Often Partisan

Under Pressure

Tomorrow sees the visit of Wolves to St Andrews, in what can only be described in the classic football cliché of a “six-pointer”. With the end of the season now coming up fast, pressure is starting to bear down on Blues – even more so on Wolves – and tomorrow could be an absolute humdinger.

I decided to write my preview of the Wolves game after today’s Premiership fixtures had taken place, so I had a better idea of what the table looked like. At 2 o’clock this afternoon I was convinced a draw against Wolves would be enough; now, I’m not so sure. With Blackburn picking up a massively vital win at home to Bolton, and Blackpool and Wigan picking up creditable draws, it means the bottom six has closed up again. Blues go back to just three points above the drop-zone, and defeat to Wolves would see our old gold and black brethren really drag us into the mix.

Perversely, I think this could work in our favour. Like the Carling Cup semi home leg against West Ham, we know now that we have to be positive. McLeish knows that whilst a draw wouldn’t be absolute disaster it’s almost a “must-win” game now and that we have to be productive in our football to chase it. Add to that the fact that for Wolves a point isn’t good enough, and I think we have the chance to really stick it to them.

Blues find it very difficult to break down teams who come to St Andrews to defend – the best results we’ve had this season at home have been against teams who have come looking for the points – Blackpool and Sunderland spring to mind. As long as our defence can hold firm (and that’s a big ask, judging by recent performances), I think our midfield and attack has enough about them to utilise some of the space they will be afforded, and will create some chances.

I think there will be a lot of scrutiny over what formation McLeish uses, as people will use that as a barometer of attacking intent. Two up front, and people will assume we’re going for it; a lone striker and maybe the home fans will be a bit pessimistic before a ball is picked. Whilst I’m of the belief that the formation is secondary to how much desire and belief the players have with the ball, for this one I’d expect McLeish to put two up top as a signal to the fans if anything else that he wants nothing more than to win this game. Both Jerome and Phillips have happy memories playing against the Wolves, and I’d expect both to start, hopefully with Nikola Zigic on the bench. Our midfield general Barry Ferguson will play, and will probably be snapping at Karl Henry in the centre, winding him up and protecting the back four.

Left wing is going to be the key position. Assuming that the regular team fills the other slots, it’s a selection conundrum as to who plays there – Bowyer, Fahey, Hleb, even Beausejour or Murphy could fit in. I have a feeling Bowyer will get the nod, but I can see a case for Hleb being given the slot, and told to drift inside and perform the “McFadden” type role that he has in the past; if we are to win the game we’ll need some guile to go along with the graft.

Despite many fans feeling a bit pessimistic after today’s results, I think we’ll be fine. I’m going for a 2-1 win to the Blues, and a result that will virtually condemn Wolves (and hopefully West Ham) to relegation.

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