Birmingham City captain Lee Carsley has surprisingly labelled promotion rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers as the Championship’s dark horses.
Whether or not the midfield general is attempting to unsettle Saturday’s opponents with Sir Alex Ferguson-style mind games, the Republic of Ireland international’s opinion will no doubt raise eyebrows at Birmingham’s local rivals’ Compton training ground.
The general consensus is that Wolverhampton, who enjoyed a one-season sojourn in the Premier League during the 2003/2004 campaign, are Championship heavyweights who have been steadily plotting an inevitable return to the English top flight ever since Mick McCarthy took charge two years ago.
However, Carsley’s argument is that Wolves had avoided the same intense scrutiny and ‘favourites’ tag that the Premier League’s most recent members Birmingham and Reading have come under this season.
The veteran has a point but that in no way diminishes the titanic encounter that awaits those packed into Molineux at noon on Saturday and of course those tuning in from the comfort of their armchairs.
“I think Wolves are going to do well this season,” said Carsley, already a clear front-runner for Birmingham’s player-of-the-season award. “In many ways people are keeping an eye on us and Reading as opposed to Wolves and Sheffield United because we are the Premier League teams that came down.
“Even though Wolves are top of the league they have pretty much gone under the radar, I think after Christmas you will perhaps start to see people taking Wolves seriously but we have been taking them seriously from day one because in their first three or four games they were scoring a lot of goals and it makes you stand up and look at them.”
One pleasing sight for nervous Blues fans was that Carsley didn’t appear to be showing any effects from the thigh strain that prematurely ended his involvement in Tuesday night’s win over Ipswich. He smiled for the cameras at the launch of his club’s Give a Christmas Wish launch at St Andrew’s yesterday afternoon.
Wolves appear to be unstoppable and Birmingham will need every ounce of Carsley’s trademark mettle to stop the Championship leaders’ seven-match winning run.
While their sequence may not be as intimidating as their neighbours in the Black Country, Birmingham have chalked up three consecutive wins themselves to keep on Wolves’ tails.
“We’ve taken a bit of time to adjust to this division but in the last few weeks it seems that we’ve started to string together a bit of form and we’ve enjoyed it,” added Carsley, who is well aware of McCarthy’s managerial capabilities from his days with Ireland.
“I wouldn’t have thought that Saturday will be a game of flowing football, to be honest, I think that it’s very rare in the Championship to see two great footballing sides passing it about. It’s not like it’s Man U v Arsenal, nevertheless it’s still a massive game for us and it’s game that we are looking forward to.
“It doesn’t surprise me that Wolves have a good team because Mick is a good manager. The fact that he’s put together such a strong team is all down to him. I’m sure Mick will now be saying, like us, that it’s all about keeping it going because it is a long season with a lot of games. We’ve got to make sure that we look after ourselves and if we do we will be OK.”