With our upcoming game against Birmingham City on Sunday, I asked Gabriel Sutton a few questions about Birmingham’s season so far and his thoughts on the game.
Firstly, how do you see Birmingham doing this season and do you consider yourself stronger or weaker than last season?
Difficult to say. On paper you might argue we’ve weakened ourselves, because we’re lower in the table now than where we finished last season, and we’ve lost a key defender in Curtis Davies. But on the flip side, the games we’ve lost have been very tight contests, and against the teams who are aiming for promotion – notably Watford, Leicester, QPR and Reading. Because of the financial situation at the club, we’ve had to change the makeup of the squad every summer since our relegation, and every season we’ve started relatively slowly, so I’m a believer that it always takes time for players to settle. This season we’ve converted to a three at the back system, which will help us in the long run. Will we finish higher than twelfth of last season? Maybe not, but performances have been encouraging – I firmly believe we’ll be a long way off the relegation places come the end of the season.
How have you been getting on this season? Obviously, we know the results but sometimes that doesn’t tell the whole story.
I may be looking at it with a bit of bias, but I feel there are positives we can take from our first three months. The thing I like about the team is that every player on the pitch is playing their heart out for the team, the commitment and passion is always there. As a fan, that’s what I want to see. The problem has been scoring goals, and taking our chances at important times. The return from injury of Nikola Zigic might help us on that front, as hard as Lee Novak works off the ball, he doesn’t have that bit of confidence under pressure when he receives it. Having played in the Conference last season, Matt Green is unproven at this level. He needs to gradually ease his way into the team, and not have that immediate pressure of being our main goalscorer. I have high hopes for loanee Jesse Lingard, but I also have high doubts that we’ll keep him for much longer than another couple of months. A better team will soon want him on loan. On reflection, I’m quietly encouraged.
What’s the general opinion of Lee Clark as your manager?
Some fans like him, some fans can’t take him seriously, some fans thing the quality of manager won’t matter until we change the owners. The positives are: he’s attracted some decent players on a shoestring budget, hasn’t been afraid to give youth a chance, and he got the best out of them in the second half of last season. With a terrible injury crisis, talk of relegation, and a large proportion of players from the academy forced into the spotlight, we hit almost play-off form and climaxed to a top half finish. Clark must take credit for that.
The negatives are: he’s not the most convincing in front of the media, can be a bit of an excuse merchant when it comes to certain incidents, makes the odd baffling comment and looks at the floor in a way which doesn’t always exude confidence. He’s something of a tactics tinkerer as well, chops and changes his team a lot, questionably swapping from 3 at the back to 4-4-2, seemingly based on a single bad result. He’s no miracle-worker, but personally I can see past his weaknesses, because he’s a very young manager and one of the few who wanted the job initially. He’ll grow into the role as well, and I sincerely hope that a new board will give him a chance, rather than walk in with their own agenda.
What’s the general opinion of Leeds United from a Birmingham City supporter?
I’ll be honest, a lot of Birmingham City fans hate you! I get the impression it’s mainly because of the ‘Dirty Leeds’ days. I don’t mind your lot though. When you came to St Andrews last time, you were probably the best away fans we had all season, had a massive allocation and sang all game. In reality, our supporters could probably learn from the passionate fan base of some of the northern clubs. There’s a slight culture of apathy around our club at the moment. On the Don Revie era, the 60s/70s was long before I was born, but I feel hating a side because they’re dirty is a bit of an excuse to have a go at a good team. If Billy Bremner had played for Birmingham City, we would have all idolised him. That’s the nature of the game.
During the January transfer window and again last window we were linked to Chris Burke, do you consider him to be a good player and someone who is central to your team?
No. He’s a rubbish player. Really not worth buying.
Who should we look out for as your danger man?
In all seriousness, Burke is definitely our best player. Every time he gets the ball you get a feeling that he’ll do something magical with it, he scares the hell out of fullbacks and as a fan, he gets you to the edge of your seat. That said, I don’t think he would do it in the Premier League, where defenders are made of sterner stuff. He’s 30 now, so I feel the Championship is the right league for him. Whether that’s with Birmingham is another matter…
One player I haven’t mentioned is our goalkeeper, Darren Randolph. He has looked very reliable for us, had a great record up in Scotland with Motherwell, and at the age of 26, his best goalkeeping years are right ahead of him. Once Peter Pannu realises there might be a few hundred grand of a transfer fee in him though, he’ll probably be gone in January!
What formation will you likely play?
3-4-3. Clark started the season playing 3-5-2, which made us a lot more solid at the back, but the big dilemma was that we couldn’t fit Chris Burke into the team. He couldn’t have played wingback because he’s a natural winger, and not defensive-minded enough. Clark made the right decision in my view, to play him instead of a second striker, as a right-sided forward cutting inside. He also brought in Jesse Lingard to suit that system, and play a similar role on the left. If he uses that tactic consistently, hopefully the players will become accustomed to it and some more positive results will come.
What will be your likely line up?
Not sure about the fitness levels of Murphy and Zigic, if not picked, they’ll probably be replaced by Shane Ferguson and Matt Green respectively. I certainly hope Zigic plays, in the 2011-12 season, five of his seven goals came against you!
Any players from Leeds that you would like to sign?
Our main problem is that we could do with an ‘out-and-out’ goalscorer, but you don’t seem to have that yourselves! The obvious choice would be Ross McCormack, but we’ve already got a few players who play in his kind of position in the hole. I would maybe say Luke Murphy, he looks like a good young player, and would add a physical presence to our midfield.
Finally, prediction for the game?
I would be content with a draw. You had one of the best home records in the Championship last season, so I think this will be a difficult game for us. The thing that stands out for me, is that we both play quite narrowly, and neither team has wingers, so the game could be a bit bogged down in the middle of the park. You’ve not really got a reliable goalscorer now Becchio has gone, and we’ve not scored in any of our last three away games. This has the look of a 0-0 draw for me.
As a footnote, do check out my blog The Score http://suttononthescore.blogspot.co.uk/
You can also follow me on Twitter @_thescore https://twitter.com/_thescore
Cheers Leeds All Over, good luck for your season.
All of us at Leeds All Over would like to thank Gabriel for his time in contributing to this article and giving up his time to talk to us about the game.