Well this is the big one, This is our first outing in a league game against a team that has genuine aspirations of the Premier League for a couple of years at the least. I know some will point to Southampton, but I think they were hardly realistically expecting to get where they are now. Birmingham have had seven of the last ten seasons in the Premier League, and this is the first successive season out of the top flight since 2001.
Clearly that could suggest that the nucleolus of the side that was of Premier League quality could have all gone now and they are in for another spell (the last one was sixteen years) outside of the top division, which I suspect many of their fans believe is their rightful home. However, they did make the playoffs last season, and were still in with an outside shout of the top two until the final six games.
These days the benefit of the parachute payments can easily be offset by the excessive wages that players, that a team can't move on, are earning. If the parachute money is £10m a season, and it is different from what we had now due to it lasting for four seasons, a club only needs six and a half players on £30k a week and it is all gone. Many relegated teams end up with players past their best on that kind of money that they can't give away.
Even average players earn much more in the Premier League than in the Championship, but I suspect that the parachute money does help, just not as much as many would think.
As far as Birmingham are concerned I think their success this season will depend as much on the three relegated sides as anything else. If two of the three clubs that came down fail to finish in the top three then I can see Birmingham being in with a shout of top two and certainly playoff contenders, but if two of Wolves, Bolton and Blackburn get their act together the top two could be beyond the Blues and the playoffs are much harder to win, psychologically, if you failed in them the season before - especially as the chances are that the side will be weaker.
This season is much more unknown for us I believe. The success we had last season would suggest that that we might be able to make the step up and challenge at the top. Equally we could be just not good enough to do that and we might have to settle for avoiding a relegation battle. Time will tell, starting with tomorrow.
Today the club announced the signing of Dorian Dervite-Vaussoue on a 1 year contract. This looks a little like the signing of Kermorgant last year. I'm not comparing the two players, or their expected contribution, but it is a player that is little of a gamble, on account of the fact that he is only on a one year deal and a free signing, but he could well turn out to be a decent acquisition.
I know that we would all have preferred to have been signing million pound players with a proven track record at this level (or higher), but we clearly don't have the money for such signings right now, and probably don't want to commit to the kind of wages that these players would demand - see the explanation of Birmingham's finances above.
I thought we'd play a first eleven on Tuesday night and expected a 2-1 win on that basis. My error was in team selection rather than predicting the score - we would have probably won if we'd played the first team. However the loss was little of an issue for me, and I was more than happy to see the reserve players get an outing, and I thought some of them have a good account of themselves.
As for tomorrow, I have little idea as to which way it is going to go. I think Birmingham should have too much for us. Two years ago they were about to start a season two divisions above us, yet we were relegated to the third division in the second season out of the top flight.
As much as I would like to sit on the fence I am going to go for a 1-1 draw. Certainly I would take that now if it were offered to me, but I just have a sneaking feeling that we will still be tough to score against at this level. Apart from fatigue of those that played the whole two hours on Tuesday I have full confidence in our defence, and we should be able to snatch a goal away from home with the way we play with our backs to goal and hit on the break.
Chris Powell has suggested that four straight defeats at the start does not necessarily mean disaster. I'm not sure if this was a throw away comment or a chance to manage expectations at the start of the season. I don't completely agree to be honest. After the year we have just had we should be looking to carry that momentum into this season and start well to give us further confidence. Maybe he really does think that avoiding relegation is the ultimate goal.
What ever happens, we are back to playing games against clubs that we believe have the same ultimate aspirations as us and that is very welcome. I don't mean to be disrespectful to any of the teams in the third division, but promotion out of that league was not a target all of it's own. It was a stepping stone to what we really want to achieve, and what we all believe we can achieve.
Up the Addicks!