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Southampton FC v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship

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Fan Focus: Birmingham fan Adam says that Wayne Rooney is implementing ‘no-fear football’

We spoke to Birmingham fan Adam Dee of the Blues Focus Podcast to find out more about what Birmingham have to offer in this weekend’s game! Which players should Sunderland be wary of?

Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images

Vast media attention surrounded the club when Tom Brady was announced as a minority owner this summer. How do fans feel about your new ownership group so far?

Fans have generally welcomed Tom Brady’s involvement as a minority owner, but opinions on the ownership group’s overall involvement are mixed following the appointment the Wayne Rooney.

It left the fanbase very much divided when they made their decision and some fans are still struggling to get on board with their long-term vision or ‘project’ as they’re calling it.

That being said, they’ve made sure the stands have been rebuilt in a timely manner and along with the drastically improved matchday experience, the fans certainly can’t moan about the work they’ve done so far and the quick turnaround of their short-term fixes.

Despite having the club in the mix of the play-off battle, John Eustace was sacked as manager early last month. How did this go down with fans?

Well, it was very much a feeling of deja vu for us fans - of course that’s me referring to the sacking of Gary Rowett when we were in the same position back in 2016.

The backlash or Twitter meltdown if you want to be more specific was enough to lock your phone away. However, there were already rumours of Wazza taking the hotseat and had we not been in 6th position at the time I don’t think it would have stung nearly as much.

We as fans always knew the owners would want their own man at the helm but to do it when you’re on a great run of form and unbeaten at home left us all very bewildered.

Birmingham City v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet Championship
Wayne Rooney enjoyed a spell at Championship level in charge of Derby, before taking over at DC United.
Photo by Graham Chadwick/Getty Images

The man to replace him was appointed as a big name with an American link. With no wins in four, what’s gone wrong for him so far?

Rooney has come in and tried to implement a playing style that the players aren’t used to and that’s playing on the front foot for the whole 90 minutes.

The term ‘no-fear football’ was banded around, and the only thing it has been up until the Ipswich game is fearful by any means. By doing too much too soon you can see the players weren’t on board with it and looked a shadow of their former Eustace commanding selves.

To implement such a drastic change of playing style requires a whole pre-season – this has been Rooney’s short downfall and the players even spoke up in the dressing room about their concerns.

However, the duck has finally taken to water as the players came firing out of the traps against Ipswich on Saturday and didn’t give them an inch of grass to play on.

Something has finally clicked, and although Rooney has spoken about the lack of fitness the players have to play this ‘no fear football’, as fans we only want to see 100% from the team and there were so many encouraging signs from Saturday’s performance.

Moving on to the players – Jobe Bellingham has been fantastic since joining Sunderland. Did you expect to see him start every match straight away?

Yes, we did, as I don’t think Jobe and his family would have accepted a move without the promise of him being an important player in the squad.

Obviously, his links with Speakman and Dodds speak for themselves, but those combined with Mowbray’s reputation for handing opportunities for youth players, made it a no-brain move for Jobe, who simply wasn’t in John Eustace’s plans at the time.

I just hope he doesn’t score and celebrate in front of the away end on Saturday...

Southampton v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship - St Mary’s Stadium
Jay Stansfield has scored five goals in his first 13 matches for Birmingham since joining on loan from Fulham.
Photo by Kieran Cleeves/PA Images via Getty Images

One player Birmingham beat Sunderland to was the signing of striker Jay Stansfield. How has he performed so far this season?

Stansfield has been one shining light during Rooney’s tenure and is most definitely the first name on the teamsheet at the moment.

His awareness in front of goal, poacher instincts and his finishing abilities are something we’ve been missing for some time now, and it’s good to know we can now score a goal out of nothing - see his goal versus Boro for more.

He’s definitely one for the future at Fulham and has talent that you’re simply just born with. We’ll struggle to keep hold of him in January so we’re just enjoying him as much as we can right now.

Looking at your recruitment, the likes of Siriki Dembele, Lee Buchanan and Dion Sanderson were all signed permanently. Which of your signings have performed well, and who has underwhelmed?

If you had asked me this before Rooney came in, I would have said all those above plus Ethan Laird, Kevin Long and Ivan Sunjic to name a few.

However, under Rooney some players have thrived, while others have faced challenges in adjusting to his style of play. Currently, you’d have to say Stansfield has performed very well for the reasons above but also Oli Burke who’s looked very dangerous up top centrally.

He was being utilised as a winger under Eustace and never really found his feet but he was arguably man of the match on Saturday resulting in a standing ovation from fans upon being substituted.

Emmanuel Aiwu is another name who entered the fold after Kevin Long’s dip in form. On loan from US Cremonese, he carried high expectations and found limited game time under Eustace. However, he has been demonstrating his growing comfort for the English game and suitability within Rooney’s framework.

In terms of underperforming players, there aren’t any that have come in that have underperformed (apart from Tyler Roberts who’s been injured after two or three games) so you’d have to put both Scott Hogan and Emmanuel Longelo into that bracket.

Hogan just isn’t the same player we signed a few years back and since his penalty miss against Millwall back in September, he’s struggled massively to make any sort of impact.

As for Longelo, he was brilliant in the two wins before Eustace’s sacking but he’s struggled the most since Rooney came in, being at fault for at least 3 goals off the top of my head.

Tasked with filling in for the injured Lee Buchanan, Longelo’s performances have shown his inexperience and defensive shortcomings.

Birmingham City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
Dion Sanderson joined Birmingham permanently this summer, after two previous loan spells.
Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images

Looking at results, Birmingham have lost four of six away matches. What are the key factors behind your struggles on the road?

I think during Eustace’s start to the season, we were very unlucky to not pick up anything against Watford and Preston - we still played the same way we did in our home games.

However, under Rooney, the key factor is very much the players trying to adapt to his style of play. That, and it’s very much been a baptism of fire for Rooney playing Middlesbrough and Southampton who are both in very good form.

Now until Christmas and after playing yourselves, we have much better fixtures away from home, so hopefully we can stop that away day rut very soon.

How do you think Rooney will approach the match tactically?

His 4-2-3-1 setup proved to be very pressing and aggressive on Saturday so I will expect him to approach this one the same.

The players will be straight onto your goalkeeper and defence so expect a very fast-paced opening to the game.

However, it’s the fitness of Rooney’s troops that is letting the side down at the moment so I would expect Rooney to make changes early on in the second half to try and shut up shop because there simply won’t be enough fuel left in the tank.

Sunderland v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship
Trai Hume scored his first Sunderland goal against Birmingham last season.
Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Which eleven players do you think he will select?

I expect Rooney to go for the same 4-2-3-1 lineup as he did on Saturday so that being: Ruddy, Drameh, Aiwu, Sanderson, Laird, Sunjic, James, Bacuna, Burke, Miyoshi, Stansfield.

Sunderland beat Birmingham 2-1 in both fixtures last season. What is your score prediction for this time around?

Based on your injury issues at the back I’m going for a 2-1 away win for us.

I think we’ll be too much for you in the first half with the second being a very nervy encounter, just like it was against Ipswich.

However, this time I believe we’ll be able to hold on to a lead and all the Rooney critics can start eating their hats.


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