At the start of the season, an away trip to newly promoted Birmingham City would be viewed as no great challenge, but the form of Alex McLeish’s team means that they must be treated as a very serious threat.
Their midweek defeat to Chelsea brought an end to an unbeaten run stretching back 15 games. Had we beaten Hull and got a point at Anfield, we could perhaps look at this game as one that we could afford to draw. Unfortunately we really need the points and a win is going to be a tall order.
Birmingham’s success has come on the back of keeping things very tight. Rather strangely, this is truer of them at home than away. Along with Fulham, the 6 goals that Birmingham have conceded at home, is the least of any Premier League club. However, they are just as stingy in front of goal, having scored only 9, which puts them as the equal lowest scorers in the division with Wolves. It must be really fun to have a season ticket at St Andrews.
So it’s clearly going to be a struggle to score and if we do nick it, then something like 1-0 will probably have to suffice. Having got back to winning ways against Fulham, the big question is whether Harry will stick to the same team and back them to produce again.
The major decision lies in midfield. Lennon is injured, but Kranjcar is available again having been ill on Tuesday. So will Bentley get another chance, or will Kranjcar return?
We did look a better side for having some natural width against Fulham, with Modric pretty much sticking to his flank also. Because of that, I’d say that we shouldn’t alter a winning team, although of course the natural reservation is the fact that Bentley could very well fail to perform, as he has done so many times for us.
The only other change that I’d anticipate is Ledley dropping down for Bassong. Up front, Crouch must surely keep his place alongside Defoe, after scoring in successive games. We might see Gudjohnsen on the bench, probably at the expense of Pavlyuchenko, who may well be thrashing out a deal to join the home side.
Much as we need all the points, I’ve a funny feeling that we’ll come away with a draw. Better teams than us have failed to win at Birmingham this season, so it will be no real disgrace, though still bloody annoying.