Chief Sports Writer Hyder Jawad ponders why Steve Bruce's men have underachieved...
Steve Bruce has warned that Birmingham City face a "long, hard winter", David Sullivan has called the club's start to the season "a major, major disappointment", and suddenly, even at so early a point in the season, the spectre of relegation looms.
Birmingham, who lost 1-0 at home to Aston Villa on Sunday, slipped into the bottom three of the Premiership on Monday night. They have secured just one point from five home matches this season. They have only scored seven goals in nine matches.
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Auguries are not good. So what has gone wrong? Why has the strongest, most creative squad seen at St Andrew's since the mid-70s struggled so alarmingly?
There are mitigating circumstances. Injuries have been taking their toll on Bruce's squad for the past two years, while suspensions denied Birmingham the use of Nicky Butt and Kenny Cunningham against Villa. The absence of Mario Melchiot and Muzzy Izzet was also significant.
But Birmingham are not the first club to suffer from an injury crisis. Liverpool won the European Cup last season following what was considered to be the worst injury crisis in their history. Manchester United finished second in the Premiership with a similarly long list of injured players.
There is evidence to suggest that Blues' problems go far deeper than mere bad luck. Gone, it seems, is the spirit and fortitude that made the team so feared at the beginning of the 2003-04 season.
These days, only Liverpool seem to fear Birmingham. Villa certainly do not.
Could it be that Birmingham's policy of passion and enthusiasm is no longer enough to survive at Premiership level? The arrival of players such as Jermaine Pennant and David Dunn have made Birmingham more attractive to watch but not as good at grinding out results.
Often, the margin between victory and defeat is difficult to spot. Look at Everton. They finished fourth last season with a string of 1-0 victories. Those narrow victories are turning into narrow defeats this season and the club are now at the bottom of the table, having scored just one Premiership goal all season.
Birmingham are better off, but only just.
"As far as I'm concerned, anyone who is not worried about our results and position in the table is crazy," Sullivan, the Birmingham coowner, said. "The time to start worrying is now, not with five games to go."
It does not help that the strikers are struggling to score. Emile Heskey has scored only twice this season, Walter Pandiani once, while Mikael Forssell is without a goal.
Pandiani has been a significant disappointment since signing permanently for Birmingham. He is not a natural finisher, his movement off the ball lacks imagination and he seems to be on a different wavelength from his team-mates.
Heskey is still of international quality and played well against Villa but he was signed as a target man rather than an out-and-out goalscorer. Forssell was signed to score the majority of the goals but he is still searching for his form after a serious knee injury. Sullivan is not happy.
"Six points from nine games and no wins at home is a major, major disappointment, especially after the money we spent strengthening the squad in the summer. Every alarm bell is ringing at the moment," he said.
"It's obvious there is something wrong with our three strikers because they are not scoring. Nicky Butt is our top-paid player but he's been suspended for four games for stupidly getting himself sent off. It's all very worrying."
Since returning to the top flight in 2002, Birmingham have finished 13th, tenth and 12th and, by making permanent loan deals for Pennant and Pandiani this summer, hopes were high they would surpass those achievements.
But European football is now nothing more than a fanciful dream. Birmingham are at the crossroads.
It is significant that Bruce, the best Birmingham manager for a generation, avoids the kind of negative press that would surely dog David O'Leary if Villa were in the same situation.
Much of that is because Bruce is a nice guy with no obvious agendas. He is not always fair with the press - he has his favourites, like most managers - but he realises the value of courtesy and respect. Generally, he takes criticism well.
Bruce has been mentioned as a possible future England manager, while he could easily have walked away from Birmingham and taken the Newcastle United job a year or so ago. He should be praised for his loyalty. It is hard to imagine him using the media to plant stories linking him with other jobs.
Nevertheless, he is not paid by Birmingham for being a good guy. He is paid to win football matches and to turn St Andrew's into a fortress. On both counts this season, he is failing.
He is good at fostering team spirit and even better at reviving the fortunes of highmaintenance players (like Pennant and Christophe Dugarry). He is a master at manmanagement and it is hard to find a player who dislikes him.
But Bruce is not always known for his tactical prowess. When Birmingham's spirit fails them and key players are off form, the team does not have the flexibility to change shape and adapt to different circumstances. Too often, they resort to long balls that cut out the midfield.
Birmingham have spent a lot of money since 2002. They acquired promotion to the Premiership ahead of schedule, they acquired stability ahead of schedule, but now they seem to be behind schedule. By now, they should be fighting for a European place, yet they are nowhere near that stage.
Surgery is required. This could be Cunningham's last season, so a new centre-back is needed, probably in January. Pandiani needs to be replaced with a striker who is in tune with Heskey.
And once the midfield realises that Birmingham's best hope of victory is to bring Pennant and Dunn into the game as quickly as possible, then the tide will turn and then Heskey and Forssell will score the goals to match their salaries.
Birmingham will not be relegated this season, but avoiding the drop is hardly a cause for celebration. The club, the manager, the players, and the fans are geared to greater endeavours.