Birmingham City have been mediocre in the Championship over the past five years – and many fans of the second-tier side wouldn’t disagree with that statement.
For a side that were in the Premier League ten years ago, their decline to the bottom half of the Championship table in recent years has been gutting for Blues supporters who will be eager to see their side compete for a place back into the top flight.
In fairness, things could be much worse for the West Midlands outfit. Only a stoppage-time header from Paul Caddis on the final day of the 2013/14 season saved them from relegation to the third tier of English football, something that would have been a disaster considering the stature of the club in this country.
Quiz: Have each of these 24 ex-Birmingham City academy players ever played in the Premier League?
But under Lee Bowyer, they seem to be heading towards a much brighter future. Forget their 2-1 loss against Reading on Saturday afternoon, a look at the bigger picture tells you they could be heading for a better finish this term after making a fast start to their campaign in the opening two months.
Their 2-0 victory over Derby County in September took them up to the dizzy heights of fourth place before their loss in form – and after having a reasonably productive summer – a more comfortable finish in the second tier has to be their main priority in their quest to elevate themselves from previous mediocrity.
We do have to take a look back at the past though, and the present to some extent, as we select the best combined Birmingham lineup from the previous five years.
Let us know if you agree with these picks!
This was an extremely tough lineup to pick considering the Blues’ performances in the last five years, but one man who has definitely earned his place in the starting 11 is Neil Etheridge who was ever-present last term and would probably be number one still if it wasn’t for his Covid-19 hospitalisation.
David Stockdale would have been in with a shout had he played more, after making the surprise move from Brighton to St Andrew’s in 2017, but his lack of game time means it has to be the Philippines international who takes his place.
The full-back picks were also reasonably simple, with Kristian Pedersen and Maxime Colin both playing a big part for the club in recent seasons as the two established defensive wide men. The latter’s goal against Sheffield United on the opening day was impressive – and when he returns – he may get similar opportunities as an attacking wing-back.
There are more candidates to take up the centre-back positions, with George Friend, Michael Morrison, Harlee Dean and Marc Roberts all in with a shout. It may be harsh on the latter pair, but the former duo make it into this lineup.
You could argue the club not tying Morrison down to a new deal was a big mistake, because he was not only solid at the back, but also a threat from attacking set-pieces. Scoring six league goals during his final campaign in the West Midlands, they could do with his offensive threat and defensive solidity this term.
It was clear the second-tier outfit also missed Friend at the weekend after putting in such a solid display in midweek – and claims a deserved place in the lineup despite being at the club less time than Dean and Roberts. Well done to the former Middlesbrough man for adapting from being a full-back to a centre-half so well.
In midfield, England international Jude Bellingham has to be in there despite only making 41 league appearances for the club before his move to Borussia Dortmund last summer.
He lines up alongside Maikel Kieftenbeld, who is probably a bigger miss for the Midlands side than many people think and probably provided better value for money than Ivan Sunjic, despite the Serbian’s obvious talent.
Someone who spent even less time in the first team at Birmingham than Bellingham is Tahith Chong, who has now returned to Manchester United for treatment after being ruled out for the rest of the calendar year and beyond, but already showed in just a few months why the club moved to recruit him.
Without a doubt, he’s one of the most gifted players that Bowyer’s side have had in a number of years.
Ivan Sanchez earns his place on the other wing after recording ten goal contributions last term – but has the potential to do even better and has been a big miss whilst out injured. With the likes of the Spanish midfielder and Friend only joining in 2020, they don’t have the baggage some of their teammates do with the club’s mediocrity in the past five years.
Neither does Troy Deeney, who will no doubt be a magnificent addition for the club for at least the next year or two as a man of great experience in the top two tiers of English football.
It might be harsh to leave out Lukas Jutkiewicz and Scott Hogan, but Che Adams has to make his way into the lineup for a tremendous 2018/19 campaign, scoring 22 times in the league that term and now plying his trade in the top flight with Southampton.
He was a real bright spark for Scotland against England in the European Championships – and makes him one to watch for Birmingham fans who will be keen to see one of their former men thrive.