Saturday's Midlands derby is only the start of a rollercoaster ride, says Chief Sports Writer Hyder Jawad...
It is only a matter of time before a multimillion-pound company sponsors a trophy to be given to the team that finishes in seventeenth position in the Premiership each year. It will be a trophy worth winning.
Forget first place. Chelsea finish there each year and that is not even their priority. It is seventeenth that matters most and, this season, the battle for that position is between Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion.
* In Wednesday's Birmingham Post - Chief Sports Writer Hyder Jawad names the key player's in Saturday's game *
They meet at St Andrew's at noon on Saturday and both managers - Steve Bruce, of Birmingham, and Bryan Robson, of Albion - will look at the situation from different perspectives.
Whereas Robson is realistic enough to know that his team were always destined to be fighting for survival, Bruce no doubt had greater ambitions, the possibility of the top ten or even qualifying for Europe.
That is why Albion might have a psychological advantage as the season enters its most significant stage. Having survived in dramatic fashion before (memorably at The Hawthorns last May), Albion know what is involved. Birmingham, with their rich internationals, were never designed for such eventualities.
Experience counts for a lot. But Saturday will not be a pivotal match, just as March will not be a pivotal month. It is likely that the issue will remain unresolved until, on the final day of the season, Birmingham go to Bolton Wanderers and Albion go to Everton.
"Saturday is not a sixpointer, no matter what people think," Robson said yesterday. "It's a three-pointer. It is one very important match but, whatever the result, both teams will still be in a fight to avoid relegation. It will settle nothing.
"Our hope, in addition to picking up as many points as possible, is to try to drag clubs like Middlesbrough, Aston Villa and Fulham into the fight. Realistically, we need four wins to stay up."
Robson and Bruce are friends and both accept (in private if not necessarily in public) that one will endure relegation. It will not affect their friendship but it might affect at least one of the two careers.
"Bryan and I know what is at stake," Bruce said. "We will be trying everything we possibly can to keep our respective clubs in the Premiership. We all know how crucial it is to stay up because of the financial aspects but we've also worked hard these last four years and we don't want to throw things away.
"Last season there was a big cheer around our ground when Albion stayed up on the final day because it was good for Midlands football - and in an ideal world we would like to drag someone else into it over the next couple of months.
"But whatever happens on Saturday and in the weeks ahead, we are both big enough to know it is not personal. I saw Robbo at Christmas and we knew then we were going to be involved.
"We haven't spoken that much in the past month. If we say 'good luck' it is tongue in cheek. But the two families are close and we will still be great mates, whatever happens on Saturday and in mid May."
Robson would not be human if he did not look at the fixture list and consider how Albion are going to win these four matches. Forty points should be enough to ensure survival, meaning that Albion need 14 points from ten matches and Birmingham need 17 points from 11 matches.
In March, after the match against Birmingham, Albion will face Manchester United at home and Tottenham Hotspur away. Then come matches against Liverpool, Aston Villa and Arsenal.
"March can certainly be a big month when you can have good results and that can make you comfortable," Robson said. "But we have been up and down with our form this season, so we need to aim for consistency."
After their match against Albion, Birmingham face Tottenham, Manchester United and Chelsea.
Birmingham remain in the bottom three after their defeat to Middlesbrough last Saturday. It was a result that went down well at The Hawthorns, where Albion had just played well but lost 2-1 to Chelsea in a belligerent match.
Albion are in better shape now than they were this time last year and they have a stronger squad. But whereas they were clearly the best of the four teams fighting to avoid relegation last season, this time the issue is less clear. Like Albion, Birmingham are too good to be so low down, but that counts for little.
"The difference between now and this time last year is that it is all in our own hands," Robson said. "That is important. It is other people who are trying to catch up."
So why is the strongest Albion squad since 1981-82 - when Robson was at The Hawthorns as a player - struggling in seventeenth position? And why is the strongest Birmingham squad since 1977-78 sitting ominously in the bottom three?
"Most managers will point to injuries when they under-achieve," Robson said. "But injuries have hindered us and, of course, the African Cup of Nations did not help us, because we had some big home matches at that time and we lost Kanu and Diomansy Kamara. They were in good form just when they left.
"The absence of Zoltan Gera has been a blow. He was a big influence for us this time last year, so to miss him has been disappointing but the squad is stronger, so we should be doing better than what we are."
Birmingham have suffered with injuries in similar fashion. At one point this season, admittedly before an FA Cup tie, Birmingham were missing a dozen players. It would be funny if it were not so serious. But Birmingham's injury problems are inherent and need to be addressed, for they suffer more than most clubs; always have, probably always will.
The shame is that both clubs, playing to their potential, are too good to be playing in the Coca-Cola Championship. But one will be relegated, of that there is little doubt. Robson, for one, remains optimistic.
"If the lads can hit the form that they did on Saturday [against Chelsea], then we should be OK," he said. "But we have to get a better standard of performance."
And, yes, the Albion manager does look at the fixture list and wonder from where the next 14 points are coming. He is human, after all (even if it did not always appear that way when he was a masterful midfield player).
"You cannot help yourself," Robson said. "You will always look at what is coming up. The main thing is that you do not look too far ahead. This week is about preparing for Saturday. At the start of a month, we will know that we have got three big home matches on the belt.
"But we know that if we can play that well against Chelsea, we can play that well against anybody. We gave them a really hard game.
"As far as I am concerned, we have to have belief that we can still catch the clubs above us. But that is going to be tough because we are running out of games.
"But we have still got a good chance. To stay up, we will have to win probably four matches. We have to keep believing. Every season, a club seems to be in free-fall and they drop into the relegation zone."
Four victories between now and May 7? It will be difficult - perhaps even more difficult than avoiding relegation a year ago.
It is likely, however, that everything will go to the final Sunday, when Albion's fate could be decided by Birmingham at the Reebok Stadium - or Birmingham's by Albion at Goodison Park.
Hold on to your wigs - we are in for a rollercoaster.