Rival for Survival – Birmingham City

In the previous article the focus was on Wigan’s final game of the season at Stoke. Now it’s the turn of Birmingham to come under the spotlight ahead of their trip to Tottenham.

How they will line up
A 2-0 home defeat to Fulham is unlikely to engender any sentimentality to manager Alex McLeish when it comes to picking his team this weekend. The Scot will be pleased to welcome back two of his regulars from suspension – both Craig Gardner and Liam Ridgewell will be available once more. Injuries continue to plague Birmingham however, with Alexander Hleb limping off on Sunday, causing more problems for McLeish in attack. 
Nikola Zigic is a doubt, as is Cameron Jerome who failed a fitness test before the Blues’ previous fixture. That leaves Birmingham with only Kevin Phillips, Matt Derbyshire and Jean Beausejour, who between them have only scored three goals this season – hardly the firepower they need to secure a result at White Hart Lane.
Key Man
If Birmingham defend anything like they did against Fulham at the weekend, then Ben Foster could be crucial to the Blues’ survival hopes. Birmingham were lucky to keep the score down against the Cottagers and with goal difference potentially a deciding factor in who stays up and who goes down, Foster may need to be at his best to keep Spurs at bay. Foster, incidentally, has been at the centre of controversy this week being accused of drinking into the small hours on Tuesday morning. He’ll be aiming to make up for his misdemeanours with a performance on Sunday.
Their Opponents – Tottenham Hotspur
Birmingham will not relish the fixture that awaits them – they arguably have the hardest task out of the sides scrapping for survival. Not only are Spurs up in 5th position, they also have something to play for – unlike ‘Pool’s opponents Man United. Spurs’ win at Anfield last week has lifted them above Liverpool and put them back in the driving seat for the Europa League spot that comes with that 5th spot. Europe’s second tier competition has often been derided, but with a potential Fair Play spot should Spurs finish 6th – meaning an even earlier start – Harry Redknapp’s team will be battling to secure themselves more time off over the summer.
At Anfield Ledley King made his long overdue comeback after another lengthy lay-off and with Carlo Cudicini carrying on in goal ahead of Heurelho Gomes, Spurs kept their first clean sheet since the beginning of April. Rafael van der Vaart has found his shooting boots once more, although Spurs’ strikers continue to underperform. Jermain Defoe has intimated he may be leaving in the summer, but if that is the case he may be aiming to bow out in style, if he features on Sunday.
In terms of their form, Spurs have been struggling of late. Before the win over Liverpool, Spurs had gone five league games without a victory – the result at Anfield was also only their second three point haul since mid-February. Tottenham’s home form has been somewhat erratic too with far too many draws (nine in total) for a club of their ambition, yet they have only lost one game at White Hart Lane all season. Despite all of this, it’s hard to think Spurs will throw away 5th place after their impressive win last week.
What’s Birmingham’s form like?

The Blues looked set for a vintage season having surprised Arsenal in the Carling Cup final, but over the last couple of months they have collapsed in spectacular style. Looking at the form table for the last six games, Birmingham sit 19th out of 20, with only West Ham beneath them. McLeish’s side picked up their last win on 16th April with a 2-0 victory over Sunderland. Since then however, they’ve taken only one point out of a possible 15 to leave them just above the relegation zone on goal difference.

Birmingham have only scored three times in the last five fixtures, while conceding 13. It doesn’t take a genuis to work out they have got big problems. Away from St Andrews, Birmingham have won only twice, drawing on seven occasions. In their last six away games they have managed only two points – hardly a record to inspire confidence amongst Blues’ fans.

Up the ‘Pool verdict

With such strong downward momentum, Birmingham will surely be relying on both Wigan and ‘Pool to slip up. Anyone who saw the Blues’ performance against Fulham will have seen a team destined for the Championship – it could have been a cricket score quite frankly. A narrow defeat could save Birmingham thanks to their superior goal difference, but any result for Wigan or the Seasiders is likely to relegate Alex McLeish’s side. I anticipate a Spurs victory, but by what margin I don’t know – and the margin of defeat could be crucial to Blackpool’s hopes of avoiding the drop.

Next up it’s the turn of Wolves. Hopefully that will be up later today. (Now online here)