under Lee Clark. If we have a couple of bad results, Rowett will stay calm and avoid making sweeping changes, which sends out the message that he has confidence in his team. Players perform at their best when they are able to forge an understanding with their teammates, and Rowett's patient management of the squad allows them to do just that.

One of his first games was to demolish Reading 6-1 in a game that ultimately cost Nigel Adkins his own job. What did you make of Reading that day and from what you've seen since?

Reading couldn't defend and couldn't shoot, but other than that they were alright! That day, we were defensively very disciplined and scored every time we went forward. Your lot had plenty of possession and got into good areas, but wayward shooting was the problem. Murray scored one and also hit the post, so perhaps on another day the game might have panned out differently, but the difference between the teams in both boxes was the deciding factor.
I felt sorry for Nigel Adkins, because he is one of the most likeable managers in the game. I get the impression Steve Clarke aims to make the team defensively stronger than it was under Adkins, he worked with Mourinho at Chelsea and his West Brom side had 2 holding midfielders. With Clarke's ideas, you seem to do well against the better teams, the Arsenal game a prime example, I thought you put in an excellent shift at Wembley. However, if the onus is on your lot to break the weaker teams down, you seem to lack the craft and creativity needed.

Who should Reading fans be wary of tonight?

Diego Fabbrini. On loan from Watford, he was ineligible to play at Vicarage Road on Saturday, but he has been brilliant since joining. He had been on loan at Millwall previously and when they played us, he caught the eye of many people inside St Andrews, including Gary Rowett. Fabbrini is a small, tricky player who has the ability to wriggle past defenders and win free-kicks in dangerous areas. Our team is set up fundamentally to be compact and disciplined, but the Italian is one player who gets the fans excited. When I wrote for you last time, I pinpointed Demarai Gray as a key player and he scored a hat-trick, so hopefully the same happens with Fabbrini!

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

In an attacking sense, there is nobody in the Reading squad that worries me too much - famous last words! With Glenn Murray having gone back to Crystal Palace, I'm yet to be impressed by your forward options. I've seen Kwesi Appiah play for Cambridge at a few lower league games, and would not be surprised to see him be given a chance at some point, he looks very quick. Defensively, I like Michael Hector as an aggressive centre-back, Nathaniel Chalobah always breaks up attacks well too.

Score prediction?

Optimistically, I think Reading might be suffering from an FA Cup semi-final hangover. I felt sorry for Federici after his clanger, especially when he'd made a few good saves until then, and I wonder if that might affect the mood in the camp. Your lot did the double over us last season so I'm hoping we'll get some revenge and do the same to you this time! I'll go for a 1-0 win for Blues.

Finally who are you tipping to go up and down from the Championship?

Blackpool might struggle to overturn a gap of 19 points in their last 2 games - just a gut instinct! I've said since around February that Millwall and Wigan stay in the bottom 3 and my view on that hasn't changed. For the top 2, I can't look past Bournemouth and Watford simply for the goals factor. I have a feeling Ipswich will be the other team to go up, I think they have the required qualities to win tight games in the play-offs.

Thanks again to Gabriel, and you can read more from him on The Football Lab and on Twitter @_footballab