Chief Sports Writer Hyder Jawad calls into question the press ban on players at St Andrew's...

The Birmingham City of spring 2006 are starting to resemble the West Bromwich Albion of spring 2003: nervous, paranoid and oversensitive.

It is never nice fighting against relegation - hey, it has even happened to Manchester United and Chelsea - but there are ways of dealing with such adversity.

Banning your players from talking to the press (and, by extension, to the supporters) does nothing but add to the sense of anxiety, and distances the club from its customers.

One of the most ridiculous aspects of the 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa last Sunday was seeing the Birmingham players trickle out of the stadium with sealed lips, as if somebody (Steve Bruce, perhaps) had covered their mouths with gagging tape.

Consequently, while the Villa players were queuing up to articulate their views about the match, the Blues players were looking like a collection of political detainees.

Bruce, the Birmingham manager, initiated the gagging order in the wake of comments by David Sullivan, the club's co-owner, about how the players did not earn their salaries.

But Sullivan's comments were made on March 22. It is now April 18. The matter should be history but it is not, primarily because Bruce's gagging order continues to draw attention to Sullivan's remarks.

The atmosphere at St Andrew's now resembles that of The Hawthorns three years ago, when Gary Megson, the then West Bromwich Albion manager, fell out with chairman Jeremy Peace.

Tension hung over the stadium like a black cloud.

"I'd love to talk but I'd be fined," one player told me.

Albion were relegated by the end of April 2003. Megson has never recovered. If Birmingham are to avoid the same fate, they would help their own cause by appearing more relaxed, more unified, instead of turning themselves into a sporting equivalent of America's Republican party.

Controlling your public relations to this extent merely alienates the public and makes the press suspicious. The result is rarely healthy. The surprise is that Steve Bruce, the Birmingham manager, is among the most amiable of Premiership managers and appreciates better than most the role of the supporters and the press.

He would do well to acknowledge that gagging orders are invariably counter-productive and only create a spirit of fear.

Fortunately, there is David Gold. Here is a man who realises the value of talking on the record. Here is a chairman who returns calls. Here is a football supporter who realises the value of a club's relationship with its customers.

Gold is worth £500 million, is eminently successful, and has more excuse than most to ignore telephone calls. But he has cleverly turned himself into the personification of Birmingham City Football Club.

Birmingham did not need public relations because they had, in Gold and Bruce, two of the most charming men in the game. It is rare to find negative press about Birmingham but, if relegation comes, that will change.

Gold probably knows it and continues to act as the club's spokesman. He talks sense, too, but one would also like to hear the views of Kenny Cunningham (captain), Emile Heskey (most high-profile player), Jermaine Pennant (most talented player), and everybody else whose wages are paid for by the fans.

I have found the Birmingham players to be intelligent, articulate and (contrary to what Sullivan says) deeply concerned for the future of the club. It is time Bruce let these players discuss their feelings in public.

While we wait for that to happen, consider what Gold said about the defeat to Villa. Consider the aptitude of his public relations.

Asked if Steve Bruce would remain as manager if - horror of horrors - Birmingham were relegated, Gold said: "Absolutely. What he's had to undergo these past eight months has been amazing. I've never experienced injuries like Steve has had to endure in my 13 years in football.

"I can remember us going down from the old First Division to the Second Division [under Barry Fry] and remember how tragic that was but in actual fact we bounced back and over a period of time [reached] the Premiership.

"I'd be optimistic if we did get relegated that we'd mount a massive campaign to return to the Premiership."

And thus ends one significant concern at St Andrew's: the future of Steve Bruce. The future of the club's Premiership status is less conclusive.