It has been 79 days since Birmingham City and Wolverhampton Wanderers last met at St Andrew’s.
However those looking to gain some indication from that January 13 meeting as to which way Monday night’s fixture between the two teams will sway would be foolish.
The previous encounter was a rearranged FA Cup third round tie that was viewed as more of a chore than a challenge, therefore no comparison to a forthcoming match that may ultimately determine which side of the West Midlands the Championship title ends up in.
That night fell in Wolverhampton’s favour, 2-0 courtesy of goals by Sam Vokes and Andy Keogh, although Birmingham had reasons to bemoan their luck – visiting defender Richard Stearman should have been sent off, the hosts should have had a first-half penalty and referee Howard Webb later confessed that his backside played a part in Wolves’ second goal.
However one crucial factor was Birmingham’s line-up that night and how vastly different it is likely to be come Monday night.
From the last meeting, only six Blues players – Maik Taylor, Liam Ridgewell, Radhi Jaidi, Franck Queudrue, Lee Carsley and Cameron Jerome – are likely to figure from the start next week. Crucially, Birmingham’s line-up for that FA Cup encounter was one without star performers such as Kevin Phillips, Sebastian Larsson and James McFadden and instead included a rookie from non-League, Robin Shroot, and a midfielder who now wears Wolves’ old gold and black, Nigel Quashie.
The hosts were even forced to name academy hopefuls Ashley Sammons and Mitchell McPike on the bench that night while filling only six of the allotted seven substitutions.
Whether the latest Birmingham XI will be able to reverse the last result between these two neighbours in B9 remains to be seen but there is no doubt that, at his peak, Larsson is an influential tool.
Having overcome a niggling injury and a spell as a makeshift right-back, the Sweden international has begun to recreate the form that turned him into a St Andrew’s superstar in the early part of his Birmingham career. The right winger’s selfless tracking back, creative approach and dangerous set-pieces will keep Wolves on their guard.
Larsson agrees that he has got back to his best in time for the Championship’s home stretch and interestingly praises the arrival of right-back Stephen Carr, another new face for Wolves to contend with, for helping him get there.
“From a personal point of view, I wasn’t happy with the way I started the season at all,” Larsson said. “But slowly I felt I was getting better before I broke down injured, which was immensely frustrating. Lately I think I’ve got my form back again and I feel I’m starting to play to my full ability.
“Having a player of Stephen Carr’s experience and ability behind me has certainly given me confidence.
“He knows his position inside out and having not played for such a long time I think he’s surprised everyone, probably including himself, with how well he’s slotted into the team.”