Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion approach their return to football with different mindsets. For Blues, it’s about conjuring up enough points to stave off the threat of a suicidal relegation dogfight. For Slaven Bilic’s Baggies, currently occupying the second automatic promotion spot, it’s about getting the job done.
By the time 3pm on Saturday rolls around, 105 days will have passed since Blues’ last Championship fixture – a 3-1 defeat at home to Reading. Since then, the football landscape has changed somewhat.
Instead of being roared on by a vociferous away contingent, Blues will be competing behind closed doors in front of the Sky Sports cameras. Perhaps that means the home advantage will be irrelevant too?
Departing Head Coach Pep Clotet will know the importance of picking up a positive result. While Blues may not be in immediate danger, a few defeats will soon have us all staring down the barrel.
It’s pretty difficult to preview a game after a three-month hiatus. As mentioned above, all form goes out of the window and teams start on a fairly even keel.
West Brom have been a highly impressive outfit this term. Only five defeats from 37 games has them on the verge of promotion to the Premier League once again. Bilic was an ambitious appointment back in the summer but one that has handsomely paid off. His team plays a bold, attacking style that has been richly rewarded with 64 goals, the division’s joint highest. Even after losing last season’s top scorer Dwight Gayle, who returned to Newcastle United, Bilic has unlocked goals from all over the pitch.
Hal Robson-Kanu is currently sitting at the top of their goal chart with 10 – hardly prolific. But behind him, Charlie Austin has 9, Matt Phillips 8, Matheus Pereira 6 and Semi Ajayi, Grady Diangana and Kenneth Zohore all have 5. Simply put, Baggies carry a threat from every position.
Their model is one that is looked upon with admiration from B9. Blues’ board would love nothing more than to replicate what Albion have done this season. Audacious manager, vibrant players, front-foot football – it has to be the aim.
The club is at a crossroads. Appointing Clotet’s successor is easily the biggest task they have encountered since taking over. Time is on their side but they have to get it right.
For every Gary Rowett lies a Steve Cotterill. For every Chris Hughton lies a Gianfranco Zola. Dong Ren and his colleagues have a big decision to make.
Despite the chaotic boardroom, the dugout at St. Andrew’s is an attractive one to a certain level of manager. They will inherit a club with potential and a team with sprinklings of quality but face a huge rebuilding job. Contrary to popular belief, the Head Coach will have a say in transfers, alongside a recruitment team.
I won’t divulge my first choice, firstly because my opinion changes on a daily basis and, secondly, it’ll be like wishing for Christmas and ending up with Covid-19.
I’m more inclined to say who I don’t want… anyone got an A3 sheet of paper?
Whatever happens on Saturday and over the course of the next nine games, it is great to have football back.
Stay safe and Keep Right On!!