Coming into the season with confidence renewed, last season’s relegation battlers Birmingham City have been a team transformed under the management of former Charlton boss Lee Bowyer, who guided them to safety last year.
Though the Blues’ place in the Championship looked in serious jeopardy for much of a troubled campaign under Aitor Karanka, their fortunes changed when Bowyer stepped into the dugout and guided them to a relatively comfortable 18th-placed finish.
The former Birmingham midfielder’s first full season in charge has started well too, after an early goal from Maxime Colin earned his side a backs-against-the
-wall victory at Bramall Lane on the Championship’s opening day; having had only a quarter of the ball and conceded 16 shots on target to Sheffield United.
League Two side Colchester were their next victims, in midweek, when Blues returned to St Andrew’s in the first round of the EFL Cup. The U’s stubborn resistance was only broken by a 75th-minute winner for the home side, just as it appeared that the tie was heading for penalties.
Marcel Oakley’s deflected winner finally broke the deadlock and edged Bowyer’s men through to the next round – where they will meet Fulham later this month – providing a morale boost ahead of Saturday’s game.
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Stoke make the short journey to the Second City in a similar vein of form, but will recall their 2-0 defeat the last time the two teams met in B9, just four months ago.
On that occasion, they dominated the ball but were stung by a pair of Lukas Jutkiewicz strikes, so will be wary of succumbing to the same fate this weekend.
So far, Sam Surridge has starred in the Potters’ positive start to the 2021-22 campaign, having scored his second goal in as many games since joining from Bournemouth as his new team edged past Fleetwood Town and into the second round of the EFL Cup in midweek