Birmingham are fighting for their Championship survival, but the arrival of Lee Bowyer as manager has given them a fighting chance of beating the drop.
Bowyer arrived from Charlton to replace Aitor Karanka only three weeks ago, but has already led his new side to two wins in three matches.
Karanka, appointed only last summer, left the club following the 3-0 home defeat by Bristol City. It was the club’s 12th home loss of the season and left them one place and three points above the relegation zone, where Rotherham had four games in hand on them.
They had only won eight of their first 36 matches, but Bowyer immediately inspired a 2-1 victory over Reading, with the winner from ex-Bees captain Harlee Dean. They then played our two main promotion rivals, and while they lost 3-0 at Watford, they beat Swansea on Good Friday evening with a last-gasp penalty from another ex-Bees, Scott Hogan.
Those results meant that, before the Easter Monday games, the Blues had moved one place up the table to 20th and were six points above Rotherham, who still had those four games in hand.
The Millers still have to host Coventry, sandwiched between them and Birmingham in the table, and Lee Bowyer’s side at home in the space of four days at the end of next week – matches which could go a long way to deciding who fills one of the three relegation places.
Birmingham’s home record is one of the main reasons they have struggled again this season. Those two recent wins mean it is only the 23rd worst in the Championship, rather than the worst, while their away record is the 14th best in the division.
They haven’t even had any joy in the cups to distract them from their struggles, with immediate exits in the Carabao Cup to Cambridge (0-1) and Man City (3-0) in the FA Cup.
This is the Blues’ 10th consecutive season in the Championship – they finished in the play-offs in the first of those, avoided relegation on goal difference in 2014 and finished 19th, 19th, 17th and 20th in the past four years.
They have had seven seasons in the Premier League over three spells with a best place finish of ninth in 2009/10.
They also won the Carling Cup in 2011, after beating us on penalties in the fourth round, but were relegated from the top flight at the end of that season.
WHO’S IN CHARGE
Lee Bowyer is in his second managerial job, having resigned from being in charge at his boyhood club Charlton to take over at what is another of his former clubs last month, replacing Aitor Karanka, as mentioned earlier.
The former Addicks midfielder was confirmed as the south London club’s manager in the summer of 2018 after six months in temporary charge.
He had rejoined their coaching staff and become Karl Robinson’s assistant manager in 2017, replacing the former MK Dons boss at the helm.
Bowyer, who won one England cap against Portugal in 2002, played for Charlton, Leeds, West Ham (two spells), Newcastle, Birmingham and Ipswich.
He spent two seasons at St Andrew’s, and was part of the side that lifted the Carling Cup.
WE’VE MET BEFORE
Birmingham are one of only four teams we have met in every season of our current Championship stay. (Derby, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday are the others).
And our record against them isn’t great, with only three wins as well as four draws and six defeats in our 13 meetings.
Past meetings in the Championship (Bees scores first):
2014/15 – (H) 1-1 (A) 0-1
2015/16 – (H) 0-2 (A) 1-2
2016/17 – (H) 1-2 (A) 3-1
2017/18 – (H) 5-0 (A) 2-0
2018/19 – (H) 1-1 (A) 0-0
2019/20 – (H) 0-1 (A) 1-1
2020/21 – (A) 0-1
FEATURED SEASON – 2017/18
Brentford earned their first double over Birmingham in 11 attempts (since 1951/52) in 2017/18, with the two games ending 7-0 on aggregate to us.
There was a lot of needle around the matches, following the triple transfer of Harlee Dean, Maxime Colin and Jota to St Andrew’s on August’s transfer deadline day, so the midweek 2-0 win at St Andrew’s in November and 5-0 hammering at Griffin Park in February were very satisfying for Bees fans.
Neal Maupay proved the catalyst for the victory in the West Midlands. The striker came on as a 70th-minute substitute for Lasse Vibe and within four minutes had been fouled in the area by Michael Morrison, with Ollie Watkins converting the resultant penalty. Maupay then made the game safe with his fourth Championship goal for us 10 minutes later.
The 5-0 win in the return was our joint-biggest victory in the Championship since we returned to this level in 2014.
Ollie Watkins and Florian Jozefzoon put us 2-0 up before the break and Neal Maupay then found the net twice in four minutes early in the second half, although his second strike later went down as an own goal by Marc Roberts. Watkins headed his second and Brentford’s fifth late on to take us to within three points of the play-off places.
BBC Radio WM’s Birmingham City reporter Richard Wilford analyses the Blues’ season, compares the impacts of this season’s two managers, and discusses the form of ex-Bees Harlee Dean, Maxime Colin and Scott Hogan.
Q – This is the fifth season in a row that Birmingham have struggled in the Championship – what has gone wrong?
A – The club started the season with the right intentions, the appointment of Aitor Karanka was meant to be an end to the hire-and-fire habit at St Andrew’s. Recruitment, however, was erratic at best and did little to serve Karanka’s preferred 4-2-3-1 system. By the turn of the year it became clear that coach and squad were no longer on the same page, the change being made at least a month later than it should have been.
Q – What did Aitor Karanka change on his arrival, and why didn’t his management spell work?
A – Karanka will always start by making a team more solid, which he did to an extent initially. But he struggled to release the handbrake or to develop an attacking style of play. Blues simply could not score goals, which in the Championship has always been the key to success.
Q – Has Lee Bowyer made any immediate changes and what do you think of his appointment?
A – Lee Bowyer opted to keep things simple for his debut victory at home to Reading, 4-4-2, high press, square pegs in square holes. Music to the ears of the longer-serving members of the squad.
Q – Birmingham have the worst home record in the Championship, and a middling away record. Why has their form at St Andrews been so bad?
A – The last three Blues coaches would like to know an answer to that, and while an empty Tilton End during the past 12 months is part of the problem, it runs deeper. Ultimately opponents know they are an easy touch at St Andrew’s and they have struggled to deal with adversity during games. I suspect Lee Bowyer will improve home confidence.
Q – One of their four wins was against Brentford on the opening day of the season – what do you remember of that match?
A – That was one of the two best performances under Karanka – gritty, organised, determined, the defence protecting a debutant teenage keeper in Zak Jeacock. A day that promised more than Aitor was ever able to deliver.
Q – How are ex-Bees Harlee Dean, Maxime Colin and Scott Hogan doing?
A – Harlee is still Harlee – wearing his heart on his sleeve, owning up to errors when he makes them, leading by example when the chips are down. Some of Karanka’s chopping and changing clearly frustrated him.
Maxime remains one of the best right-backs in the Championship, but has had to cope with a lack of protection at times.
Scott has shown flashes of his quality but has not always been favoured by the systems being used – he is happiest when he has another striker with him. Always was!
Q – How excited are you to be coming to the Brentford Community Stadium for the first time?
A – I always love to visit a stadium that is new to me, although Griffin Park always had a unique charm. This trip will feel like a stadium tour though, it won’t feel right until the Bees fans are present.
Q – Finally can you give me a possible line-up and formation for the Blues please?
A – It will most likely be 4-4-2, and personnel could be affected by Friday’s game with Swansea which is still a few hours away at the time of writing. But in theory… Etheridge; Colin, Roberts, Dean, Pedersen; Halilovic, Harper, Gardner, Bela; Hogan, Jutkiewicz.
HOW TO FOLLOW THE GAME
The match is being played at the Brentford Community Stadium at 7pm on Tuesday, behind closed doors.
Season ticket holders who have frozen their tickets have free access to watch the match on iFollow, and others can buy a match pass for £10.
Live audio commentary is also available on iFollow with Mark Burridge, Karleigh Osborne and Natalie Sawyer with a match pass available to buy for £2.50, and there is also commentary reports on BBC London 94.9digital.
Karleigh and Natalie, along with Marcus Gayle, will also be part of a special WARM-UP LIVE show starting at 6.00 from the West Stand, hosted by Stu Wakeford. It includes an interview with Emiliano Marcondes and a discussion with Jonathan Douglas around 6.40. The match coverage will start at 6.50.