“Looking forward to Sunday?”
“Not at all”
The above is a typical conversation between myself and the several Blues fans I’ve had the joy of speaking to this week ahead of this Sunday’s Second City derby.
I don’t know a single person on the Blues side of the fence that actually enjoys them. And when the conversation turns to victory, many have the same mindset as me – it isn’t happening.
Perhaps I’m too pessimistic. One of the easiest ways to get through the nerves that accompany most Blues fixtures is by convincing myself that we will lose. It makes the highs more enjoyable and soften the semi-regular blow of defeat. Even during our recent unbeaten run, my retort to “how do you think we will get on this week” was “dreading it”.
Yet I will often analyse the upcoming fixture, review the statistics and pick holes in the opposition. How can we hurt them? Are they as organised as us? Are their full-backs capable of stopping ours? Who can handle Jutkiewicz? Can anybody cause our backline problems?
Leading into any V*lla game, I can’t do the above. The idea of entertaining victory is a non-starter and any attempts to discuss the game are shut down immediately.
It’s the only way I can manage to avoid thinking about the game. I’m not somebody that can live up to the bravado of proclaiming Blues victory prior to kick-off and the judgement surrounding V*lla games increases tenfold.
It’s worse during the game. Where I will often cast an eye on where I think the game is becoming to open up, I become too emotionally involved and am left frustrated by my sheer inability to concentrate. I’m in deep and struggle to cope with the anxiousness felt deep in the pit of my stomach. When I do start to think clearly, I’m often left asking myself “how long have I got left to suffer this?”
However, this is a match preview and therefore, I must preview the match. So, here’s my thoughts on Sunday’s game:
The biggest, most positive factor for Blues ahead of kick-off is Garry Monk being manager of our football club. He won’t make any rash comments or decisions, he will put his full trust in the players that he sends out onto the pitch and will focus on winning three points. This game is nothing more than another fixture in the calendar as far as he is concerned.
Monk is a cool, collected individual and he and his coaching staff will focus on getting the preparation right as they do every week. They will know that Blues’ best chance of earning a result on Sunday will come by keeping our shape, keeping our heads and being brave in possession when the opportunity arises.
They will be thankful for the experience through the spine of their starting XI, namely Michael Morrison, Maikel Kieftenbeld and Lukas Jutkiewicz who know all about this fixture. They will marshal a side that will continue in a 4-4-2 shape, one that will remain narrow, compact, organised and will only look to play when the option is on.
When Blues do get hold of possession, his players have to be confident and aggressive in their approach. A few strong attacks early on and the home crowd will grow nervous. That could spell trouble for a side whose mentality has come into question on more than one occasion this season.
The pressure is on the hosts to perform, to take the game to Blues, dominate and win. Anything less than three points is a disaster. If Blues can remain compact, organised and break at the right times, Blues can create a nervousness around the ground that may transfer to the players on the pitch, particularly those at the back – Neil Taylor and James Chester have come under fire this season.
V*lla have a very talented side but one with flaws and Blues have proven time and time again this season that we are capable of making the most of opposition deficiencies.
It’s all very tactical from a Blues point of view. Sunday won’t be fun. Not for Blues fans in the stadium, not for Blues fans standing in pubs or watching at home. Not for neutrals hoping for a feisty Championship derby. Monk won’t let his players run amok. This will be a cool, calculated display because it will be treated like any other Championship fixture.
There will be no prediction for me this week. I can’t handle it. I’m seriously that painstakingly boring. But Blues have overcome the odds on so many occasions this season that it’s almost understandable as to why so many believe we can end our 14-year hoodoo on Sunday.
Now, can we get to the final whistle already?
Gary Gardner’s loan agreement means that he is unavailable for Sunday’s Second City derby. It means Garry Monk will have to decide whether to give Charlie Lakin his fifth league start of the season or restore Craig Gardner into his starting XI. Monk is expecting Jota and Jacques Maghoma to be available despite respective hip and ankle injuries. David Davis and Isaac Vassell are out.
Dean Smith could be without captain James Chester and midfielder John McGinn for the clash with both subject to late fitness tests. Neil Taylor is expected to return to the V*lla squad but Birkir Bjarnason is out with a groin strain.
Birmingham City: 12th
Overall: Played 17; Won 5, Drawn 9, Lost 3; For 23, Against 20, GD 3; Points 24
Last six away: Played 6; Won 2, Drawn 3, Lost 1; For 7, Against 7; GD 0; Points 9
Most starts: Colin, Morrison, Dean, Pedersen, Jota, Jutkiewicz – 17
Most goals: Lukas Jutkiewicz – 9
Worst discipline: Maikel Kieftenbeld – 3 yellow cards & 1 red card
Aston V*lla: 11th
Overall: Played 17; Won 6, Drawn 6, Lost 5; For 27, Against 23, GD 4; Points 24
Last six at home: Played 6; Won 3, Drawn 2, Lost 1; For 10, Against 6, GD 4; Points 3
Most starts: Alan Hutton & Jack Grealish – 17
Most goals: Tammy Abraham – 5
Worst discipline: John McGinn – 6 yellow cards
When we last met:
Aston V*lla 2-0 Birmingham City
“Do I have to?” “Yes” “I know I do this every week, but do I have to?” “Yes.” “Okay.”
A Birmingham City side managed by Steve Cotterill turned up to V*lla Park in February. We lost, obviously, 2-0. Albert Adomah and Conor Hourihane scored the goals. And Cheick N’Doye received his marching orders for starting on John Terry.
Opposition Player to Watch: Jack Greal*sh
Only because you’ll see Maikel Kieftenbeld absolutely nail the greasy haired ******.
Blues’ next five fixtures:
28/11/2018: Millwall (A) – 19:45
01/12/2018: Preston North End (H) – 15:00
08/12/2018: Bristol City (H) – 15:00
15/12/2018: Blackburn Rovers (A) – 15:00
22/12/2018: Wigan Athletic (A) – 15:00