Times they are achanging. It is hard to imagine that during the first half of 2003-04, Birmingham City were more defensively astute than either Chelsea or Liverpool.
It is no wonder, then, that Maik Taylor has become baffled at Birmingham's inability to keep clean sheets. They have conceded 12 goals already this season. Two seasons ago, they reached November 22 before conceding the same amount.
But if there is a perception that Birmingham are no longer difficult to beat, at least there were encouraging signs during the match at home to Liverpool three days ago. Taylor, the goalkeeper, thinks that Birmingham are going back to the future.
The 2-2 draw did not flatter Birmingham and, while Liverpool did create an abundance of chances, this was clearly a step in the right direction for Steve Bruce's team. These were the matches that Birmingham were losing earlier in the campaign.
"We need to address the issue of how we concede goals, definitely," Taylor said. "We set our stall out in previous seasons to be hard to beat and teams having to work hard to score against us but this season, especially at home, we have given extremely soft goals away.
"It has been spoken about and, against Liverpool, I thought we were back to where we were for long periods, difficult to break down.
"Liverpool are a top-drawer side. We were home and we would look to try to win every game. Emile Heskey has taken a knock early on but he has battled through, kept going for as long as he could. We are up against not having much luck with the injuries."
But injuries are only part of the problem. This is a stronger defensive line than two years ago - Mario Melchiot, Kenny Cunningham, Matthew Upson and Jamie Clapham are highly-regarded - but Birmingham do not carry the same menace of autumn 2003.
One is inclined to think that the midfield, which no longer has the in-your-face style of Robbie Savage, has become too nice; too unstable; too geared towards creativity. It makes Birmingham better to watch but easier against which to play. But a 2-2 draw against the European champions augurs well for the matches away to Arsenal ( October 2) and at home to Aston Villa (October 16).
"Liverpool was tough and so, too, will be the matches against Arsenal and Villa," Taylor said. "On paper, some may have said we had a decent first six fixtures of the season.
"But now we have got the big games coming around so we haven't taken as many points as we would have liked in the first six games so they are tough times.
"We are showing a lot of
spirit. We were down to ten men at Portsmouth and battled through and we showed it again that we are ready for the fight.
"We spoke about the inconsistencies of last season and we certainly have to do better against the sides in and around us first and foremost. Those are the bread-andbutter points and anything from the top teams is a bonus."
The inference, then, is that a point against Liverpool was welcome but Taylor cannot help thinking that Birmingham could have won.
"We got ourselves into a good position," he said. "But it was the second time in the game that LuIs GarcIa [who scored the first Liverpool goal] has lost us from a corner and he has managed to get a flick on and there were bodies in there and there was the ricochet off the bar. The ball hit me and I thought it was in but Neil Kilkenny has put his hand out."
Kilkenny was sent off, Djibril Ciss> equalised for Liverpool from the penalty, and Birmingham hung on for a point.
"Credit to the boys," Taylor said. "They saw it out. At least we have stopped the rot and can take some positives. I wouldn't put it down to inexperience on the part of Neil. It was just one of those things. Other people in the same position would have probably done the same thing. It is natural instinct to try to stop a goal.
"It is fortunate for him with another big game coming at Arsenal. He will be another absentee in a position where we are struggling for numbers. But he did very well.
"He acquitted himself very well on his debut. He can take a lot from the game but he will probably fee a little bit let down because he is going to miss the game next week. With injuries and suspensions, it is going to hit us quite hard.
"It was very tight in the first half. It took a goal and it all came to life. Credit to the boys. We've gone a goal down and in the past we've got rolled over from then on. But Liverpool responded well, got themselves in a great position and were pleased to hang on at the end."
Still, two years ago, that match would have ended 0-0.