Saturday 3 May ~
Though issues of relegation and promotion are not decided mid-match it has been widely reported that at several points during last Saturday Fulham were relegated. Then came their comeback from two down to win 3-2 at Manchester City. Which brings us to today's match at Craven Cottage. The visitors, Birmingham City, could be relegated themselves by tonight if results go against them.
Alex McLeish's motivational skills and tactics face a severe test, especially as Birmingham have not won away since his first game as manager, when they grabbed a last-minute goal at White Hart Lane in December. Although they are third from bottom, Birmingham haven't looked like one of the three worst teams in the Premier League but they have been consistently prone to giving away goals through individual mistakes, a habit they maintained in squandering a two-goal lead against Liverpool last week.
In the build-up to the Fulham match, McLeish sounded bullish, claiming that Birmingham have improved since his arrival – and that his predecessor Steve Bruce has only done well with his new club Wigan because they were underperforming before. McLeish also sounded concerned about the metal reserves of his players: “There will not be any in-depth talks just before the game. You can bombard players but their attention span is not the highest at the best of times. I will try to keep things as limited as possible and do it the way we feel is right.”
The Birmingham board have had plenty of their minds just lately but McLeish has apparently been told that he will keep the manager's job whether his team are relegated or not. Today's result may not decide the relegation issues but it may well be a career-defining game for a manager who, less than six months ago, was on the verge of leading the Scottish national team to Euro 2008.