Birmingham host Barnsley for an absolutely crucial relegation six-pointer on Saturday and the result will have huge ramifications at the foot of the Championship. Blues suffered a 5-0 defeat away at Brentford last time out, their fourth loss in a row, and they are now just one point above the drop zone. The only teams displaying similarly poor form are Sunderland and Barnsley, and they are bottom and second from bottom respectively in the table. Any other team would probably take Blues apart right now, so it is fortuitous that the fixture list has thrown up this clash against Jose Morais equally beleaguered troops.
A point does not do either team much good, so they will both be going for the three points, and it should prove to be an extremely nerve-wracking encounter. Barnsley lost another huge relegation six-pointer against Burton in their last game, and they are likely to be demoralised. That result saw Burton climb off the bottom of the table and up to 22nd, a point above Barnsley, but below Hull on goal difference and a point below Birmingham.
The bookmakers still make Burton the odds-on favourites to go down, while Sunderland and Barnsley are also both odds-on to be relegated. Barnsley are third in the betting at 8/11, while Blues are fourth, priced at 6/4. Then Bolton are 2/1 and Hull are 9/2. If it pans out as the bookmakers expect, Birmingham will avoid relegation by the skin of their teeth, and right now you would have to consider that a result. But they could do themselves the world of good by taking all three points against struggling Barnsley on Saturday.
The Tykes have lost four and drawn two of their last six, and on the road they are poor. They have lost their last four away games on the trot, leaving them with just 13 points from 15 away games so far this season. Birmingham will not have a better chance of picking up a win between now and the end of the season. Check Intertops for odds on the match and you will see that Blues are the favourites, while Barnsley are huge underdogs.
However, you have to go back to 2013 for the last time Birmingham beat Barnsley. Last year they came to St Andrew’s and recorded a thumping 3-0 win, sealed by a late brace from Sam Winnall after David Davis saw red. Blues’ visit to Oakwell earlier this season was a disaster: they barely threatened as Barnsley wrapped up a 2-0 win courtesy of goals from Tom Bradshaw and Zeki Fryers. Harvey Barnes ran Birmingham ragged in that game, but he has now gone back to parent club Leicester, while manager Paul Heckingbottom was snapped up by Leeds.
Barnsley struggled badly while rudderless and they have just parachuted in Morais in a desperate bid to beat the drop. He has previously served in Jose Mourinho’s backroom staff at Porto and Inter, but has little experience in the top job. His most notable stint was a 14-game spell in charge at AEK Athens between 2016 and 2017, during which he won just three of 14 games. But the club is convinced he can impose an exciting, attacking style on the team and lead them up the table.
Yet Morais got off to the worst possible start, losing 2-1 to Burton thanks to first-half strikes from Jamie Allen and Jacob Davenport. It will take the new boss a while to shift the style and tactics at the club, and Birmingham can capitalise while there are teething problems. The defence needs to be a lot more switched on, the midfielders need to up the tempo and the forwards must display better movement. Despite their failings, this Birmingham team still look too good to go down, but they need to prove it by beating a relegation rival this weekend.