It’s a sad fact that players who are currently not in the Birmingham City team will be considered by many on the Blues Messageboards as the missing link within the team; the chosen one who will lead the team back to winning ways, and McLeish is only leaving them out because he’s an idiot. It doesn’t matter how poorly the player has played in previous games, or how well the player he would be replacing is playing, McLeish is wrong and the internet is right.
Whilst this season has seen quite a few players assume this mantle – such as Aliaksandr Hleb, Matt Derbyshire and even young Nathan Redmond, one of the current missing messiahs is our loan signing from Tottenham Hotspur, David Bentley. After successive defeats away at Chelsea and Liverpool, despite cameo roles in both from the former England International many have criticised McLeish for leaving out Bentley, and going with a “too-defensive” 4-5-1/4-4-1-1 formation.
I have to admit, I was disappointed with the formation that Blues went with for the Liverpool game. Despite the fact that it was a tough away fixture, Liverpool were playing a couple of youngsters and the early exchanges showed that they were shaky at the back, with a couple of wobbles early on as we attacked them. The problem was that as we got to the final third, there was no-one there to finish – or in some cases even shoot on goal. With this in mind, you can understand why people would be calling for a more attack-minded formation and maybe more attacking players such as the aforementioned Bentley.
However, to blame the defeat on the fact Blues were too defensive is myopic. As they often have this season, defensive errors cost Birmingham City dearly. Too many times the ball was given away in promising positions for Liverpool; poor handling from Foster for the first and shocking positioning from Johnson for the second put Blues so far on the back foot it wouldn’t have mattered how many strikers we had on the pitch – Liverpool’s tails were in the air and it would have taken a miracle to beat them.
And this is where the whole argument of formations fall down. It’s one thing to blame the manager for the tactical set-up, but sometimes you have to look at individual players and say – yes, they had a poor game. One of the recent messageboard messiahs, Aliaksandr Hleb has come back into the team, and in reality has offered us nothing. I will agree he’s good at holding the ball, but he doesn’t have the cojones or the confidence to shoot on goal, and that extra pass when maybe he should shoot is often leading to moves breaking down. Bentley did nothing in either of his cameo roles in the last two games to suggest that giving him ninety minutes would improve the team; in my eyes he’s not done much at all this season since a promising start.
Wolves is a big game for McLeish. Blues have been poor in derby games all season; and this is a game that they just cannot afford to lose. Winning the game would all but confirm our safety; a draw wouldn’t be the end of the world but defeat would see us plunged back into the mixer. As much as I want to see us beat Wolves, I think McLeish needs to go right back to basics and ensure the team actually turns up and starts playing from the whistle. No silly mistakes, no sloppiness in defence and a desire to try and win the ball, to keep the ball and to attack the opposition would all add up to a decent performance; hopefully decent enough to ensure we win. I’m indifferent to the exact formation used, and I think there are probably 16 to 18 players who can justifiably make a case for inclusion in the first XI. What’s more important to me is that the eleven who are picked are ready to put themselves on the line to ensure we cross the line; and that come Sunday evening I’m happily thinking again of next season in the Premiership. It’s not going to come down to one man, no messiah here. After all, football is a team sport.