Behind Enemy Lines: Birmingham City

AFTER Tuesday night's Championship results, Millwall can once more reduce the gap to the top six to four points if they beat Birmingham City at The Den.

It's the first of two home games this week, with the visit of Bristol City on Saturday.

Alex Grace caught up with Birmingham fan Ryan Deeney ahead of tonight's clash.

Why do you support Birmingham?

Like many football fans, this is a family story. Almost my entire family are Birmingham City supporters and I was brought along for the ride at an early age.

What's been your favourite season following Blues?

Probably the 2006-07 season. We had a remarkable record of earning results with 10 men, while the victories against Wolves and Sheffield Wednesday to seal promotion to the Premier League were incredible.

And the worst?

Steve Cotterill spent a large portion of the 2017-18 season in charge and the football was the most dire it has been in my lifetime.

Watching Garry Monk dispel every Cotterill myth during the final 11 games was glorious.

What have you made of Birmingham's campaign to date?

In a word, inconsistent. When Pep Clotet has stuck to a system and personnel, we've done well. When he hasn't, we've been horrific.

Few expected more than a mid-table finish and that is where we are currently. The emergence of 16-year-old midfielder Jude Bellingham has been hugely exciting, and our summer business was largely impressive.

Were you satisfied with the club's January transfer business?

Our hands have been somewhat tied by FFP meaning David Davis, Fran Villalba and Alvaro Gimenez were allowed to leave, and youngsters Steve Seddon and Odin Bailey were, in my opinion, rightly loaned out to get regular first-team football.

I think the reduction in first-team numbers has benefitted Clotet, who has had to stick to a rigid selection process. Meanwhile Scott Hogan, our only addition, has been a revelation.

What are your ambitions for the rest of the season?

We're probably not going down and unlikely to reach the play-offs. I'd just like to see us continue showing consistency in performance and selection between now and the end of the season. A platform to build from in the summer.

Is Pep Clotet the right man to lead Birmingham into next season?

The big question. Clotet has come in for criticism for some strange tactical decisions, both at the start of and during games.

Many have said that he is a fantastic coach and our recent form suggests he is aware of the team's strengths. If we continue to perform strongly for the rest of the campaign, he will likely get a chance to build further.

But if he left tomorrow I don't think many fans would be too upset.

How have you rated Millwall's season to date?

I like Millwall and thought Neil Harris stepping aside when he did said plenty about the togetherness of the club and its fan base.

The appointment of Gary Rowett immediately alleviated any fears of relegation and he's done the job I fully expected of him – the same job he did at Blues back in 2014-15.

The play-offs are likely to be a step too far, but he's given Millwall something to shout about.

I loved him when he was in charge of Blues. He turned us from a shambles into a very stable Championship side.

He had a good tactical nous, particularly defensively, and given the lack of resources did a fantastic job.

My one criticism, and it sounded like a similar story at Derby, is that his team became so much more fearful in the final stages of the campaign when you need players and managers to be brave and turn draws into victories.

If you could sign two Millwall players, who would they be and why?

Jed Wallace is the obvious one. The guy never stops and our fans would love him.

I like Ben Thompson and Jayson Molumby. Bartosz Bialkowski would probably help our goalkeeping woes.

But I would probably plump for Matt Smith – to stop him finding the net against us!

Will you be at the game?

I will, yes. I often can't make weekend away days so look forward to the midweek fixtures.

What is your predicted Birmingham starting XI and formation?

Provided everybody is fit, we should line in a 4-4-2 system:

Camp; Colin, Roberts, Clarke-Salter, Pedersen; Bela, G Gardner, Sunjic, Bellingham; Hogan, Jutkiewicz.

Finally, a score prediction?

A cold Wednesday night fixture between two of the most direct sides in the division. I'll go 1-1 in a game of few chances.

Graphic: @ShedCreative