It’s now split into two unequal portions. The final few weeks and months of Aitor Karanka’s tenure were a really difficult watch and just when you thought he’d settled on a formation, he’d then go and change it. There were lots of players who weren’t being used, so lots of key players were just being run into the ground over quite an intense period and you could just see the players’ belief slipping away towards the end. They had a couple of horror performances – first against Luton [L 1-0, 13 Feb] and then against Bristol City [L 3-0, 13 Mar]– and it was the latter that turned out to be the last game. Every time they hinted at turning a corner, they took another step backwards and sometimes that was self-inflicted, in terms of selection or tactics. Since Lee Bowyer has come in, he’s started with 4-4-2 in both matches, at the time of speaking, reintroduced Lukas Jutkiewicz and the players clearly have more belief in what they are being asked to do. It makes a lot more sense to my uneducated eye, as well. Blues have got enough in the squad to stay up, it’s just a question of restoring that confidence, which Bowyer seems to have started to do.
As you mentioned, Bowyer replaced Karanka as head coach prior to the international break and won his first game in charge. How useful do you think his experience in testing times at Charlton will be during the run-in?
The end of last season was a strange one for everybody. Charlton did, ultimately, go down but Bowyer would say that they went down without their key player, Lyle Taylor, playing again for them and a couple of others opting out after the restart, too, so that didn’t help. What I would say is that Birmingham players have been in enough relegation scraps themselves to know what it takes. They have had three or four situations like this and have come through each one so far. I think this is a pretty perilous situation but it is one they can get out of if those key players replicate what they have done in the past.
Given that they made the change in management when they did and how tight it is in the relegation battle, do you think it was timed well, so they could have that two-week break and then attack the final stretch?
The two weeks were very useful because Bowyer hasn’t been in charge for long and hadn’t taken too many training sessions with the players before those first two games before the international break. As regards the timing of the change, I think you could probably make an argument to say it could’ve happened a few weeks earlier, after the Luton game, but they responded reasonably well and took seven points from the 12 available just after the Luton and Millwall games. It became a very close call as to when to make that change but after Bristol City, it was funereal around the place and it was glaringly obvious that the change had to be made then.
Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on on Tuesday?
As I said, Lukas Jutkiewicz has been re-introduced to the side and scored his 50th goal for the club in Bowyer’s first game. He has very much been the keystone of the attack and Blues will use him to go long and try to win some balls in the box for Scott Hogan. If he’s on one end of the ball, the guys putting the balls in are also key, including Jeremie Bela, who has probably been the most creative and reliable attacking threat in a season where there hasn’t been much attacking threat.
How is Bowyer likely to set up his side at the Brentford Community Stadium?
I would imagine, it’ll be a 4-4-2 again. That’s how they started the first two games under Bowyer, though against Watford they did make quite an early formation shift to a 3-4-1-2, so to say he only plays 4-4-2 wouldn’t be fair. He sees Jutkiewicz and Hogan as the best route to goals and safety and I’d imagine there’d be a combination that sees both of those players in the side.
Since the 5-0 win back in February 2018, Brentford have found Birmingham a pretty tough nut to crack and have lost two of the last three meetings, including on the opening day of this season. What’s your score prediction this time around?
I’m going to sit on the fence and go for a 1-1 draw.
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