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Birmingham's change of tack sparks unbeaten run - Interview
Friday, 28th Feb 2020 10:58 by Clive Whittingham

Birmingham's ambitious change in style of play to start the season has been abandoned in favour of a back to basics approach which has yielded an 11 match unbeaten run. We caught up with Matt Elliott for the latest.

How would you assess Birmingham’s season so far?

If I looked at the table, I’d say this is where I expected us to be. However, the season so far has been a real mixed bag. The club started off with this plan (I use that in the loosest sense of the word) to play expansive game of possession based attacking football. Or Dongball as some of the natives like to refer to it. We tried to recruit to help our brand of football evolve; Dan Crowley, Fran Villalba, Ivan Sunjic, Josh McEachran and Jake Clarke-Salter, all capable of taking us to that next level, or so we thought. It hasn’t ever really taken effect though and it probably wasn’t helped by the fact that we never replaced Che Adams (until January). Don’t get me wrong, there have been moments where we have played nice football, but there have been far more moments when we have played a turgid game of possession football with no spark and no invention. We now appear to have gone back to a more direct brand of football, similar to the style we played under Garry Monk. The season has been confusing, hilarious, disappointing, painful and joyous in equal measure.

Birmingham league results so far…
Brentford 0-1 Birmingham Pedersen 18
Birmingham 1-1 Bristol City Jutkiewicz 64 – Rowe 83
Forest 3-0 Birmingham Lolley 15, Grabban 22, Dawson 65
Birmingham 2-0 Barnsley Jutciewicz 69, Alvaro 77
Swansea 3-0 Birmingham Naughton 63, Celina 68, Baston pen 75
Birmingham 2-1 Stoke Jutciewicz 73, Bellingham 76 – Lindsay 58
Charlton 0-1 Birmingham Bellingham 52
Birmingham 0-1 Preston Maguire 23
Derby 3-2 Birmingham Martin 2, Waghorn 50, Paterson 74 – Gardner 56, Sunjic 59
Wigan 1-0 Birmingham Pilkington 76
Birmingham 2-1 Middlesbrough Villalba 33, Bailey 89 – Ayala 87
Leeds 1-0 Birmingham Phillips 65
Birmingham 1-0 Blackburn Colin 31
Birmingham 2-1 Luton Pedersen 45, Jutciewicz 82 – Cornick 67
Cardiff 4-2 Birmingham Ralls 30, 69, pen 90, Nelson 38 – Pedersen 3, Sunjic 89
Birmingham 0-1 Fulham Mitrovic 52
Huddersfield 1-1 Birmingham Campbell 55 – Jutciewicz 78
Sheff Wed 1-1 Birmingham Harris 81 – Alvaro 48
Birmingham 1-1 Millwall Clarke-Salter 79 – Williams 61
Reading 2-3 Birmingham Meite 45, Joao 90 – Morrison og 41, Bela 59, Alvaro 88
Birmingham 0-2 QPR Hall 45, Osayi-Samuel 67
Birmingham 2-3 West Brom Jutciewicz 3, Dean 47 – Diangana 10, Austin 73, 81
Hull 3-0 Birmingham Eaves 45, Grosicki 58, Lewis-Potter 88
Blackburn 1-1 Birmingham Armstrong pen 55 – Mrabti pen 63
Birmingham 4-5 Leeds Bellingham 27, Jutkiewicz 61, 90, Bela 83 – Costa 15, Harrison 21, Ayling 69, Dallas 84, Harding og 90
Birmingham 2-3 Wigan Mrabti 39, Maghoma 81 – Windass 9, 50, Kipre 73
Luton 1-2 Birmingham Collins pen 62 – Jutkiewicz 4, Gardner 69
Birmingham 1-1 Cardiff Bellingham 4 – Tomlin 63
Middlesbrough 1-1 Birmingham Fletcher 81 – Jutkiewicz 27
Birmingham 2-1 Forest Hogan 42, Pedersen 74 – Silva 18
Bristol City 1-3 Birmingham Paterson 1 – Hogan 23, Weimann og 30, Jutkiewicz 90
Barnsley 0-1 Birmingham Hogan 76
Birmingham 1-1 Brentford Hogan 13 – Pinnock 17
Birmingham 3-3 Sheff Wed Murphy og 6, Jutkiewicz 30, Hogan 90 – Bannon 24, Forestieri pen 34, Murphy 65
Millwall 0-0 Birmingham

And Pep Clotet’s performance? How are the locals with him?

This is a tough one because nobody wants him to fail, but I think his track record and his time with us has proven he’s not really the man for the job. Of course, his job would be made easier if it wasn’t for the way the club was run and interferences from the boardroom. That is the real issue here, but it seems easily forgotten when you win a couple of games. I think a lot of Blues fans have warmed to him during this run and I believe most are happy for him to see out the season, but I’d guess most would replace him at the end of the season if they could.

Twelve unbeaten, flying since Christmas when you lost at home to Wigan, what’s changed?

HOOOOOOOOOOFFFFF!!!!!!! We’ve gone back to basics really. We had a pretty terrible run before New Year, nothing was really coming off for us. We were bad and we also had some awful luck, which is still happening now. Lee Camp was brought back in, we’ve gone to a more conventional 442, we’re more solid, hardworking, more direct and playing to Jutkiewicz’s strengths. The addition of Scott Hogan has also helped us more recently. I’ll be honest here and say that as nice as it is to go 12 unbeaten, we’ve only won four of those in the league and the other two victories were in the FA Cup, one of them on penalties against League One Coventry. We haven’t been great on this run, but it’s good to be unbeaten for a decent stretch.

Much January activity?

Well, we moved out a couple of our Spanish project players, Fran Villalba and Alvaro Gimenez. Villalba was more interested in his missus (@miriam_mota on instagram- highly recommend browsing her profile) and never really settled. Gimenez never looked like a Championship player, but he seemed nice and would occasionally post some motivational stuff on social media. Problem with letting him go was, we already needed two strikers in January as we only had Jutkiewicz and Gimenez on the books, so letting the latter go without reinforcements wasn’t ideal. We did manage to bring Scott Hogan in which has looked a great bit of business so far and we also tried for Bright Enobakhare at Wolves, which fell through and then seemingly we tried for every striker at Wolves down to their u11s, but of course they all rejected us on deadline day.

Summer Ins: Ivan Sunjic, 22, CM, Zagreb, £7m >>> Alvaro Gimenez, 28, CF, Almeria, £1.35m >>> Dan Crowley, 21, AM, Willem, £700k >>> Jake Clarke-Salter, 21, CB, Chelsea, Loan >>> Gary Gardner, 27, CM, Villa, Part Ex >>> Agus Medina, 24, CM, UE Cornella (Spain), Free >>> Ivan Guzman, 28, RW, UE Alot (Spain), Free >>> Jefferson Montero, 29, LW, Swansea, Loan >>> Fran Villalba, 21, AM, Valencia, Undisclosed >>> Moha Ramos 19, GK, Castila, Loan >>> Josh McEachran, 26, CM, Brentford, Free

Summer Outs: Che Adams, 22, CF, Southampton, £15m >>> Jota, 28, RW, Villa, £4m part ex >>> Isaac Vassell, 25, CF, Cardiff, £1.98m >>> Greg Stewart, 29, CF, Rangers, Free >>> Viv Solomon-Otobor, 23, RW, Sofia, Free >>> Bez Lubala, 21, CF, Crawley, Free >>> Michael Morrison, 31, CB, Reading, Free >>> Cheick Ndoye, 33, CM, Released >>> Tomasz Kuszczak, 37 GK, Released

Winter Ins: >>> Jeremie Bela, 26, Albacete, Free >>> Scott Hogan, 27, CF, Villa, Loan

Winter Outs: >>> Alvaro Gimenez, 28, CF, Cadiz, Loan >>> Ivan Guzman, 28, RW, Cornella, Loan >>> David Stockdale, 34, GK, Wycombe, Loan David Davis, 28, CM, Charlton, Loan >>> Steve Seddon, 22, LB, Portsmouth, Loan >>> Fran Villalba, 21, AM, America, Loan >>> Odin Bailey, 19, AM, Forest Green, Loan >>> Charlie Lakin, 20, AM, Stevenage, Loan

Bellingham gets a lot of attention, how good is he?

He’s ridiculous. A generational talent. We hear this all the time about young footballers and so many of them just disappear into a black-hole, this will not happen to Bellingham. I don’t think many football fans outside of Birmingham realise just how good he is. I don’t even think some Birmingham fans realise how good he is. 16 years old... Yes, he’s technically very good, but it’s not just his ability on the ball, it’s his awareness, his desire and his work ethic. He has everything. he also realises that jumping ship to the Premier league, probably isn’t the best thing to do right now for his development, he’ll be a regular with us as long as he’s with us. He doesn’t turn 17 until June and he’s already featured 31 times for us this season. We all know he is destined for much bigger things than Birmingham City, but he’ll move when the time is right for him. It really has been a privilege to watch him and I hope we see him in a Blues shirt for another season at least.

Player of the year candidates?

Kristian Pedersen at left back has really come on this season. I had been critical of him in the past, but he has really come on this season. Lukas Jutkiewicz has again proved to be a warrior and scorer of important goals. Jeremie Bela only joined us in November, but he has already been involved in nine goals.

Weak links?

I really want to say Lee Camp, but he’s been very good since coming back into the side. The head coach? The boardroom? I don’t know..

I think our weakness is just squad depth. What with injuries and letting players go, we have very little on the bench to make any form of positive impact, so we kind of just hope that the first 11 can get it done until we start getting a few players back.

Links >>> Birmingham City official website >>> St Andrew’s – Ground Guide >>> Small Heath Alliance – Message Board >>> We Are Birmingham – Podcast >>> Birmingham Mail – Local Press

The Twitter @loftforwords, @MatthewBlue1875

Pictures – Action Images

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ngbqpr added 12:18 - Feb 28
Be interested to see how much they've improved. In the away game, I thought they were the worst side we've played this season.
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TheChef added 15:21 - Feb 28
True, although that night we really weren't that much better bar Hall taking his chance, and a BOS wonder goal. Will happily take the same result tomorrow!
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TacticalR added 13:45 - Feb 29
Thanks to Matt.

Trying to play possession football out from the back and it not really working? We've done the same in the past few seasons with a few false starts.

It will be interesting to see how Bellingham and Eze compare in today's game.
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