Birmingham have proved hard to beat this season and that is the reason why they arrive at Griffin Park on Saturday sitting in the play-off places.
Gary Rowett’s side have only lost three times in the Championship so far – the second lowest figure in the division behind Brighton (beaten twice) and level with Newcastle and Aston Villa.
If they hadn’t drawn the second highest number of games – seven – level with Fulham and behind only Villa’s 10, then they would probably be in one of the automatic promotion places.
After three mid-table seasons in the past four years, and one relegation battle, this is City’s first concerted push for promotion since the 2011/12 campaign – when they finished fourth and reached the play-off semi-finals.
Two of those three league defeats have come in their last three away games – at Burton (2-0) and Nottingham Forest (3-1) last month – and they haven’t won any of their last five on the road.
However, their last away win was in west London, at Fulham in a game in which the Blues were awarded two penalties – ex-Bee Clayton Donaldson having one saved by his former Griffin Park colleague David Button before scoring the second – to follow their 2-1 victory at Leeds in their opening away match.
Their only other league reverse was a 3-1 defeat by Midlands rivals Wolves, although they did suffer a first round exit at the hands of Oxford (1-0) in the EFL Cup.
Saturday will be Clayton’s third appearance at Griffin Park since he left us to join the Blues in the summer of 2014 and he has played in all four games between the sides in the last two seasons.
He has scored 31 goals in 96 full and eight substitute appearances for City – including their second here last season.
During three years in our colours, Clayton scored 53 goals in 155 appearances in all competitions while off the field he did a lot of work for the Brentford Community Sports Trust.
WHO’S IN CHARGE
Gary Rowett is the third longest-serving manager in the Championship, behind Ipswich’s Mick McCarthy and Preston’s Simon Grayson, after taking over from Lee Clark at St Andrews in October 2014.
The former Blues defender left Burton after two-and-a-half years in charge during which time he twice led them to the League Two play-offs. He was previously the Brewers’ assistant manager to Paul Peschisolido.
Gary finished his playing career as a defender, in which he made more than 400 appearances, at Burton and also represented Birmingham while his other clubs were Cambridge, Everton, Blackpool (loan), Derby, Leicester and Charlton.
WE’VE MET BEFORE
Last season’s home game with Birmingham, postponed in August because of our pitch problems, was played on a Tuesday night at the end of September and was Lee Carsley’s first in temporary charge following the departure of Marinus Dijkhuisen the previous day.
There was little to cheer for us as goals from Michael Morrison and Clayton Donaldson in the final 20 minutes gave the Blues a 2-0 win.
The return game, like this season’s on January 2, saw them complete the double over us with a 2-1 win.
Jacques Maghoma put Birmingham ahead 10 minutes after half-time but Philipp Hofmann levelled, only for Maikel Kieftenbeld to snatch an 89th minute winner.
Those results added to our recent record against Birmingham, which is miserable to say the least.
We haven’t won any of our last eight league meetings – losing six and drawing two – and you can add into that our League Cup fourth round meeting in 2010, which we lost on penalties.
Our last victory over them came in this division (when it was known as Division One) as we won 3-1 at St Andrew’s in December 1992 with goals from Gary Blissett, Simon Ratcliffe and Billy Manuel.
Our last home win over the Blues was before a lot of us were born, coming again in this division (as Division Two) in March 1954 when we won 2-0.
It did us little good however, as we were relegated to Division Three (South) at the end of the season.
WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT US
BBC WM’s Birmingham City reporter Richard Wilford looks forward to his first Bees-Blues match and, with his knowledge of Brentford’s ex-Walsall contingent from his experience covering Midlands football, reveals Dean Smith’s pre-match preparations.
Q How would you assess Birmingham’s season so far and how do you see it unfolding – mid-table safety, play-off push or, relegation struggle and why?
A After back-to-back 10th-placed finishes on a tight budget you could argue that Blues would be delighted to match that again. But with the recent takeover of the club there will be some additional investment in the squad in January (we’re not talking silly money here) which could yet improve their chances of reaching the play-offs.
Certainly they have given themselves a solid foundation to build on and the squad that Gary Rowett has at his disposal is already deeper than the one that faded away last season. The manager’s mid-term future seems increasingly likely to be at St Andrew’s too given the greater financial stability.
Q What memories do you have – good or bad – of previous trips to Brentford to see Birmingham either for work or as a fan?
A Oddly enough this is my first time seeing Birmingham at Griffin Park – my only previous experience was with Walsall for a League Trophy fixture. It was a dire game, enlivened by a penalty shoot-out in which the Saddlers’ Jimmy Walker took centre stage.
Q Which Bees players will you be most wary of?
A It will be great to see Romaine Sawyers play again after enjoying him in a Walsall shirt over recent seasons – when he is at his best he’s certainly a talent. And I’ll be wary of Dean Smith and Richard O’Kelly’s quality of football too. They are two terrific blokes and given full backing and support they will take the Bees ever closer to the promised land. Does Dean still take his dog for a walk on the morning of a game? That’s what I want to know!
Q Who should Bees fans look out for particularly on the Birmingham side – apart from Clayton Donaldson, of course who we know very well!
A Generally the team is greater than the sum of its parts, which is no mean achievement. The ever-willing Donaldson now has greater competition up front – Lukas Jutkiewicz has made a huge impact on loan from Burnley with some old school line-leading, while youngster Che Adams seems a really shrewd investment after moving down from Sheffield United.
At the back, Ryan Shotton has thrived alongside skipper Michael Morrison, while former Wolves midfielder David Davis has become the heartbeat of the team wherever he is asked to play.
Birmingham have got a decision to make over their right-back position on Saturday after first choice Jonathan Spector was sent off late on in last Saturday’s 1-0 win over Bristol City.
Spector starts a three-game suspension and the only available natural right-back is youngster Josh Dacres-Cogley, who made his senior debut in the EFL Cup against Oxford in August.
Ryan Shotton has played in the position before but Paul Caddis and on loan left-back Rhoys Wiggins are both injured.
Shotton, who usually plays in central defence, is one of two league ever-presents in the squad, with the other one being his fellow centre-half Michael Morrison.
Left-back Jonathan Grounds has only missed one match, like Spector, while left midfielder David Davis and Jacques Maghoma, who was on the bench last Saturday, have both been involved in all but one of the side’s 17 Championship outings so far.
David Cotterill, part of Wales’ squad at Euro 2016, should be on the right of midfield with Stephen Gleeson likely to partner Maikel Kieftenbeld in the middle.
Up front, Clayton Donaldson should partner top scorer Lukas Jutkiewicz, on loan from Burnley, who has scored five league goals this season.
Among the substitutes should be experienced defender Paul Robinson, striker Che Adams, goalkeeper Adam Legzdins and midfielder Greg Stewart.
PUBS IN BRENTFORD
For Birmingham fans coming down, you are probably aware there plenty of pub options pre-match and all are most welcoming.
There are now only three pubs around the ground, following the closure of the Royal Oak.
The Griffin is closest to the away end (like 30 secs walk) and is very popular with away fans – but also very, very busy. The New Inn is on the other side and is also popular with away fans. The Princess Royal is the other option.
Other pubs slightly further afield for the more creative amongst you include (and this is by no means a definitive list) …. The Globe (Windmill Rd) is the Beesotted pre-match pub. This boozer & The Lord Nelson (Enfield Rd) are both incredibly friendly and cosy away-friendly pubs and about 1 min walk from each other .. frequented by ‘away fans in the know’.
The Plough (Northfields Ave) in Northfields is a decent stop-off if you are coming by tube to Northfields (it’s a much better pub crawl route getting off at Northfields than South Ealing) before making your way down to the ground (normally stopping off at The Globe and Lord Nelson en route).
There is also a pub right by Brentford station always referred to as … the Pub by Brentford station.
For ale head to the Magpie and Crown pub on Brentford High Street. The Royal Horseguardsman can probably hold 15 of you at a push. The Brewery Tap is a cosy boozer by the river. And if you are super adventurous, get off at Kew Bridge and visit the brand new boozer One Over the Ait right on the river – beside the bridge. There are loads more too.
A quick Google search and you’ll find them all. There are many many more too if you have a look around.
Parking is pretty easy away from the ground going up towards and over the A4 Great West Rd (ie. North) via Ealing Road or Windmill Road.
You can check out Transport for London’s guide to travel on the tube and Overground here.