Blues went away to Forest and were handed their first defeat of the season, and it wasn’t a pretty one. Joe Lolley continued his obscene scoring spree against Blues and former Blues target Lewis Grabban also bagged in a 0-3 loss – but there is little time to mull over defeats and instead move onto a winnable home game against Barnsley.
There were mumblings of discontent with caretaker manager Pep Clotet after the defeat and Blues fans are no closer to knowing what Clotet’s strongest team is and what the overall vision for the squad is.
Barnsley sit on four points, similarly to Blues, with a win on the opening day against Fulham being their only win. Last time out, they drew to Charlton at home and lost away at Sheffield Wednesday. The Reds came up from League One last season and won’t be expecting to finish in the playoffs, but a point at St. Andrews would signal a great start to their Championship survival campaign.
The transfer window brought a lot of youth to Barnsley – 12 players came in, and 11 of them were under 25. The youthful legs might help the Tykes against a thin Blues squad as both played on Saturday, and there may be some tiring legs. Barnsley lost one of their top goalscorers last season, Kieffer Moore, to Wigan, but retained Cauley Woodrow who bagged last time out against Charlton. Woodrow finished 19 times last season and is the obvious dangerman for Blues to worry about.
Blues have no new players coming in to the squad, as both Kerim Mrabti and Jacques Maghoma remain unable to take part and Jefferson Montero still does not have international clearance. That said, a disappointing performance away on Saturday and having to play a few days later may equal some changes in the line-up. Steve Seddon and Alvaro Gimenez both came on as substitutes and could see their way into the starting eleven. Seddon would allow a transition back into the three-at-the-back system practiced during pre-season, while Gimenez could replace anyone of the forward players – or potentially even David Davis, if Clotet wants to go for a more forward-thinking approach.
Alex Mowatt may be back for Barnsley but given their impressive start, they may opt for the same line-up. Barnsley have generally opted for a traditional four at the back, with Woodrow spearheading the attack, but may elect for two up top with Patrick Schmidt, signed from Germany at the end of the window, potentially coming in to replace Conor Chaplin.
Barnsley didn’t play in the Championship last season, but the season before that they beat Blues 2-0 home and away. Oli McBurnie scored twice at St. Andrews and Tom Bradshaw and Zeki Fryers scored at Oakwell. Thankfully, none of those players will plague Blues this time, as they no longer ply their trade at Barnsley. Blues drew 2-2 at Oakwell the year before, with Marc Roberts getting sent off for Barnsley – he scored against Blues in the reverse fixture, as Barnsley won 3-0 in Small Heath. Blues’ record against Barnsley in recent times is less than stellar, leaving Clotet tasked with breaking a curse.
Whilst we expected very few changes after the Bristol City game, there may be some more changes after a disappointing loss on Saturday. Alvaro Gimenez will hope to get the nod and show Blues fans what he can bring to a sparse front-line. Jake Clarke-Salter is yet to start a league game for Blues, and though he looked shaky in the cup game against Portsmouth, he was brought in to play on the left side of a three and if Blues want to revert to that, he may get the nod.
Ultimately, Blues will need some invigoration going forward, and Gimenez was the only centre-forward signing of the summer, so it could be an obvious change up to the starting line-up at home.
Clotet spoke about the Forest loss in his pre-match press conference:
The players are very committed. They have felt very bad since Saturday. At the end of the day they are putting everything in for the Club and they are feeling as hurt as the supporters. That’s a good sign. It is a sign that we have a healthy squad that is determined to make the Club better and to move us forward. There are things we have looked at and worked on and we know we need better.
At home, though, Blues’ Pep thought the team played quite well, and would like a repeat of that performance:
It was a very positive performance. Good things came out if it. The team was not nervous. The team wants to play, wants to create problems for the opposition, wants to take it forward. At the same time, we know we don’t want to lose our passion, we don’t want to lose our determination, that solidity and spirit we showed last season.
Yes, we are still doing a lot of working, testing things, helping players to adapt, so there are going to ups and downs. Unfortunately this is common when you are trying to get new players into this transition. But firmly in our mind is the will to do it well and keep going in the right direction, the direction we want to go.
Barnsley’s Chris Stern spoke about Barnsley’s record against Blues:
I’ve been told that we have a very good record against Birmingham – especially away. We always bring lots of supporters to the game, so we hope we can make them happy. It’s a totally different game to the others; they’ll be hoping to show a good performance compared to the weekend and we hope we can keep up our good record against them.