Preview - Birmingham (h)

‘Ciao Gianfranco, come stai oggi?’ we say, as we welcome Birmingham City to FCR. Rich spoke to Tom Heslop about Rowett, Zola, literary and theatrical naturalism (no sorry, wrong Zola), transfers, and mutual gratitude for beating our rivals.

Rich: So Norwich welcome Birmingham to Carrow Road on Saturday hoping to avenge a heavy defeat at St Andrews back in sunny August. OK Tom, I can’t hold it in any longer, why the flippety flip did Rowett get the sack to be replaced by Zola? On a scale of Patsy Cline to Gnarls Barkley, how crazy was that?

Tom: It still hasn't really been cleared up why Gary Rowett was sacked by the new Birmingham City board, Trillion Trophy Asia Limited, but from what I understand, Rowett seemed to be losing his way towards the end of his time at Blues.
His lack of authority when spending the money that he was being provided seemed to be part of his downfall unfortunately. If we look back, only a handful of his signings have worked out really. This season, Che Adams and Lukas Jutkiewicz are the ones who have paid off in my opinion. Last season it was Ryan Shotton, Jon Toral and Tomasz Kuszczak. When you look at it deep down, Rowett got things wrong, as do most managers, but his time expired at Blues much to the fans disappointment but that is football, we have had to move on now.

Rich: Were people frustrated with Rowett's style of play as well? I ask because quite a few Norwich fans would like to see the back of our current manager, with Rowett (being the hot young manager de nos jours) the man they want to come in.

Tom: I don't think they were frustrated by his playing style because it was getting us the results we needed. Granted at the time he got sacked, Blues had previously shipped eight goals in three games, four of them being at home, and the other four being to Newcastle United, but you can just see from the reaction of the fans, nobody was really frustrated by his style. 

Okay, at times it wasn't the most glamorous but it got the job done and in football that it what it is all about, picking up results. Rowett was doing that almost every week and like I said previously, although the football wasn't pretty at times, we were still walking away with a point here or a 1-0 win there. Those results were taking us into the playoffs so it is still to this day difficult for fans to grasp why he was sacked.

Rich: Zola coming in struck me as foreign owners not knowing much about football if I’m honest, but it may well work out in the long run. That aside, it seems your owners are going about things pretty sensibly after the Carson Yueng years, is Zola being backed in the transfer market this January? 

Tom: Gianfranco Zola is certainly being backed in the transfer market, that is clear for all to see both inside and outside of the club.
His first signing, albeit one that was set up by Rowett, was Jutkiewicz. The big striker signed for £1m from Burnley and he has now scored 10 goals, which makes him our top goal scorer.
Then, following that announcement just days before the window opened, Blues announced their second signing in former League Cup winner and Blues fan Craig Gardner.
The West Bromwich Albion midfielder signed on loan until the end of the season with a view to a permanent move. Again, this move is costing the club just over £1 million and although it doesn't seem like a lot, Blues haven't spent much in the past five years so fans are happy to see money being spent.
Then, last week Blues made a hattrick of signings in as many days which got mouths watering let me tell you that. 

On the Wednesday, Blues confirmed that Middlesbrough full back Emilio Nsue had signed a three-and-a-half year deal for around £1m plus £1m in add-ons. A shrewd signing if you ask me because he has the experience at this level and is still relatively young in footballing years.
Then on the Thursday we announced the signing of young French left back Cheick Keita for around £1.4m. Now I don't know enough about the lad to offer a huge comment on him but from what I have seen, Blues could have found themselves a real jem!
Following those two announcements, Blues then secured the services of Besiktas winger Kerim Frei. The 23-year-old signed a three-and-a-half deal and again, I don't know enough about him to comment but judging by his cameo appearance at Blackburn Rovers on Saturday, £2.2m could prove to be a bargain. 

Rich: That seems like a series of decent and sensible investments to me, so the good times may be coming back to Birmingham City by the sound of it. Rowett signed off with a win over Ipswich (thanks lads!), Zola came in the day after he left and you haven’t won since. Though to be fair to him you’ve had Newcastle twice in that time in the cup, as well as Brighton & Derby and you’ve had a few draws in there. Is it a case of it taking the players time to adjust to him and his system?

Tom: Zola actually came in the same day that Rowett was sacked which seemed very harsh to me. However, that stuff happens in football and we have had to move on. Zola has had some very difficult games to manage during the time that he has been here like you've pointed out, but some of the games we should have won. 
Take Brighton for example, we were 1-0 up with 20 minutes to go and we just sat deeper and deeper. That is not how Blues are used to playing and it was inevitable that we were going to concede because the pressure was being piled on. 
Two weekends ago we played Nottingham Forest off the park but we couldn't score for love nor money and that was frustrating to watch.  However, I think the players have now had a month to get used to the way Zola wants to play and it is slowly showing in their performances which is encouraging to see.

Rich: Wow, I didn't realise it was the same day, that does seem a little harsh. Sounds ominous for us that you're getting closer to that win. How does Zola set you up and does he change things depending on the opponents/whether you're home or away?

Tom: The little Italian doesn't really like to change systems from what I have seen so far. 
However, he may change some of the players. The obvious one for me would be to put Nsue in at right back for the young Josh Dacres-Cogley as I think you have more of an attacking threat than Blackburn did.  At the moment, Zola is a fan of the 4-3-3 formation and I fully expect him to stick with that. As I usually do, on Thursday I will be predicting my line up on Vital Birmingham so Canaries fans can see what I think the line up will be.
I wouldn't be surprised if Zola changed a few things for the game against Norwich but I don't think there will be massive changes, just a few tweaks

Rich: Which player(s) of yours should we be most worried about, which player(s) of ours will you be most worried about and is there a player of yours than worries you? Every team has one!

Tom: I think there are a few that Norwich fans should keep an eye on this weekend if I am being honest. But if I had to pick two players from our starting 11 then I would have to say Jutkiewicz and Gardner. There is an obvious reason for Jutkiewicz, he is our main goal threat so if he gets in the right areas you could be in trouble. Then you have Gardner. His presence in midfield is something that we have been missing this season and his passing ability is a thing of beauty at times.
If I look at the Canaries squad, I have to say Cameron Jerome is someone that I am worried about because he has obviously played for us so I have a feeling he may score against us this weekend, it's bound to happen!
If I had to pick a player of ours that I'm worried about I'd have to say Michael Morrison. The former Charlton Athletic defender just hasn't come to terms with the way Zola is wanting the team to play and he is often caught in possession so he could be one that causes concerns for Blues fans this weekend.

Rich: Our defence is an ongoing concern, Jutkiewicz could have some joy against our CB pairing I feel. Jerome is a player I have a lot of time for, he works so hard for the team as we play one up front, though his finishing can sometimes let him down. If you leave Wes Hoolahan unattended as Wolves did last weekend, then he can run the game for us. Be nice to us, we’ve recently beaten Villa and Wolves for you (though I see you’re interning at Wolves, so I guess you have to be a bit political at work!).
So, finally, what are your hopes for the season? Where do you think you’ll finish, where do you think Norwich will finish? And a score prediction for Saturday please.

Tom:  It's great that you've beaten them pair recently (if not a bit controversially against Wolves) so hopefully you don't complete a hattrick
I would love Blues to finish in the playoffs but as it stands I believe a top 10 finish would prove to be yet another successful season and I am sure many Blues fans would think the same. I'd like us to finish eighth but more importantly, above Aston Villa!!
As for Norwich, I am not sure where you will finish. If Alex Neil is still in charge, I think you will finish outside the top 10 but if a new manager comes in, like Rowett, then I think you could really push for a playoff spot. My score prediction for the game on Saturday is 2-2.

Rich: I think we may scrape a win on Saturday, our home form has been good, our away form dire. So a high scoring home win, 3-2 to us. If you take an early lead and the crowd turns, which it's threatened to recently, then all bets are off!

Rich was speaking to Tom Heslop of Vital Birmingham you can follow them on Twitter @VitalBirmingham and Tom tweets personally at @Heslop96