This is a funny old time of year for any team in the Championship. Depending on how you’ve fared, you could be singing, crying, or tearing your hair out. Any team from the Championship can be sorted into one of these categories:
1) Promoted – this is the holy grail of this league, you’re going to be playing Premier League football next season.
2) Qualified for Play-offs – this means that you have put in a great effort to win the league or come second for automatic promotion, but face a knockout competition between four teams to bag the third promotion spot.
3) Mid-table – not too bad, it’s a tough league, but next year you expect to mount a serious push for promotion.
4) Bottom-half – possibly disappointed, looking for positives, changes in staff may be called for.
5) Relegated – says it all really. Very hard to come straight back up when this happens.
I find myself in the second category, in the play-offs with Birmingham finishing a very surprising fourth this year. We have had so many off-field problems that no-one expected Chris Hughton to get us to within touching distance of being promoted back into the Premiership at the first time of asking.
If someone said to me at the start of the season that we would finish in the top half of the table, I would have ripped their arm off and taken that. I was convinced that we were going to really struggle, and find ourselves in a relegation dog-fight. If the worst had happened and we found ourselves in League 1, I’m not sure how long it would have taken for us to get back out.
Can you imagine the stick from all of those Villa fans across the way too? It would have been relentless.
Luckily, it hasn’t come to that. We have had an awesome season considering the precarious position of the club.
The problem is that now we are in the play-offs and I can taste the Premier League. If we don’t get through the knockouts, I can’t help but think I’m going to feel disappointed. I know this is wrong, but when is anything ever right in football when your heart takes over? I know that finishing 4th is fine, there’s no shame in it. But I just can’t stop believing.
As it stands, the first game of the play-offs kicked off on Thursday night with West Ham beating Cardiff 2-0 away which puts them in the driving seat when they go back to the Boleyn Ground. Birmingham were drawn away against Blackpool, a tie that we made very hard for ourselves, and ended up losing 1-0.
That game, for me, was very infuriating. Now that finishing fourth is not enough, I was convinced that we could go to Bloomfield Road and get something. Not only get something, but make relative light work of it. I was mistaken. We really did not compete for anything, we didn’t offer anything going forward, and when the ball did manage to make it to the final third, Marlon King was invariably offside or gave the ball away.
One thing I’d like to point out, where were all of the Blackpool fans? the stadium was half empty with an attendance just short of 14,000. Bear in mind that there were about 3,000 Bluenoses there, who were making more noise than the other lot.
So will that teach me for getting too caught up in the hype? In a word, no.
We are due to welcome Blackpool to St. Andrews on Wednesday night, with a sell-out crowd. This place is a fortress when it’s rocking, we have only lost 1 game at home all season. The best home record in the league. Add this to the play-off confidence boost and I’m yet again convinced that we can turn them over, and make it through to the final.
This has more logic behind it than the first leg, but not too much more. Blackpool know that they have to come at us, and peg us back. They have the staff to more than capably do this too, with the likes of Dobbie and Ince. They really hurt us on Friday, we have to keep them quiet.
The crowd will be roaring, and pushing on a depleted Birmingham team, that will be chomping at the bit to get through to the final. A lovely quote from Ian Holloway after the first leg after hearing the noise that the 3,000 strong away support was making, “Cor they love their football those Brummies don’t they? Very passionate”.
All of this being said, I know deep down that I’ll be gutted if we get knocked out, even though I know that reaching this stage in the first place is a major achievement. But it doesn’t stop me dreaming.