Birmingham City half-term report: Signs of promise but susceptible to old habits

Ben Ramsdale takes a look at the Blues season so far in true back-to-school style

Signs of promise but susceptible to old habits. That’s how Birmingham City’s report card reads at the halfway point of the season.

There have been times where it really feels that a corner has been turned at the club and then a week later you’re back with that old feeling that nothing has changed.

Sign up to our BirminghamWorld Today newsletter

But this is Birmingham City and it wouldn’t be a season supporting the royal blue if it was straightforward.

A general view of the St. Andrew's stadium prior to the Sky Bet Championship match between Birmingham City and Hull City at St Andrew's Trillion Trophy Stadium

Positives

Whilst nobody is going to be over the moon with midtable mediocrity, Blues currently sit in a relatively comfortably position away from the Championship’s bottom three. And though things can change quickly in football, they do appear safe from a relegation battle this year and that’s something they haven’t been able to say for a good few years.

On the pitch itself and there have been some real standout games - none more so than Luton away. Winning away is always special but to do so as convincingly as they did back in August in the 5-0 victory at Kenilworth Road will live long in the memory of those that traveled down to London that day.

There’s also been positives in adversity such as the emergence of new bright young talents like Jordan James. James was pretty much thrown in due to injuries and suspension and has found himself in and around the first team ever since. A bright future awaits the midfielder.

Negatives

Being consistently inconsistent is one of the big downsides of this team. They’ve strung together three wins in a row just once and those nine points dragged them to within touching distance of the play-offs but aside from that it’s often been one positive result followed up by two negative ones. In a league that is incredibly tight this year, it’s beyond frustrating that the team haven’t been able to capitalise, even when it looked likely that they would.

A lot of that is of course down to injuries and suspension which has probably been the biggest negative of the campaign so far for Blues. There have been numerous occasions where Lee Bowyer has had to call on youngsters to fill the bench on matchday due to the lack of first-team pros. And whilst injuries are a part of football, Bowyer has publicly criticised his medical team this year for the number of long-term problems that some of his side have been facing, particularly Ivan Sanchez who is yet to play a minute of football this year.

Performance wise and you have to look no further than the most recent defeat as one of the biggest lows of the campaign. Blackburn Rovers may be flying high but the 4-0 loss on December 18 looked like a case of men against boys throughout, arguably the first time this season where Blues have just been outfought in all areas.

Star man

For me, you look no further than the first name on the line-up - Matija Sarkic.

The goalkeeper on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers has been superb throughout the campaign and in some instances has been solely responsible for Blues picking up points from certain games.

There were worries after Neil Etheridge was confirmed to be missing time following a bad case of covid and after a couple of shaky pre-season appearances from that man Sarkic, some fans understandably were fearing the worst.

But four months on it’s clear that it was just a case of rustiness as the stopper has been faultless between the sticks, keeping 10 clean sheets along the way. Only West Brom and England goalkeeper Sam Johnstone (11) has more to his name.

Whether it would be viable to sign him permanently following the end of this season is a discussion for another day but he’s certainly earned it.

Target for remainder of campaign

Without being accused of being boring, the target at this stage has to be simply an improvement on last season. Nothing over the top or exciting, just an improvement.

The Blues finished last year 18th with 52 points to their name and anything more than that can be viewed as a success.

It’s been difficult for Bowyer having no money to spend and relying on free transfers and loans so until that changes, the realist in me says anything in and around midtable is an achievement.

If and when money becomes available, then is the time to reassess and draw up some new goals.

Matija Sarkic of Birmingham City looks on after a flare has been thrown on to the pitch during the Sky Bet Championship match between Coventry City and Birmingham City at The Coventry Building Society Arena

Predicted finish

16th.

With players returning from injury and hopefully a couple of loan additions in January, I think we’ll see a slight improvement on last year.

Judging by the first half of the campaign, if Blues mirrored that they’d be finishing with 54 points. That would quite literally be an improvement by the slimmest of margins so hopefully they can add a few more on to that total.

Either way, I’m not expecting full steam ahead to the play-offs, sadly.

A message from the editor:

Thank you for reading. BirminghamWorld is Birmingham’s latest news website, championing everything that is great about our city - reporting on news, lifestyle and sport. We want to start a community among our readers, so please follow us on Facebook,Twitter and Instagram and keep the conversation going.