With the ongoing threat of a points deduction that could derail any hopes of a promotion challenge, Birmingham City boss Garry Monk has steered Blues to the verge of the Sky Bet Championship Play-Off places, despite starting the season with just one win in 11 games.
Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that, even after their spending splurge in the summer of 2017 – which included the acquisition of ex-Bees trio Maxime Colin, Harlee Dean and Jota – this time last year, they were rooted to the foot of the table under the stewardship of Steve Cotterill.
The home form has been a significant element of their success, with a narrow 1-0 defeat to Bristol City three weeks ago the solitary occasion that they’ve failed to secure at least a point at St. Andrew’s this term, but that could pale into insignificance in early 2019, should touted sanctions be enforced by The EFL.
In one of the largest points deductions of recent years, Leeds United were docked 15 points in 2007 for exiting administration without a Company Voluntary Arrangement, although under new Financial Fair Play rules, Birmingham are in uncharted territory. Depending on source, word suggests the club could be hit with a deduction anywhere in the region of six to 21 points.
Blues’ hierarchy will meet with The EFL next year to find out their fate and decide whether to appeal the punishment, which will be imposed this season.
There’s cause for concern from an administrative perspective but, back on the pitch, Monk’s troops are doing everything within their power to limit the damage that 2019 could bring. Sitting seventh after 24 games with 37 points, a 15-point deduction would see them out of the relegation zone by just a point, while 12 would put them just behind The Bees in 19th spot.
And there are signs they are growing stronger by the week. Striker Lukas Jutkiewicz may have lost his scoring touch – for the time being, at least – but four clean sheets in the last six games speaks volumes about the solidity and levels of confidence in this side.
Not only that, they’ve beaten Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds at Elland Road, held West Bromwich Albion, Norwich City and Sheffield United and completed a double over former boss Gary Rowett’s Stoke City.
But as the second round of fixtures gets into full flow, they face a similar run of games that could well determine their season: they start the year by facing Sheffield Wednesday, before hosting Middlesbrough and closing January with trips to Norwich and Swansea City.
The Birmingham Mail’s Brian Dick called Blues “A perfectly functional, competitive, decent Championship side” ahead of the return fixture in October – in which Josh McEachran secured a 1-1 draw in Dean Smith’s penultimate game in charge of The Bees – but through hard graft and growing unity, they’ve developed into something more in the months that have followed.
Brian also commented that “winning football matches is the only thing they can really control, so that is what they are focusing on”. The St. Andrew’s terraces have heard the famous ‘Keep Right On’ chant many thousands of times and, this season, Birmingham need to heed that advice more than ever.
There will be pay on the day, cash only with no matchday price increase, from the away turnstiles at St. Andrew's on matchday. Collections/duplicates can also be collected from the away turnstiles.
Disabled supporters are to pay the relevant price category and if required their carer will receive a free ticket.