So this is it! If Fulham were to win over Birmingham and Cardiff City were to get anything but a win over Reading, Fulham gains direct promotion to the Premier League. And they will do so off the back of 24-straight games unbeaten. On days like today, this could go down as one of the most historic days in modern club history, or it could go down in agony. The latter may be a stretch because Fulham will still be the top seed of the four heading towards the playoffs, but after going through a painstakingly unlucky two-legged affair with Reading last season, I’m sure the rest of the supporters will not want to go through those emotions ever again.
Either way, Fulham have loads to play for and they will not want to lose such a wonderful opportunity. Along with that, Birmingham has loads to play for as well as they are not that far away from relegation towards League One. These are some dark times for a club that used to be hosting Premier League opposition but have just continued to see their standing in English football since Carson Yeung’s tenure as owner. Even if his imprint is no longer at St. Andrew’s, Birmingham are still suffering the consequences.
With this year, in particular, they are under their fourth manager in this season alone. Out go Harry Redknapp, Lee Carsley, and Steve Cotterill. In comes Gary Monk. And in some rarified positive air on the club, Monk has been solid as a manager for the club since taking over. In his nine games in charge, Birmingham may have only been outscored 13-12, but their expected goals count has seen them put up a 15.3-10.3 advantage. As a result, a total of 13 points have been collected out of a maximum 27 during that span. That could be enough to stave them off regulation.
That being said, only three points separate them from the drop and it will be curtains for them if two teams (Barnsley and either Burton Albion or Bolton depending on how their fixture fairs) so there is no way they can go away quietly. Monk has been able to implement a 4-4-2 formation that has been a solid bandage towards their long-standing problem: being able to score goals. While their defense could be better, their attack has been the more inexplicable to figure out. From a total shots standpoint, Monk has been able to improve the squad on that side of the game where they are both 12th best in the league in both attack and defense. But from an expected goals standpoint, they still are not there when it comes to shot quality on both sides of the ball.
Until that changes with an improved roster, Birmingham will continue to be a poor Championship club that will continue to stave off relegation. Until then, all it takes in a one-game-changes-everything is for one lucky bounce to put Birmingham in euphoria and for Fulham to see their dreams crushed for one week. On that note, let’s take a look at three players Fulham will have to get the better off in order to gain all three points.
First up for Birmingham is the 25-year old Brentford fullback. It has been a struggling season for Colin as his defensive contributions and his dribbling rates, two of his biggest strengths, are at career lows since his arrival to England. That being said, Colin has always been strong in the air and can whip in an accurate cross into the box.
After making his professional debut with Boulogne in 2010, he made the rise to Ligue 1 in 2012 for Troyes before moving to Anderlecht in 2014. While in Belgium, Colin experienced his only taste so far in European Club football via the Europa League before moving to Brentford in 2016. He has not looked back since then and Colin hopes to continue to bring his continental experience over to Birmingham for the three remaining years of his contract.
While this season can be deemed a disappointing one, there has been one bright spot of late. Of late, Birmingham has been using the 21-year old Harding into their starting XI and he has played in their last eight fixtures. During that span, he has shown to move the ball on the dribble while being solid in the air and a solid tackle to dribbled-past ratio.
Hardings’ presence has been a good one for not only Monk but also for his left-wing partner, Jota. With Harding’s diversity in skills, it has allowed the former Brentford man to get more involved in the attack via the dribble.
Lastly, we take a look at one of the mainstays up front this season in Jutkiewicks. It hasn’t been until this past season that the former Bolton and Burnley man has finally gotten a long run of games. When he has been on, the 29-year old has been known as a volume shooter with an ever-improving shot on target ratio. However, his career 5.7% goal conversion rate is simply not good enough beyond becoming a starter for a bottom half of the Championship level club. Welp, that type of club is Birmingham and at 4 goals and 1 assist, that simply is not good enough production at center forward. Once Monk receives a good chunk for the summer transfer window, I am sure getting an upgrade at this position will be his biggest priority.