Rewind the clocks back to the summer of 2022 and the mood at Birmingham City was much like the mood at Reading - fans being extremely concerned about the prospect of relegation after years of mismanagement. However, John Eustace’s side have done better than expected, currently sitting 16th, nine points off the bottom three and surely safe from falling into League One.
We discussed all of that with Birmingham City fan, writer and EFL pundit Gabriel Sutton. You can find him on Twitter @GabSutton.
How would you sum up your season so far?
Better than expected. Even Reading fans were more bullish about their team going into the season than us lot, which *really* tells you something. Most of our fans were resigned to another relegation dogfight, and I put us bottom in my 1-24 back in July.
A lot of the issues that made us pessimistic about the season - aka boardroom issues - are still there, and it still feels hard to see a path toward genuine, long-term change until we get new owners with a plan and vision.
But while we don’t have that, we can only get behind the lads and hope for the best in the here and now, and fair play to them, they’ve delivered.
How’s John Eustace getting on in the dugout?
One of the criticisms of Lee Bowyer, in the last eight months of his reign, was that he didn’t establish any clear patterns of play and we didn’t look so well coached. Eustace has changed that. We look well drilled out of possession, we press intelligently, and you can see relationships being built across the park.
It was a tough first EFL gig as a number one for Eustace, but we’re really happy with the work he’s doing - we just hope he can get a bit more operational support under the right ownership.
What are the main strengths of this Birmingham City team?
Our most consistent players this season have been goalkeeper John Ruddy and left-sided defender Auston Trusty, but lately we’ve looked promising going forward.
The attacking quartet of Tahith Chong, Reda Khadra, George Hall and Lukas Jutkiewicz has combined very nicely in two or three recent games, as they all bring something different.
Chong is your ball-carrier and technician who loves to drift from the right into the pockets; Khadra is a strong, direct runner; Lukas Jutkiewicz is your experienced target man who will peel off to the back-post; and George Hall your energetic #10 who loves to get on the end of Jukey’s knock-downs.
They seem to have found a real synergy - again, credit to Eustace.
On the right side of defence, Maxime Colin and Marc Roberts can be got at with pace. Scott Hogan started the season so well but more recently he’s looked a little bit jaded, and we don’t have the deepest squad in the world.
How do you see the rest of the season playing out for you?
I think we’ll get another nine points and finish about where we are now, although a top-half finish could be on the cards if we finish well.
What do you make of Reading’s situation?
I think it’s important you get over the survival line this season. If you do, a lot of the sanctions are lifted next season, a lot of players are out of contract and you’ll have a chance to learn from a couple of mistake-ridden eras and rebuild as hopefully a slightly smarter club.
Not sure Paul Ince is the best person to lead that rebuild, though.
How will the game go on Saturday and what will the score be?
I think we win 2-0 with a George Hall brace!