Wednesday wasn’t pretty but Garry Monk and the fans received a huge boost watching Blues regain their toughness and confidence following a difficult period.
It feels like every match preview and report I am praising the desire, organisation and commitment of this Blues team but those qualities had vanished during games against Derby County, Hull City and Aston V*lla. Blues lacked steel and few stood up to be counted.
Millwall offered a real physical threat and Blues appeared to enjoy it for the most part, winning 50-50’s and aerial duels all over the pitch. Michael Morrison was outstanding while Kristian Pedersen endeared himself further to the Blues crowd by taking on Steve Morison head on, refusing to shy away when others may have struggled against a wily old pro on his home turf.
Blues did struggle going forward, particularly in the second half when Che Adams and Lukas Jutkiewicz appeared to start flagging given the weight of two high-intensity games. It didn’t help that Blues struggled to move the ball into the right areas of the field, so often leaving the wide men isolated or worse, launching the ball nowhere near its intended target.
Preston North End will offer something completely different this Saturday. Alex Neil has taken the good work done by Simon Grayson and created a young, hungry team full of pace and raw ability. Callum Robinson and Alan Browne have stepped up so far this season but there are a whole host of ex-academy or lower league talents thriving at Deepdale in recent times.
What Preston have all over the pitch are players that are confident in possession, able to take charge of the ball and their attacks are often fluid with runners coming from all angles. They have scored a whopping 31 goals already this season – only bettered by four of the top five and Aston V*lla.
However, Preston sit 17th in the Championship and their defence has been a cause for concern. While Blues will have to remain organised from start to finish, they also have to show bravery going forward as the Lilywhites are evidently capable of shipping goals – only basement side Ipswich have conceded more.
It means that Saturday could see Blues be a little more optimistic in their approach, albeit cautiously. Maxime Colin, Kristian Pedersen and Maikel Kieftenbeld will be allowed to venture away from the defensive third a little bit more and there should be extra space for the likes of Connor Mahoney, Che Adams and Jacques Maghoma to break, if they can move the ball quick enough.
This won’t be a pretty Blues display but the victory on Wednesday should ensure that this is a more confident display. Add three points to the mix and Blues fans can begin December in joyous mood.
Garry Monk could name an unchanged starting XI for the visit of Preston North End this Saturday. Jota will again be assessed prior to kick-off but David Davis and Isaac Vassell will miss out.
Preston North End:
Alex Neil has endured a major injury crisis of late but could see Ben Davies return after a hamstring problem. Callum Robinson, Sean Maguire, Daniel Johnson, Billy Bodin and Josh Harrop are all out injured with youngster Jack Baxter potentially joining up with the squad.
Birmingham City: 10th
Overall: Played 19; Won 6, Drawn 9, Lost 4; For 27, Against 24, GD 3; Points 27
Last six at home: Played 6; Won 3, Drawn 3, Lost 0; For 14, Against 9; GD 5; Points 12
Most starts: Colin, Morrison, Dean, Pedersen, Jutkiewicz – 19
Most goals: Lukas Jutkiewicz – 10
Worst discipline: Maikel Kieftenbeld – 5 yellow cards & 1 red card
Preston North End: 17th
Overall: Played 19; Won 5, Drawn 7, Lost 7; For 31, Against 32, GD -1; Points 22
Last six away: Played 6; Won 1, Drawn 3, Lost 2; For 8, Against 11, GD -3; Points 6
Most starts: Callum Robinson – 17
Most goals: Callum Robinson – 9
Worst discipline: Ben Pearson – 6 yellow cards & 1 red card
When we last met:
Preston North End 1-1 Birmingham City
Another game under the stewardship of Steve Cotterill but one we surprisingly dominated, having 52% of the possession and a whopping 17 shots – only 3 of which were on target, perhaps a dull summary of his time in charge at the club. Ben Davies opened the scoring before Sam Gallagher’s second-half equaliser. Another impressive point during Cotterill’s mini-revival of the side.
Opposition Player to Watch: Alan Browne
With an array of Preston forwards missing the game, it seems only appropriate to hang their hopes on 6-goal midfielder Alan Browne, the attacking midfielder whose energy and power has made him one of the most efficient forward-thinking midfielders in the Championship. Gardner and Keiftenbeld have a job denying his late runs into the box.
Birmingham City 2-0 Preston North End
Blues’ next five fixtures:
08/12/2018: Bristol City (H) – 15:00
15/12/2018: Blackburn Rovers (A) – 15:00
22/12/2018: Wigan Athletic (A) – 15:00
26/12/2018: Stoke City (H) – 15:00
29/12/2018: Brentford (H) – 15:00