Story so far...
This weekend’s game may hold monumental importance to Sunderland, but our opponents Birmingham City are in desperate need of three points and are now without a win in over a month. In fact, the table makes grim reading for our visitors this weekend with them propping up the whole Championship.
But where has it all gone wrong for the Blues? Well, they looked to have recruited quite well over the summer with players like Jota, Craig Gardner, Harlee Dean, David Stockdale and Jason Lowe all joining the club. Harry Redknapp made some good signings on paper and Birmingham were tipped by many as playoff contenders - unfortunately for them, though, it hasn’t quite worked out that well.
Four points from the first three games papered over the cracks as Birmingham looked a poor team from the outset , and a defeat at Burton Albion in August had the alarm bells ringing. A run of eight games without a win came through the end of August and most of September before Redknapp eventually left.
New boss Steve Cotterill came in and won his first home game 1-0 against Sheffield Wednesday. That result though was followed by a 6-1 humbling at fellow strugglers Hull City.
October was a good month for the Blues as they picked up four points from three games - including a victory against promotion hopefuls Cardiff City at home. However, since that victory at the start of October Birmingham have won just one game out of a possible ten - losing seven of them.
Birmingham have also scored the least amount of goals in the division with just 11, while conceding 33. To put that into perspective, Sunderland top scorer Lewis Grabban has the same amount, and as a whole the side has scored nearly treble that amount this season.
Birmingham have also not won away from home since the final day of last season and currently sit last in the away table, with just two points from a possible 33.
Last time out...
Steve Cotterill and his team hosted QPR last time out and they came away with nothing. Jack Robinson, of all players, was the thorn in Birmingham's side as he scored his first and second career goals in a game he will most certainly tell the grand kids about.
Robinson headed in a Luke Freeman cross on 17 minutes to give the away side a half time lead. Southampton loanee Sam Gallagher scored Birmingham's equaliser on 57 minutes as he capitalised on a Alex Smithies mistake, but Robinson and QPR were not to be denied a vital victory, however, as the former Liverpool player won the game with a fine effort with just 10 minutes left.
The Blues did have a slight edge in terms of possession and shots, but in general they never looked dangerous enough to get the win.
I would have said that Che Adams is the man to watch for Birmingham this weekend but he is not available through injury. Therefore, I am scratching my head a bit.
I’ll stump for Craig Gardner as the man to watch this weekend - simply because former players have haunted us all season.
Former Sunderland assistant manager Steve Cotterill has become something of a managerial journeyman and Birmingham is his ninth club and he’s had numerous stints as assistant during his career as well.
Cotterill has an underwhelming pedigree as a manager with his only real successes being a Conference title with Cheltenham Town, a League Two title with Notts County and a League One title with Bristol City. That said, you cannot knock a man who has managed nearly 700 league games - Cotterill is vastly experienced, though his record at Championship level is mixed at best.
Oliver Langford is taking charge of his third Sunderland game this season and his second at the Stadium of Light. Langford had the honour of refereeing our first game back at this level against Derby in August in which we drew 1-1. He then officiated our 3-0 defeat at Everton in the Carabao Cup.
This is Langford’s first Birmingham game of the season - and curiously, the Midlands-born referee has not refereed Birmingham since 2012, despite being on the Championship referee list in all of the years since.
So, Birmingham struggle to score and Sunderland have kept three clean sheets in their last four outings.
Birmingham have a good aerial presence, so it will be important that Sunderland stick to a more ground-based game - particularly if Lewis Grabban starts, as he is patently unable to win a header.
There’s absolutely no reason why we should not take three points this weekend. Birmingham are drowning - their manager this week has said that they have a mental block that they’re unable to get around.
Sunderland are turning a corner and you would hope that this means we can get another win at home to really build some momentum heading into a busy Christmas period. Knowing Sunderland, though, Birmingham will probably do a job on us!