Preview: Birmingham v Norwich

Norwich make the trip to England’s second city, Birmingham (pipe down Manchester) on Saturday. Richard Jeffery caught up with Blues fan Thomas Hatton and discussed O’Cameron Jerome, Big Dogs, Redderz, Kyle Lafferty and boardroom shenanigans

  Che Adams: Birmingham's biggest threat?

Che Adams: Birmingham's biggest threat?

Rich: Norwich travel to St Andrews (a proper football ground) on Saturday to renew acquaintances after our latest sojourn into the Premier League. But, we bought you a present back with us. It’s an Aston Villa. That’s good right?

Thomas: It's great. I'd be lying if I said I didn't love seeing them get their comeuppance last season, it's been coming for a while and their fans needed taking down a peg or two. We've got to get ourselves in order before we play them in October though.

Rich: Yes, a massive game for you that. We both played local rivals last week: we managed a draw with our nearest (not very near) and dearest (not at all dear) and you lost to another team we loathe, Wolves. Hate derbies, unless you win...

So how about you. How have you been playing? Gary Rowett seemed to do a good job initially after taking over from Lee Clark, but seems to have come in for recent criticism. Is everything rosy in the garden?

Thomas: I've banished the Wolves second half from my memory, it was absolutely horrific. Rowett did a fantastic job after taking over from Clark (an absolute joke) and exceeded our wildest expectations for the season by finishing 10th. We looked to have kicked on last season being in and around the top six until Spring, before falling away.

We've started the season how we finished the last: negatively. We were solid if not very dull in our opener against Cardiff, looked a little more open in the opening 45 against Wolves but the second half was the worst performance of Rowett's reign. I'm not overly pleased with the start to the season, 6/10 at best. I fear the worst on Saturday given the extent an average Wolves side sliced us open at will.

Rich: Talking of Clark, including him there have been many connections between Norwich and Birmingham over the years. Nathan Redmond, Keith Bertschin, Chris Hughton, Cameron Jerome, Tom Adeyemi to name a few but the one I feel I must mention is Kyle Lafferty.  

He’s polarised the Norwich support. Half think he’s not up to it and understand why he doesn’t get much game time, and the other half – despite (or because of) him not getting any game time – think he’s the messiah. What was he like for you when you had him on loan last season?

Thomas: He was excellent on his debut against Brighton and scored an early goal, grew tired and was subbed off. From that point on he did nothing else of note. He was disappointing but in his defence he didn't look fit. There's definitely a player in there. I'm not surprised he polarises your support, it's probably the same as we were with Jerome.

Rich: Jerome's scored twice for us already this season, got over 20 goals in our last Championship campaign and yet is not universally admired. I like him: he works hard and we play one up top so he does a lot of running.

How will you set up against us, what’s your style, which player of yours should we be most worried about, which player of ours will you be most worried about and which player of yours will you be most worried about? Every team has one.

Thomas: I was a fan of Jerome too. We spent two seasons booting the ball at his head and he didn't stop running yet our fans slaughtered him.

We will probably set up in a 4231 or a 433. Neither of which will be expansive – we'll be set up to sit deep and hit you on the break, which is one thing we are actually good at. It's probably an ideal fixture for us to try and get back on track despite the gulf in quality between us. If we hadn't been well beaten last week I'd be certain of the starting 11 but I'm sure he'll shake things up slightly.

Che Adams started brightly last week, he looks a threat. Aside from that if Diego Fabbrini plays you'll see lots of nice flicks, turns and ridiculously quick feet. The end product isn't there yet but he gets you off your seat.

You have such a wealth of talent it's hard to pick one I’m most worried about. I’m just delighted Redmond has moved on, so I would probably say Steven Naismith, Robbie Brady but most of all Alex Pritchard – he's a class act.

For us I'm most worried about Jonathan Grounds and David Davis. Grounds is under real pressure from our fans but no pressure on the pitch due to absolutely zero competition. He tries his hardest but personally I think he's an accident waiting to happen. David Davis should be our fifth choice centre-mid but seems to be getting a start every week at the minute, he's one card away one from a suspension and we're still in August.

What's the view of Blues from Norwich? I'm used to us being a big dog in this league and struggling to adapt to us being mid-table nobodies.

Rich: I still consider you as a big fish, I guess it's because of your relatively recent spells in the Premier League. You're a proper club, great ground and support so I think you're well respected in general. The atmosphere before, during and after the 2002 play-off final was amazing and the two sets of fans mingled well. So a lot of goodwill from that too, even though you beat us.

We miss Nathan; love that little guy. We just sold him to Southampton a few seasons after getting him from you guys, you also sold Demarai Gray to Leicester last season. That’s quite a production line of wingers you have there. Who will have the best career, Redmond or Gray? And who is the latest name out of the St Andrews Winger Factory?

Thomas:  Difficult to say, Redmond arguably had a bigger impact at Blues than Gray, though he was playing with much better players. You could say Gray has achieved more already what with being the owner of a League winners medal. I'm going to go with Redmond but I think they'll both be very successful and play for England.

Our latest winger is Viv Solomon-Otabor, who may be on the bench on Saturday. He's older than Gray and Redmond were when they broke through, he looks much stronger and far more direct but also far less skilful in my opinion. It's early days and our slight financial improvement unfortunately means there's less of a chance for him than there was when Gray and Redmond came through.

The benefit of our lack of cash for a few years is reaping the rewards of the academy. We've had some great kids come through and it's looking like it will continue.

Didn't Norwich win the FA Youth cup a couple of years back? Other than the Murphy twins I'm not sure who else went on to first team football. Potential ignorance on my part though.

Rich: I love a pacy winger, no finer sight in football. Good to hear your academy is bearing fruit as well – there's no better sight in football than a local lad who's a pacy winger, like the Murphys.

We did indeed win the FA Youth Cup in 2013. Certainly not ignorance on your part, they're the only two who've been close to the first team, and then not often. After various loans they've been getting a chance this season, which is good to see. The only other player from that team still with the club is Harry Toffolo, he's in the first team squad as a left-back, yet to break through.

We famously have Delia Smith as our owner, she has her faults but overall approval ratings remain high, though some fans long to be taken over by a rich foreign owner. You and a few other clubs that come to mind are examples of how that can go badly. Have your ownership issues with Carson Yeung been resolved?

Thomas: Sort of. It's taken over five years but we're now at a point where the ownership will change hands. There's literally been a book written about our ownership saga so it's difficult to succinctly summarise it for you, however Carson is out of the picture serving time in a Hong Kong prison. After his appeal failed, we brought in receivers to clean up boardroom infighting at the Parent Company and they dealt with Peter Pannu who was a poisonous figure at the club.

Panos Pavlakis (Carson's brother in law) manoeuvred to get Carson and Pannu out and he is now 'acting chairman' or something. He's done a good job, engaged with the fans and has worked with the receivers to organise a sale to another Chinese company whose expertise is turning around distressed companies and selling them for a profit. So it's very much a 'holding' owner for us for a couple of years. BIH (the club’s parent company) were so toxic, it's been a long, arduous and at times tortuous affair for the fans. The end is finally in sight. Sorry that might be the most boring thing to appear on your website.

Rich: Haha, I very much doubt that, have you read it? I'm glad you're coming out of that period, must be awful as a fan to be helpless and watch something like that unfold, but great that you've fought and got to this point.

So, finally, what are your hopes for the season? Where do you think you’ll finish and where do you think Norwich will finish? And a score prediction for Saturday please.

Thomas: I'd hoped for a play-off push but would have been happy with another top 10 finish given the strength of the division this year. Realistically we're going to be in and around mid table. Norwich I've got finishing top six but not in the top two. Prediction? Sod it I'll go with some misguided confidence, 2-1 Blues.

Rich: I think that as you're setting up to thwart us and hit us on the break we'll struggle to create much, so I'm going for 1-1. Honours even.

Thomas Hatton is a Birmingham City fan, in his 15th year as a season ticket-holder, and a top man. You can follow him on Twitter at @thehbomb87