Preview: Birmingham City vs. Queens Park Rangers

High-flying Queens Park Rangers travel to face Birmingham City at St Andrew’s on Friday night knowing a victory would allow them to regain top spot in the Championship table before the rest of the weekend’s fixtures.

John Eustace’s Blues will be looking to put a disappointing defeat at Blackburn Rovers on Saturday behind them and continue to distance themselves from a relegation zone so many expected them to take residence in this season.

A mixture of sub-par finishing and a world-class display from Blackburn goalkeeper Thomas Kaminski meant Birmingham tasted defeat in the second tier for only second time in nine outings last weekend.

For any neutrals who found themselves watching proceedings at Ewood Park, it would have been extremely difficult to establish which side is pushing for promotion and which is struggling to shake off their tag as relegation favourites, with Blues dominating Rovers for large periods of the game and feeling short-changed for their efforts after coming home empty-handed.

It has been a long time since a Birmingham side dictated play against one of the top outfits in the Championship, highlighting the commendable job John Eustace is doing under difficult financial circumstances in the Second City.

Despite conceding two goals last time out, Blues still possess the second-best defensive record in the division, letting in just 15 goals in 16 matches, the same number as Vincent Kompany’s table-topping Burnley side.

A clash with Rangers this Friday rounds off a tricky trio of matches in which Birmingham have faced off against the current top three sides in the Championship consecutively, and with the visit of an in-form Millwall side next Tuesday, Eustace’s men will have to be at their energetic best to improve on their 15th-placed berth in the league standings.

Queens Park Rangers are a different prospect to the team led by former boss Mark Warburton last season, which ultimately let injuries to key players in the second half of the campaign damage their playoff ambitions beyond repair.

This time around Michael Beale’s exciting Rangers side have shown an ability to continue collecting maximums even when vital parts of their footballing blueprint have been sidelined, a great example of that being attacking midfielder Chris Willock.

Netting a winner at promotion rivals Sheffield United in early October should have been a moment to enjoy for Willock, but a hamstring injury picked up in the goalscoring process meant he would be out for his side’s next four Championship clashes, which certainly dampened any calls for celebration.

In the quartet of matches since, Beale’s men have earned nine points, keeping their automatic promotion push on track and showing the rest of the Championship that they are a serious candidate for a first Premier League campaign since the 2014-15 season.

Rangers boss Beale could have fast-tracked himself to the top tier of English football when managerless Wolverhampton Wanderers requested to speak to him over their vacant position, but the 42-year-old turned down that offer and explained his reasoning openly, an act that only further increased his rapidly-growing admiration inside footballing circles.

Birmingham City Championship form:

Queens Park Rangers Championship form:

We say: Birmingham City 1-1 Queens Park Rangers
Queens Park Rangers will be favourites heading into this game but attentive followers of the Championship will know an away assignment at Birmingham is one of the tougher tasks in the division.

Blues have had nearly a full week to prepare for the visit of Beale’s men so should be ready to match a quality visiting side and force them to share the points on Friday night.

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