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View From The Town End: Birmingham City

What to expect from Saturday's opposition.

Birmingham City v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship - St Andrew’s Trillion Trophy Stadium Photo by Nigel French/PA Images via Getty Images

After a run of games against teams challenging at either end of the table - Leeds United and Brentford going for promotion, Wigan trying to avoid relegation - Reading take on mid-table Birmingham City.

We sat down with Blues fan and EFL writer Gabriel Sutton to get his views on City, Reading and plenty more.

How would you sum up Birmingham City’s season so far?

A season of transition. We’re moving towards a new, more progressive style of play under Pep Clotet with more emphasis on ball retention from deep.

We’ve put in some excellent performances, like the 2-1 win over Middlesbrough in October and there’s been bits and pieces of games we haven’t won in which some of the football has been very promising.

Equally, we’re not quite refined yet and thus there has been some uninspiring performances mixed in but overall, we’re on the right track.

Pep Clotet’s been made City’s permanent manager now - was that the right decision?

For me, it definitely was yes. Clotet is not quite as clear a communicator as Garry Monk was during his time here so you might say he’s yet to build an emotional connection with fans.

However, I think his ideas are far more tactically advanced than that of Monk and he’s proven to be an excellent coach, so giving him a bit of time to grow into a number one role could be very rewarding.

Birmingham City v Millwall - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Alan Hayward/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

What can we expect to see from a Clotet side tactically?

I believe since the Middlesbrough game, we’ve always started with a 4-2-2-2 with Modric heir apparent Ivan Sunjic and 16-year-old Jude Bellingham in central midfield.

We then have Dan Crowley and Fran Villalba cutting inside to combine in central areas, with two of Alvaro Jimenez, Lukasz Jutkiewicz and Kerim Mrabti up top.

Who have been your stand-out performers so far?

Sunjic has been outstanding. He can do the defensive work but he also has close control in tight areas and a terrific range of passing - he’s Croatia’s under-21s captain so to have him permanently makes him a massive asset.

Going forward, Crowley has been arguably our most creative player and his combination play with Maxime Colin down the right will be something to look out for.

What do you make of Reading at the moment?

I have to credit Mark Bowen and the job he’s doing with your lot. I watched you early in the season and you clearly liked your wing-backs very high up the pitch which, for me, left the centre-backs and sometimes even Pele short on passing options for players in space.

The Leeds game shows that Mark Bowen has put a lot of work into getting the distances right out of possession, which for me brings a new level of performance out of your defenders, especially Liam Moore.

Clearly, Ovie Ejaria and John Swift can cause problems going forward, too while George Puscas strikes me as an enigmatic forward. He’s clearly brilliant at his best but perhaps also prone to missing the odd sitter, which I suspect shaped some of the results in the latter stages of Jose Gomes’ reign.

How do you see the game going, and what will the score be?

Your recent home form has been excellent so I think I’d take a point - 1-1.