Date: 19th October 2018 at 5:25pm
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Unbeaten in eight and on the back of our first home win of the season, Garry Monk and his team are rightly being lauded for the kind of performances that have left everybody associated with Birmingham City scratching their heads when answering why we sit 17th in the Championship.

Much of the recent acclaim has fallen the way of Lukas Jutkiewicz who has matched his entire goal total for last season in his past two home matches, scoring five against lowly Ipswich Town and Rotherham United.

Jota is beginning to pay off his transfer fee with the kind of form expected of a man that Harlee Dean named “the player” of the Championship. He has four assists in his past two matches and played a key role in the second of Juke’s hat-trick too.

Everybody has been deserving of praise. Michael Morrison has returned to the kind of form that saw him rewarded with the captaincy under Gary Rowett, Che Adams bagged twice against Leeds United and remained a key part of the starting XI recently while Maikel Kieftenbeld has been at his tenacious best.

And then there is Kristian Pedersen.

The Danish left-back is statistically one of the best defenders in the division. He sits 7th in the Sky Sports Power Rankings and is the 9th best player in the division according to Whoscored.

No defender has made more interceptions per game and only three players make more tackles per game than the Blues number 3. When it comes to being dribbled past, he sits way down in 93rd below prestigious names such as Kieran Gibbs, Barry Douglas and team-mate Maxime Colin.

He looks the part too. He stands at six foot two inches tall, he’s built like a brick shithouse and runs like a racehorse. Furthermore, he absolutely loves defending, be it a crunching sliding challenging on a winger half his size or powering a header away from danger. He’s fearless.

It all sounds like we’ve signed the perfect left-back, especially when you consider the impact he made against Leeds United, assisting the first and winning the challenge that set up the second.

But first impressions count and views were mixed after the opener versus Norwich City.

All eyes were on Pedersen ahead of this one. His transfer to the club had been marred by the circumstances surrounding Blues’ failure to comply with Financial Fair Play, the immediate backlash being that permission was only granted for the Dane to make his competitive debut days before the season started.

His first game was a big test. Daniel Farke has done wonders at Norwich City, trusting young, unproven or unwanted prodigies and turning them into one of the most creative, intuitive and energetic outfits in the Championship, one capable of causing problems both in and out of possession. Blues had to mix tenacity and discipline with precision and confidence.

Despite conceding twice in the final 15 minutes, the overriding feeling was one of positivity as Blues left with a 2-2 draw and statistically, Pedersen was one of the best players on the pitch.

According to Whoscored, only Craig Gardner and Lukas Jutkiewicz out-performed the Blues debutant. Pedersen had more touches than any other Blues player, made two key passes and lost only one of his three aerial battles and six attempted tackles. He did commit two fouls but both Gardner and Che Adams committed more.

But this is where the line between statistics and the naked eye differ. The statistics don’t provide fans with guidance on just how nervous Pedersen looked, defending flat-footed and struggling to deal with the movement in and around him.

It seemed that everybody wanted their say afterwards. Some fans saw the rawness of his display and thought there was something to work on. Others were left wondering whether Pedersen was worth the hassle.

My Grandad questioned why Monk was playing his new recruit out of position and hanging him out to dry on the left-hand side of the back four, a friend mocked his Sunday League-esque defending technique and the bloke who sits behind me at the ground was so scarred by that opening display that he breathes heavily every time the ball goes near Pedersen to this day. It makes for good fun.

That opening display has also had an affect on the statistics that you read 12 games into the campaign. The numbers are notably high for Blues from a defensive point of view given we spend more of our game chasing the opposition, pressing high and playing without the ball.

But it’s also notable that it’s Pedersen whose numbers have increased more than anybody else’s. He often has more touches of the ball, plays more passes, makes more interceptions and tackles. Teams are targeting him, believing he might be the weaker link and it’s to his credit that Pedersen has dug in and proven people wrong.

Pedersen has been forced to learn on the job against some of the finest wingers and teams in the division. Blues have played six of the top seven already and Pedersen has steadily improved as a result of each challenge he has faced. That has included playing against Jack Harrison, Matt Phillips and Sergi Canos directly.

Pedersen’s influence has increased too. He had a major impact against Leeds United, produced arguably his finest display of the season away at Brentford and followed that up with a display that led many people to say “Pedersen’s been MOTM today. Well, if it wasn’t for Juke’s hat-trick he would have been”.

Finally, there is the stylistic differences between him and the man he has replaced – Jonathan Grounds.

Grounds worked very hard to prove the doubters wrong at St.Andrews and if it wasn’t for a late season injury, he may well have been named Player of the Season last term. But Grounds was a limited full-back, an immobile defender who couldn’t be left isolated and offered very little in the final third. While Pedersen remains raw, it’s clear already just why Monk chose to replace Grounds with a more mobile, powerful and tenacious full-back, first in Wes Harding and secondly in Pedersen.

There is work to do. He impressed when up against Matt Phillips but he switched off once against one of the most prolific wide men in the division and was punished. The same happened against Rotherham when he allowed Jon Taylor to get in front of him and Harlee Dean to prod home from close range, Dean’s reaction suggesting communication was minimal at best.

For now, Blues are in a transitional period and Monk is getting the most out of the players available to him, clearly improving both their mental attributes and tactical understandings of the game.

Pedersen is one of the beneficiaries and the signs are that he might just be worth the hassle that has come with his signature.

 

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