Is Jonathan Grounds underrated at Birmingham City?

The 952 Blues fans who travelled to Portman Road on Saturday to see the team draw 1-1 with Ipswich were treated somewhat to a rare moment- a goal from Jonathan Grounds.

His second half finish, with his right foot might I add, to put Blues into the lead was his first goal of the season and his first since September 2015.

Grounds is often a player that receives stick from the fans and unfairly in my opinion. He’s the scapegoat, if you like. Since he arrived at the club in the summer of 2014, he has missed just six Championship games and played in every single minute apart from those six.

He’s a lot more crucial to the team than some people think and the good stuff he does seems to go under the radar quite often. But, for me, he is one of the most consistent players in the squad and in some ways is over performing. Let’s remember, he was signed back in the Lee Clark days on a free transfer from League One club Oldham.

I’ll admit, he does get exploited at times and he has his weaknesses but doesn’t every player? The feeling I seem to get from a lot of fans is that they don’t rate Grounds at all and they don’t seem to look beyond the odd mistake he might make. He has his moments but more often than not, he is a reliable performer for Blues and doesn’t get the credit he deserves.

The stats to back it up

According to WhoScored.com, Grounds has the highest average player rating of any player in the Blues squad this season- 7.08. He is followed by Ryan Shotton (7.05) and Lukas Jutkiewicz (7.0). For me, I can’t really argue with that as all three players have been very good for us this season despite the downfall since Zola arrived at the club.

In terms of defensive stats, Grounds has also made the most average tackles per game for Blues with 2.3. He’s closely followed unsurprisingly by David Davis and Maikel Kieftenbeld who both average 2.2. Grounds’ aerial ability is also there for all to see. He’s up there with Jutkiewicz and Shotton when it comes to aerial duels won per game with an average of 4.2.

If you’re not convinced by his attacking prowess then you have to look no further than his assist tally. He currently has three assists to his name this season which is the joint highest at the club alongside Che Adams and Michael Morrison if you take David Cotterill (on loan at Bristol City) out of the equation.

Competition

I think a lot of fans expected Grounds to lose his place in the side as soon as Cheick Keita arrived at the club but injuries at centre back gave him the opportunity to move inside from his left back position.

In the few times he has played as a centre half, Grounds has looked extremely comfortable there and I wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually ended up playing there regularly.

Keita is clearly an exciting player as we have already seen but you would say that he is best in the left wing back position in the current five at the back formation that Gianfranco Zola is currently deploying. His attacking nature means that there has to be the necessary defensive cover at the back when he moves forward.

Grounds has been playing at left wing back whilst Keita has been out recovering from a recent injury but I do expect him to naturally progress and move back inside as the left centre back of the three.

Paul Robinson has surprised us all and has started 10 out of the last 11 games despite being 38-years-old. As a more long term thing and looking ahead to next season, I can see Grounds playing a crucial role at left centre back in a back five, with Keita to the left of him.

His current contract at St Andrew’s expires this June but there is the option of an extra year which I expect the club will take up. At the age of 29, Grounds still has years left in him and I think he can really flourish for Blues, particularly as a centre back in a five at the back system.

He has the height, physicality and seems comfortable when bringing the ball out from the back which will suit the side if Zola is still in charge next season. In just his third season at the club, Grounds has reached 125 league appearances which is an incredibly impressive tally in such a short space of time and shows just how underrated and crucial he is to the team.

Let me know if you think Jonathan Grounds is an underrated player at Blues by clicking this link and voting in the poll!

 

Birmingham City 2016/17: The Final Eight (Part One)

We’re entering the crunch stage of the 2016/17 season and Blues have just eight games remaining to ensure that they accumulate enough points that will guarantee them their Championship status.

Gianfranco Zola’s side sit just five points above the relegation zone and face a tough run-in. We’ve gone from a season that had potential under Gary Rowett to one that has turned into a disaster since Zola took over in December.

The idea that Zola could somehow turn us into a free-flowing possession side that could score goals for fun clearly hasn’t gone to plan. In fact, we’ve reverted back to a style that served us so well under Rowett.

It’s now or never for Blues. We’re somehow in a situation where relegation is a definite possibility and it’s up to Zola and the players to get us out of this mess in the final eight fixtures.

Let’s take a look at what Blues have to face over the final weeks of the season, beginning on Saturday with the trip to Ipswich Town:

Ipswich A (1/4)

The first of this final run of fixtures sees us travel to Portman Road to take on Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich side, who are also in danger of relegation. They sit on the same amount of points as Blues (45) so this could be a significant game. They are in a strange run of form with just one win in 12, but they have also only lost just three of those games. It will be tough for Blues to get all three points against a team that may not have the firepower, but do have the gritty determination to snatch points out of games. The other teams down the bottom have some tricky games on this date so a point for Blues could be extremely valuable.

Prediction: 1-1

Brighton A (4/4)

A trip to face the team that inflicted the first defeat of Zola’s reign as manager in his first game comes just a few days after the Ipswich game. Chris Hughton’s side scored with virtually the last kick of the game to win on that occasion but I can see it being a lot more straightforward for them this time around. Brighton are one of the best teams in the division and will most likely secure automatic promotion to the Premier League. They are also a force to be reckoned with at home and it will be a bonus if Blues take anything away from the AMEX.

Prediction: 2-0 Brighton

Derby H (8/4)

The return of Gary Rowett to St Andrew’s. It’s pretty embarrassing for us that the manager that should never have been sacked could turn out to have a part to play in us potentially being relegated. Taking over Derby will pose a different sort of task for him than when he took over a Blues side sitting in 23rd place. They have an array of talented players that will cause any team problems but Rowett will also ensure that they get the basics of playing football right. Hopefully Blues themselves can stay organised and nullify the attacking threat of Derby to hold out for at least a point.

Prediction: 1-1

Rotherham A (14/4)

Blues travel to the New York Stadium on Good Friday in the start of an Easter weekend that could define our season. With Rotherham being bottom of the league by some distance, it’s a game that Blues should look at to realistically gain maximum points from. We haven’t been used to winning games under Zola but that winning formula needs to be found and this is a game where it all needs to click for Blues. With other tricky games coming up, it’s vital that we take something from this game and across the course of that weekend that sees numerous teams at the bottom face each other. I’m hoping that this is the game Blues finally win again under Zola but I can see it being a tight one where Blues just come out on top.

Prediction: 2-1 Blues

If Blues pick up the five points that I have predicted from these next four games, then that should be enough to keep us safe. One more win in the four remaining games after that should secure it.

Stay tuned for Part Two over the next week or so where I will take a look at the final four fixtures of our season which includes the small matter of a trip to face Aston Villa in the Second City derby.

Click here to see the previous post!