Since 2002 the clubs have met thirteen times with honours shared, five wins each and three draws. Prior to that, I recall a cup match at Ewood against a third division Birmingham City who were managed by the enigmatic Barry Fry. Indeed, it is not so long ago they had a priest exorcise St Andrews as it was felt it was doomed, and from that point Birmingham have elevated themselves back to the top tier of English football.
Over the years right up to the present time there have been a significant number of links with Rovers. Howard Kendall was a player there, making over 100 appearances, and PFA chairman Gordon Taylor joined Rovers from them to form a right/left-wing partnership with the wonderful David Wagstaffe. Both Martin Taylor and Damien Johnson left Rovers for Birmingham and each enjoyed a long and successful spell at St Andrews.
Recently, though, the links become quite alarming: Robbie Savage joined Rovers from City and former Rovers Barry Ferguson and David Bentley will be expected to feature on Saturday along with Matty Derbyshire, not to mention the towering Nikola Zigic, who was allegedly a transfer target of Rovers prior to joining Birmingham. Finally, Seb Larsson has been recently linked to Rovers, which is quite an extraordinary amount of players linked between our two clubs.
Saturday, as many posters on this messageboard have said, is a must-win game for Rovers in our quest for Premiership safety. Both sides enter the games on 34 points after encouraging performances — our draw at Arsenal was a great and well-earned result whilst City did well to defeat a Bolton side who are currently eighth in the table.
Birmingham, despite their position, do have a number of good, high-profile players. Obefemi Martins can be dangerous on his day as can Jerome, and who can discount the veteran striker Kevin Phillips, who bagged the opening goal against Bolton last week.
In midfield they have the former Arsenal midfielder Alexander Hleb, Barry Ferguson and David Bentley, along with Rovers target Seb Larsson. Matty Derbyshire may also be on the bench and it would be fate were he to score at Ewood if he were to play a part in the match.
At the back, Ben Foster is a decent keeper, Stephen Carr is a strong and influential skipper who takes no prisoners at right back and Liam Ridgewell is a seasoned professional, too.
On paper, no easy task for Rovers, but paper counts for nothing — it’s how we perform on the day. With the quality and experience in midfield City have, I would expect Steve Kean to start with both the line-up and system we played at the Emirates — we looked compact and sharp on the break. Perhaps, in my opinion, I would make a change up top. Birmingham aren’t the quickest at the back and I would think Kalinic may be preferred to Roque. We must watch for Larsson’s deliveries, though, as Zigic at 6′ 8″ will be a handful in the air along with the overlaps of Stephen Carr, who can by sheer drive and determination cause problems.
If Rovers set themselves up with both the system and mindset we showed at the Emirates, we can get three points from this game. Let’s hope it’s the same Rovers who turn up as other fixtures next week would give us the opportunity of having a nice 5-point gap from the relegation area.