A big TTE thanks to Gabriel Sutton for answering our questions about Birmingham City ahead of Reading’s trip to
St Andrew’s Trillion Trophy Stadium St Andrews. You can find his excellent blog The Football Lab right here, where you can find some fantastic in-depth content covering the length and breadth of the Premier League and Football League.
NB: The following answers were written before Birmingham City’s 1-0 win at Stoke City on Saturday.
How’s the season gone for Birmingham City so far?
I’d argue that, despite what it might look like from the outside, we’ve actually had a very positive start to the campaign. Of course, we’d like to be higher in the table than we are and have more wins to our name.
However, when you consider that we’ve stayed up on the final day in three of our previous five seasons – and had our summer plans scuppered by the transfer embargo – the consistency of our performances has been hugely impressive.
What do you make of the job Garry Monk is doing at the moment? Should you be higher up in the table?
I love Garry Monk. It’s important to remember that while managers will always be judged on results, they only have any control over performances. At time of writing we’ve played 12 games and been comfortably the better team in seven of them; we were about on a par with Norwich City, QPR, Leeds United and Brentford, deservedly losing at Middlesbrough.
Had results been directly in line with performances, we could very easily be on 25 points – level with leaders Sheffield United. The reason we are 11 points worse off is because we haven’t – or hadn’t – perfected the basics at both ends, because goalkeeper Lee Camp hasn’t always covered himself in glory and our finishing has at times left a little to be desired.
Now that we are currently eight games unbeaten, there is optimism that those small issues are beginning to be eradicated.
*Now nine games unbeaten.
Tactically, how do the Blues set up?
We set up a bit like a classic 4-4-2, only with wide men Jota and Jacques Maghoma given the freedom to roam into central areas and support the front men. The duo’s dribbling qualities will be key to our approach play, because Gary Gardner and Maikel Kieftenbeld do some wonderful ball-winning work in central areas but are unlikely to try anything too fancy in possession.
Lukas Jutkiewicz leads the goal tally for you this season - is he just a goalscorer or does he offer more in his all-round game?
An interesting question. In the first two months of the season, Jutkiewicz was putting in some excellent shifts, he was occupying centre-backs and he was winning knock-downs for his strike-partner, Che Adams. The problem though was that because he was focusing so much on getting to those initial deliveries, he was rarely in position for those ‘second balls’ that the best goalscorers gobble up. It looked like Jukey would just be a reference point and thus the pressure would be on others to finish off his work.
We have to review that assessment though after the last few games, which have seen the ex-Burnley man bag five goals including a hat-trick in the 3-1 win over Rotherham United. He seems to be getting more ruthless when the ball falls to him in and around the box and has more confidence in himself to take those shots on.
How well has Gary Gardner done for you since joining from rivals Aston Villa?
Gards has done well. I don’t think our fans were necessarily over the moon when he signed but he’s defied his doubters. He is an honest worker in midfield, he is quick to second balls and does the simple things well, sometimes getting forward for the occasional effort from distance. The former Nottingham Forest man perhaps didn’t have the best of games against Ipswich Town when he was taken off quite early on, but he bounced back against Rotherham.
Between our midfielders though I would say Maikel Kieftenbeld just about has the edge, as he can do much of what Gardner does but on turbo-charge - if you get in behind our midfield at any point, you’ll see Kief put on a real spurt and that often helps stabilise otherwise precarious situations.
Any stand-out memories of games against Reading for good or bad reasons?
The day we won promotion at the Madejski in 2009 obvious stands out! I couldn’t get to that game but remember watching it in my living room. There was Marcus Hahnemann’s spill from Keith Fahey’s shot that put us in front, then when Kevin Phillips slotted in a second I went mad! At that point, I hoped for a comfortable end to proceedings… only for Marek Matejovsky to pull one back for your boys about 60 second later!
That was a real topsy-turvy season. You must have been kicking yourselves that year as you did the hard bit by winning at our place and at Molineux, but couldn’t win at home towards the end.
How will the game go, and what will the score be?
I’m a bit wary of John Swift. He’s a player that Swindon Town and your fans don’t always purr about, yet whenever I’ve seen him play for either club he normally looks bright and inventive. Seeing as we play with two banks of four there could be opportunities for him to find gaps between the lines. We’ll probably give Leandro Bacuna a bit of grief for the Villa connection which could be dangerous as he seems to have been involved in a couple of your goals recently.
The key for us will be to make sure the intensity of our performances doesn’t change against a lower-placed side, but we’ve played well enough in our last two home games against Ipswich and Rotherham to suggest that won’t happen. I’ll back my boys - 2-1 Blues.