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Sheffield United v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship - Bramall Lane

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Fan Focus: Birmingham fan Adam says Dion Sanderson has “improved his game massively” this year!

Ahead of Sunderland’s trip to St Andrew’s Matty spoke to Adam from Blues Focus to discuss how they have performed under John Eustace!

Photo by Isaac Parkin/PA Images via Getty Images

Matthew Crichton: Birmingham currently sit 10th, just three points off the playoffs. How would you summarise your season so far?

Adam Dee: To summarise the season so far I’d say we have a lot of fighting spirit, which has been missing for some time now and with the pundits saying we were favourites for relegation I think that gave Eustace and the players more belief early on. Now we’re looking like a very solid side which has no egos, just teamwork.

There’s a really good atmosphere around the place and the fans finally feel connected to the side after many years of turmoil.

MC: John Eustace was given his first EFL management role with Birmingham this summer. What are the key factors behind his success so far?

AD: It’s clear to see Eustace has given each player a specific role to stick to and even if players are forced to play out of position they all live up to the task.

He’s very well-spoken and being a former defender himself he’s built the side from the back and utilised five at the back very well. He’s also not afraid to roll the dice and change things up when things aren’t going that well which is good to see.

Birmingham City v Swansea City - Sky Bet Championship
Eustace was previously assistant manager of QPR and Ireland, plus he also had a spell in charge of Kidderminster.
Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images

MC: On the pitch, Scott Hogan is the league’s joint top scorer with nine goals. What makes him so deadly in front of goal?

AD: His main strength would be his work rate and desire to get in behind and on the ball. He could have had a few more goals this season but when given too much time to think he rarely sticks it away.

However, when it’s fizzed into him he’s at his best and manages to slot the ball in from close range - he’s very much a poacher.

MC: Moving into your defence, ex-Sunderland fan favourite Dion Sanderson is a regular starter. How has he performed since returning to your club on loan?

AD: Sanderson has improved his game massively since returning. He looks a lot more composed on the ball and although he’s looked shaky a few times this season we have to remember he’s still very young and developing.

That being said he’s the key to our success at the back and keeping so many clean sheets alongside Harlee Dean and Auston Trusty.

Birmingham City v Queens Park Rangers - Sky Bet Championship - St. Andrew’s
Alex Neil was keen to link back up with John Ruddy, who he previously managed at Norwich.
Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images

MC: One of Alex Neil’s reported targets at Sunderland this summer was John Ruddy, would you say he has been an excellent signing for Eustace’s side?

AD: Ruddy has probably been our best signing of the window.

We haven’t seen a keeper that can control his area and gather the ball as well for ages down the Blues, not to mention his shot stopping. He’s certainly still got it!

MC: 17-year-old Jobe Bellingham has been a regular substitute for Birmingham this season and was linked with Sunderland this summer. Do you think your side has another potential England international on their hands?

AD: Jobe hasn’t featured in the side as much as his brother did, however, he’s a very different player to Jude and looks to be developing into a more attacking midfielder/winger role.

He’s definitely going to be a mainstay in the side in a few years’ mind and if he doesn’t make it into the England setup soon I’d be very surprised.

Norwich City v Birmingham City - Carabao Cup First Round
Jobe Bellingham has already made 14 first team appearances for Birmingham at 17.
Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

MC: Moving off the pitch, Kristjaan Speakman joined Sunderland from Birmingham and has overseen a transformation in how the club recruit players, would you say he has been a miss at Birmingham behind the scenes?

AD: Many Blues fans believe Speakman was the key to our academy’s success over the years he was at the club.

However, we’ve just appointed former skipper Liam Daish - another figure that knows and loves the club inside out which is good to see. I wouldn’t say he’s been a miss but his departure seemed to stall the success of the academy.

MC: Following his retirement, ex-Sunderland midfielder Craig Gardner is now Technical Director at Birmingham, do fans love having a fan of the club in such a prominent role?

AD: Craig Gardner has been very highly respected at the club so far during his tenure. He’s managed to bring in players and secure deals we never saw coming and he’s certainly delivered to the fans in that aspect.

Many fans were sceptical at the beginning but no one can fault him at the minute!

Sunderland v Southampton - FA Cup
Craig Gardner made 100 appearances for Sunderland, scoring 14 goals.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

MC: In terms of tactical setup, how do you think Eustace will approach the match, and which players should Tony Mowbray be wary of?

AD: I think Eustace will keep the same setup by deploying wingbacks with Chong and Mejbri having the freedom to roam higher up the pitch with Bielik sitting just in front of the three centre backs.

We’re looking deadly on the counter attack at the moment and look comfortable out of possession. Mowbray should be wary of Hannibal Mejbri who is very much likened to a very energetic terrier. Hogan would be another player who he’ll be looking to stop in his tracks.

Predicted XI: Ruddy (GK), Longelo, Trusty, Dean, Sanderson, Colin, Mejbri, Bielik, Chong, Hogan, Deeney.

MC: Sunderland have only won one of their last five meetings with Birmingham. What is your prediction for the final score?

AD: Based on that stat I would have said a Sunderland win was on the cards, but at the moment we just don’t look like losing at home.

I’m going to go with a 2-1 Blues win.


Pause for thought


Sunderland are set for a massive summer after the inevitable sacking of Michael Beale!

Fan Letters: “The distraction of Beale is behind us”

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