According to most, Birmingham’s incredible success in the Premier League this season is all down to the terrific centre half pairing that has been assembled between Scott Dann and Roger Johnson – who just last season were lying in the midtable of the Football League’s Championship.
Now, as we approach the New Year, the Blues lie in a healthy 7th position, one point ahead of Liverpool and one point behind Manchester City.
McLeish made the decision to bank his team’s defensive duties on the two Englishmen, who made a name for themselves in the Coca Cola Championship last season with Coventry and Cardiff. The incredible gamble cost a combined fee of £10million, and the result couldn’t have come any better.
Birmingham’s success this year starts from the bottom. While the forwards, which includes £8million striker Chucho Benitez, haven’t been firing on all cylinders, the defense that has been created here has contributed more to their twenty-eight point tally then any other area on the field.
Between the sticks is the fantastic England U21 goalkeeper Joe Hart, the man expected to adopt the England #1 spot after the World Cup next summer. On the right is the previously retired Stephen Carr, who decided to put up his slippers and cups of tea to don a pair of football boots again. Carr is now captain at St. Andrews, after his collosal work in getting them to the Premier League last season. The left back position has been shared between a number of players this season, most recently Liam Ridgewell, a fine centre half, whose aeriel prowess has further solidified the backline.
And in the middle is Roger Johnson and Scott Dann. In the air, or on the ground, they’ve put their body on the line and cleared every sight of danger quickly and extremely effectively – an assurance that has gathered seven clean sheets this season. They’ve displayed a commitment and dedication any team in the Premier League would love to have right now, including Sir Alex Ferguson who I’m sure would walk over broken glass for such a consistent pairing in his current defensive crisis. And not to mention Manchester City, who splashed out over treble the amount on what has turned out to be a feeble defense.
“The type of mentalities they’ve got, they are winners, they want to win. They’ll throw themselves at balls on the edge of the box, you see the bravery of Roger taking one in the throat (against Manchester City) and getting killed by his teammates when they saw him gasping for breath. These two boys want it, I know they want it.”
– Alex McLeish
This all proves that talent can thrive in the lower leagues, one that is just waiting to be uncovered. Alex McLeish has unearthed two rocksteady players who will be fixed assests in the Premier League for the majority of their careers. Buying Premier League experience is costly, especially when it comes to strenghtening your defense. With the right scouting homework, Premier League managers can uncover gems for a fraction of the price they splash out on the Kolo Toure’s and Joleon Lescott’s of the league.
The Birmingham train rolls into Stamford Bridge this Boxing Day to face a powerful Chelsea attack, a challenge the breaking down these two.
“The more we play together, the better we will get. We never got the chance earlier in the season because I was a bit longer coming back from injury than Roger. But we’re starting to knit together quite nicely I think and long may it continue.”
– Scott Dann