By Laurie Fitzgerald

Birmingham City go into this weekend’s FA Cup clash at Chelsea full of confidence after their recent form has sparked real belief that this fixture could once again be a league clash next season.

The Blues currently sit in the play-off places, but with a game in hand over second-placed Southampton after a hugely impressive run of results.

They are unbeaten in nine Championship matches having taken 21 points from a possible 27, and after catching up with the majority of their games in hand carried over from their Europa League campaign, Chris Hughton’s side have catapulted from mid-table obscurity to promotion contenders.

It’s a fantastic achievement not only because of the amount of matches Birmingham have played this season (42 with at least another 17 to foll0w) but what is becoming an epic campaign has been carried out by a squad that has been stripped of it’s best players in the past six months.  

After their heartbreaking relegation in the final minutes of the final day of last season was followed by owner Carston Yeung being arrested and charged for alleged money laundering in his native Hong Kong, City have had to cash in on many of their biggest assets.

Birmingham lost their centre midfield of Craig Gardner and Barry Ferguson, their excellent centre-half pairing of Roger Johnson and Scott Dann, as well as goalkeeper Ben Foster on loan with a possible permanent move at West Brom.

With further departures in January of defender Liam Ridgewell and Jean Beausejour helping to balance the books, most managers would be preparing to stabilise their club in the Championship and ensure they secure safety.

Thankfully after the departure of Alex McLeish to fierce rivals Aston Villa, Birmingham acquired one of the most astute and underrated managers in the country.

Chris Hughton had been out of management ever since his hugely unfair sacking from Newcastle United in December 2010.

The former Tottenham assistant coach had steadied the ship at St. James’ Park to guide the club back to the top flight at the first time of asking, accumulating a record points total in the process.

However, despite having a solid start in the Premier League Hughton was sacked, and although his replacement Alan Pardew has done an excellent job, it was a decision that left a bitter taste for the Toon supporters.

His appointment at St. Andrews’ was a low-key affair, and the ensuing months only brought Hughton into focus due to the difficulties he faced in overcoming the departures of key personnel.

But after producing an admirable effort in Europe that saw them come just a point away from qualifying for the last 32, Hughton has built a squad that is starting to flourish.

They have a very good replacement for Foster between the sticks, while Curtis Davies has been one of the best centre-halves in the division in a defence containing a lot of experience in the likes of Stephen Caldwell, Stephen Carr and Jonathan Spector – only Hull have conceded more goals than Birmingham this season.

Chris Burke has taken a big creative role in the side since his summer move from Cardiff, and the Blues have one of the top emerging talents in the country in 17 year-old Nathan Redmond.

More importantly, they have the firepower to last the distance; the striking trio of Marlon King, Nikola Zigic and Adam Rooney already have 25 goals between them.

It’s a side brimming with confidence, but more significantly it’s a side that Hughton is getting the best out of, and the longer the season develops the more this squad are increasing in belief.

Birmingham have almost gone under the radar so far in the battle for promotion, but now they look as capable as anyone for promotion then they might get the credit they deserve.

They and their often understated and underrated manager.

So what do you think? Does Hughton get the level of credit he deserves as a manager? Can Birmingham maintain their excellent form to remain in the battle to reach the Premier League? Leave a comment and let us know your views.