Post Chelsea: where do we go from here?

Nat, one of our forum regulars, has written this article post Wednesday!

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Looking back, I can still barely believe it. Birmingham City going fifteen games unbeaten whilst in the top-flight, a team that less than a year ago huffed and puffed like the Big Bad Wolf in getting out of the Championship. A team at that point that did well to string fifteen passes together, never mind results. It has to be written down to be believed, draws in the league at home to United, Citeh and Chelsea, and then more draws in the league at Anfield and Goodison. Smash and grab raids at Wigan and Stoke, and to top it all, a place in the FA Cup fifth round for the first time in four years, as a result of our first win at Goodison since Ken was born.

But it’s over. We barely even had time to raise the white flag before Malouda bagged the first. Lampard effectively ended the contest and our unbeaten streak before half-time. You can try and point to different reasons for the collapse but I think the reason for our comprehensive defeat is the same reason Chelsea are top of the league. We were playing against a top quality side, who would blow away most teams if they play to anywhere near their best.

It gives us a right bump to earth though. I think even the most optimistic Bluenose realises that, deep down, the European tour we sing about remains nothing more than a pipeline dream in terms of qualifying via the Premier League. Wednesday served as a reminder that we are still a bazillion light-years from regularly being able to go toe-to-toe with the elite of the elite. Finishing in a comfortable mid-table position would still count as a great season for us, anywhere higher than that and Alex McLeish gets the keys to the city.

Of course, I am discounting our Cup run. A juicy (and VERY winnable) tie at Derby leaves us, not within touching distance, but relatively close to Wembley. We’re only two games from the Semi-final and what would be my first visit to our National Stadium. If (and it’s a huge IF) we could even get to the Semi-final, or dare I dream, the Final, it would probably top off what is turning into an incredible season, the pride I’d feel watching Blues at Wembley for the first time would surpass seeing us play twice at the Millenium Stadium, what a great end to a fantastic season it would be. Still, we’ve got to get past Derby first. I once saw us lose a Fifth-round tie against a second-tier Sunderland when we we’re in the top-half of the Premier League under Steve Bruce, so I’m taking nothing for granted.

To get anywhere quickly though, there was a clear need for reinforcements. Our backline is well covered, and the two (in my opinion) shrewd signings of Michel from Sporting Gee-hon and Craig Gardner from the Sty gives us a boost in the middle. But as everyone knows, we need strikers. It’s not as if Chucho and Cameron are particularly bad players, they’ve done relatively well together, but behind them we have Kevin Phillips (I’d be quite surprised to see him start another game for Blues), Gary O’Connor (I’d be very surprised to see him start another game for Blues) and, returning from a glorious loan spell at ‘Boro, Marcus Bent (I would be in two minds as whether to leave a match if I ever saw him play for Blues again).

Quite simply, we need an extra option. At the time of writing, a deal to bring Aruna Dindane to Blues is apparently all but agreed for £4million. I’m not particularly enamoured with the prospect of him coming in, especially at the price. He just seems to be all tricks but no delivery, ala Quincy perhaps. But I suppose we could do worst than him for back up. The more exciting prospect is the on-off deal to bring Roman Pavlyuchenko to Blues. The lad has strength, height, skill and an eye for goal, four things that when rolled into one make him a class act. Colin Tattum says the deal could be on between us and Spurs, and the lad wants to come, which would be great. I genuinely seem him as a cornerstone of turning Blues from also-rans into genuine challengers in the top half of the League.

Still even if we don’t nab him, I won’t be too perturbed. We’re in a League position which means we aren’t desperate for points. We aren’t in a need to sign whoever we can get. We’re comfortable. Our pre-season objective has pretty much been achieved already, we can pick and choose who we sign. If the right player comes along at a reasonable price, then sign him. But if that player is unavailable then not to worry, there will be more available in the Summer and beyond.

Portsmouth and West Ham in the past few months have shown us the consequences of spending money willy-nilly. They are in a total mess right now. We need to maintain that our house remains in order, whilst still having the ambition to progress continually. And then there’s the fact that mad signings could upset the applecart in the dressing room. The players we have, just by looking at our do or die performances recently, have a strong bond and a fluency that comes from playing with each other week-in week-out. Why upset that now? Bring in players who could provide alternatives to the players we have if need be, but only bring in ingredients that would garnish the recipe, not alter it.

Still I’m looking too far ahead, as Big ‘Eck would preach, take things one step at a time. We’ve got two big home games coming up. Spurs at home tomorrow will be tricky, but aren‘t an insurmountable challenge. They play good football under Twitch, and are pretty much impregnable at White Hart Lane, but for me never seem to be the same grizzly monster outside their own cage. Our last home defeat came towards the end of September, and who’s going to whole heartedly bet against us tomorrow?

Then next week the Dingles come to town. A tough game in a different regard. Whereas Spurs offer a multitude of talent, Wolves are probably the most untalented footballing team I’ve seen in the Premier League this season, with the possible exception of Blackburn. But Mick McCarthy seems to have rallied them to the point where they have half a chance of survival. They don’t score many goals, and aren’t totally competent in their own penalty box, but Wolves always give 110% every game. In a local derby where they will be kicking and scrapping for every point they can muster in what for them, in my opinion, will be a desperate battle for survival for the, they present themselves as tough opponents.

Two tough games, but both winnable. Two wins and six points would mean we are sitting thirty-nine points at the start of February. And then we’re laughing, right?

Keep Right On (hopefully to Wembley!)

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