When Birmingham City went 1-0 down against Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, a familiar sinking feeling would have engulfed the whole of St Andrews.
The Blues were yet to win under new manager Wayne Rooney and considering Wednesday had only tasted victory once this season, failure to change that here would have been a catastrophe.
However, a Juninho Bacuna strike on the stroke of half-time inspired a much improved second-half performance as substitute Jordan James grabbed the winner nine minutes from time.
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This victory – regardless of how it was secured – would have lifted a huge weight from Rooney’s shoulders and his side now have the opportunity to build on that three points against Blackburn Rovers.
Here’s how they could line up for their trip to Ewood Park…
GK – John Ruddy
Veteran goalkeeper John Ruddy has experience at this level coursing through his veins but sooner rather than later, Birmingham will need to replace him.
According to Sofascore, the 37-year-old is the fifth worst in the whole of the Championship when it comes to the goals prevented stat (-3.37). Nonetheless, Ruddy’s competition, Neil Etheridge, hasn’t been able to dislodge him from his starting berth.
RB – Ethan Laird
Since arriving as an astute capture from Manchester United in the summer, Laird has spent the majority of this campaign sidelined with injury, but the explosive full-back has demonstrated his quality in abundance since returning to the squad.
For instance, in the victory over Wednesday, he won a whopping nine of his 12 ground duels and four of his six aerial duels. He also had an impact in the opposing half, too, making three key passes.
CB – Emanuel Aiwu
A ball-playing centre-back, who registered four accurate long balls against the Owls and an 88% pass completion, Aiwu has performed in splendid fashion since Rooney took to the helm.
The on-loan Cremonese defender is beginning to form a solid partnership with Dion Sanderson, with the Austrian averaging 2.6 tackles and 4.4 clearances per game.
CB – Dion Sanderson
When Dion Sanderson was named Birmingham’s new captain at the start of the season, he described it as an “honour”, and the 23-year-old has certainly performed like it means everything to him.
He’s started in every Championship match so far, recording 4.4 balls recovered and clearing 2.9 balls per game. He will, however, need to be on the ball to prevent the league’s top scorer, Sammie Szmodics, from wreaking havoc in the final third.
LB – Lee Buchanan
Lee Buchanan made his first start in two months against Sheffield Wednesday following a spell on the sidelines and the 22-year-old didn’t disappoint.
He won six of his 11 ground duels, completed five tackles and accurately placed four long balls. Buchanan made a strong start to the season prior to his injury and that performance against the Owls suggests he’s carrying on from where he left off.
CM – Juninho Bacuna
Juninho Bacuna scored his fourth goal of the season on Saturday and the all-action midfielder put in a fine performance, registering an 89% pass completion, accurately placing eight of his 11 long balls and winning three of his six ground duels.
If the 26-year-old can continue that form against Blackburn, he can have a vital say on the outcome at both ends of the field.
CM – Jordan James
After coming off the bench to score a dramatic winner, Jordan James deserves to start this evening and if he does come into the side, he could replace Krystian Bielik.
The £20k per-week titan struggled to have much of an impact going forward, registering zero key passes and only two accurate long balls. It is clear that the initial starting lineup against Sheffield Wednesday wasn’t working so this is one change Rooney could make.
RW – Koji Miyoshi
The fleet-footed Japanese star was a constant threat last time out and did well to fashion space on numerous occasions to create an opportunity, however, his end product let him down.
Miyoshi miscued all eight of his attempted crosses and was only successful with 70% of his passes. That said, he is still Rooney’s best option on the right, so it’s unlikely he’ll miss out.
CAM – Jay Stansfield
Despite only making 19 touches across ninety minutes against the Owls, Stansfield keeps his place in the team.
He’s the Blues top scorer with five goals, which speaks volumes about their struggles, but the 21-year-old can cause problems in the central attacking midfield position having created four big chances for his teammates this term – the most of any player in the squad.
LW – Siriki Dembele
Dembele’s performance last time out epitomised his strengths and weaknesses.
Whilst he’s excellent at committing defenders with his sheer speed and precise ball control – recording the most successful dribbles on the pitch (5) – he only registered an xG of 0.10, which suggests his end product needs sharpening. Nonetheless, he can give right-back James Hill a torrid time.
ST – Oliver Burke
Rooney faces a predicament in the striker position; persist with Oliver Burke or start veteran Lukas Jutkiewicz. Whilst the latter has scored twice this season, he only thrives in a direct system and that doesn’t align towards the manager’s vision.
Saying that, the Scotsman is yet to find the net himself this term, so the 26-year-old – who has cost a combined £28m in transfer fees across his entire career – still has a lot to prove.
Birmingham’s predicted lineup vs Blackburn in full: GK – Ruddy; RB – Laird, CB – Sanderson, CB – Aiwu, LB – Buchanan; CM – Bacuna, CM – James; RW – Miyoshi, CAM – Stansfield, LW – Dembele; ST – Burke