Less than two months ago, Birmingham were second in the Championship, averaging two points per game, and manager Gary Rowett was embracing raised expectations, talking up the possibility that his modest squad could sustain a promotion challenge, even though there was little concrete evidence to support their case.
Nine games down the line, the second-city club have added just six points to their tally and dropped back to eighth position, much to the satisfaction of those who predicted such a slump. However, this isn’t a burst bubble. The story isn’t over yet, not by a long chalk. Not with a canny operator like Rowett in charge.
Where Birmingham are now is probably where they belong. They might see less of the ball than any other team in the division and the shot data might say they are bottom half, but somewhere just outside the play-offs is the happy medium because Rowett’s influence is always worth a few percentage points where shot ratio is concerned.
And Rowett is very positive right now, some might say bullish. Over the past six days, Blues have been to Middlesbrough and Preston, two of the toughest away trips in the division, and given as good they got. At the Riverside, they weathered an early storm and finished on the front foot. At Deepdale, they fell behind early on but came back and repeatedly carved open one of the division’s meanest defences.
The slow starts are Rowett’s primary concern because seizing the early initiative is what he normally prides himself on, and it’s usually the driving force behind any success they have. So expect Blues to make a concerted attempt to take this game by the scruff of the neck and make the Birmingham/Birmingham half-time/full-time bet your starting point at 10/3.
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My 16-match ratings make Birmingham 0.48 goals superior to Cardiff on home turf, around 0.3 goals more than the market, so rather than dally in half-measures, I’m prepared to be bold and take the 9/2 about Birmingham -1 on the handicap too. There’s enough reason to believe the Bluebirds are papering over some significant cracks.
For starters, there’s the uncertainty surrounding the future of Kenwyne Jones. The Trinidad & Tobago international as the focal point is crucial to the effectiveness of the Welsh club, but he’s out of contract in the summer and being asked to take a pay cut on a new deal that, so far, he is refusing to sign. He scored twice in the 3-2 win over Brentford in midweek but didn’t celebrate either goal.
For the third successive home match, Cardiff surrendered a two-goal lead and the Bees were looking the more likely winners when Jones pounced on a set piece in stoppage time. You could argue that Russell Slade’s men are doing something right to establish these strong starting positions but the over-riding suspicion is that they are brittle once found out.
Their second-half record since the November international break has been abysmal - nine goals conceded in five matches - and Slade’s loyalty to the struggling centre-back pairing of Sean Morrisson and Matthew Connolly could result in a hiding somewhere down the line, especially if the Bluebirds are forced to chase a game for once and become stretched.
With that in mind, let’s go mad on a Cardiff drubbing and split a point between a couple of big-priced correct scores. You can get 100/1 about Birmingham 4-0 and 80/1 about Birmingham 4-1. By standard conversion, my ratings have those two outcomes chalked up at 63/1 and 62/1 respectively.
For more information about Mike Holden’s shot-based ratings system, follow this link.