BCFC: Striker Options

A 1-0 defeat to Cambridge United in the Carabao Cup on Saturday meant Aitor Karanka got off to a losing start as Blues Head Coach. With a week until the Championship campaign starts, Karanka has to pick his charges back up and encourage them to believe that they can win.

Birmingham City FC

While losing to lower league opposition is a bitter pill to swallow, any feelings of anxiety over the new season should be tempered by the fact that the team that played in that game should hopefully bear little resemblance to the one that plays the majority of the season.

Only Andres Prieto and George Friend of this season’s new signings started the game, with Jon Toral and Adam Clayton only fit enough to be available off the bench.

Ivan Sanchez is yet to start training with the team having been given some time off following his exertions in Elche’s end of season playoff campaign and Jonathan Leko needs more time to recover from the ACL injury he picked up in December.

However, even when all of these players are fit and ready for action there is the bald fact that Blues are light in forward areas.

Karanka gave 18-year-old Adan George his professional debut at the weekend leading the line in place of the injured Lukas Jutkiewicz, and while Jutkiewicz should return from his quad injury shortly he will in all probability still need time to step up to full match fitness.

Blues still need at least one striker even when Jutkiewicz is back leading the line if not two – and that means one of the first tests of this year’s transfer window.

While the twin issues of historic debt and the coronavirus do mean that Blues have to remain somewhat prudent in the transfer market, there is a feeling among some fans that the lack of transfer fees spent so far will mean more can be spent on a striker.

The problem is that a large transfer fee does not necessarily mean a striker will score 20 goals in a Championship season.

In the last five seasons, only 18 players have registered more than 20 League goals in a Championship season. Of those 18 players, only two of them have done it more than once – Tammy Abraham and Lewis Grabban.

There are fairly obvious reasons why most strikers do not repeat the feat. Most strikers are either promoted with their team or snapped up by a Premier League team in the season following their 20+ goal haul; of the others, four were loaned out to Championship sides by Premier League teams.

Some teams have shown that with shrewd scouting and good play, a striker who doesn’t cost much can do the business. Blues have done this themselves, picking up Che Adams for around £2M in 2016 two seasons before he scored 22 goals and a big move to the Premier League.

As one would expect, Brentford are the past masters at picking up cheap strikers who turn out to be goal machines; Neal Maupay cost them just £1.6M while Ollie Watkins, who finished last season as equal top scorer with 26 cost just £1.8M.

Norwich and Hull City did even better than that, picking up Teemo Pukki and Jarrod Bowen respectively on free transfers prior to them hitting 20 in a league season.

While I can’t lie that I would be somewhat excited by Blues going big and spending a large sum on a “proven” striker, my real hope is that Blues go down the sensible route again.

I’d much rather Blues went for a striker like Che Adams with raw potential who could be moulded not only in terms of skill but set up so that the team and the player benefit most from each other.

If Blues are to do that it’s going to take time – which brings me back to something I’ve said in previous pieces.

Defeat to Cambridge wasn’t nice, and there is definitely a fear in some quarters that some things haven’t changed.

However, it’s one game – and Karanka has signed up for three years. It might take a few games, it might even take more than one window to get things right; we have to give the management some time to get things right otherwise we are doomed to repeat the cycle of the last few years.