In previous years these previews have been relatively easy to write as the objectives are clear and the strengths and weaknesses of the team have been identifiable. This year is a bit different though, as with just a few days to go to the start of the 2011-12 football league, Blues find themselves very much in turmoil. The starting line-up for the Derby game is almost set but it’s anyone’s guess who will be in the first Birmingham City squad of September. A number of players could still leave and – hopefully – some will join to replace them, and those that have already departed. There are a few off field issues to sort out as well but I’m not going to dwell on them. How this season ends could well be defined by what happens in the next four weeks. Predictions on the forum of our likely finishing position range from 2nd to 24th and I for one would not be confident in placing a bet on where we’ll end up come May. Having said that, if I had written in last year’s preview that we would win the Carling Cup and get relegated with 39 points, few people would have assumed I was being serious.
Looking at the current squad, it is clear that we do not have enough numbers to cope with 50+ games even if no one else leaves. The team that played against Everton could be bolstered by Jerome, Dann, Zigic and Beausejour but I expect few if any of them to still be around at the end of the month. It looks like goals will have to come from Marlon King and Adam Rooney who you would think would do OK at this level if they can play well together. I know little about Gomis but the signing of Chris Burke at least gives us a proper winger to provide for the front men. The thing I’m most looking forward to this season is seeing Nathan Redmond getting more game time because he is an exciting player with great pace and a few tricks. It is expected that Jordon Mutch and Keith Fahey will be a greater influence on the team but I thought it was strange that Michel was stuck on the bench against Everton. If he’s staying he should be playing shouldn’t he? In defence we should still remain reasonably solid with Steven Caldwell and Curtis Davies forming the most likely centre back partnership. If he stays, I would prefer that Liam Ridgewell remains at left back. Latest signing Jonathan Spector will add cover in multiple positions.
The other great unknown this season is which teams are the favourites for promotion. West Ham should be strong and Leicester have spent money but after that it could be any one of ten sides. Last year’s playoff teams Nottingham Forest, Reading and Cardiff will most likely challenge again and Blackpool have not been too badly affected by the drop (other than losing Charlie Adam of course!). Add to that Middlesbrough, Leeds and the promoted sides Brighton and Southampton there will be a lot of competition this year. The Championship season is a long slog so achieving consistency is the key but it is also possible to recover from a bad start as Reading did last year. We shouldn’t panic too much if we are not in the top six come November. Sneaking into sixth on the last day of the season may be as good for promotion as finishing twenty points clear at the top. They may be referred to as the “Dreaded” playoffs but I personally wouldn’t mind another chance to go to Wembley.
But what if we don’t go up? Will this be instead a season of consolidating and building for the future so we can avoid ending up like other ex-Premiership clubs who now occupy Leagues One and Two such as the Sheffield sides and Charlton Athletic? Is promotion too much to hope for considering the current financial state of the club? It has clearly been decided that if Chris Hughton is going to get us up then he is going to have to do it the hard way. He seems the right man for the challenge. Our last Championship season was so dull I can barely remember most of the games so if nothing else this year I want us to score more goals and have more fun. It’s a good sign that we are taking so many fans to Derby and I hope for good crowds at St Andrews this season. Us fans can make a difference and perhaps there are reasons to be optimistic after all. I’m really looking forward to this year with the added interest of the Europa Cup to add to the uncertainty. It’ll just be nice to finally see some football being played, it seems to have been a long off-season.
Enjoy the season whatever happens.