Preview: Blues v Wigan Athletic

Pep Clotet is seeking focus and intensity from Blues as they begin the New Year with a home fixture against Wigan Athletic.

Although the visitors to the St. Andrew' Trillion Trophy Stadium on January 1st (kick-off 3pm) are bottom of the Championship and winless in 13 outings, Clotet says Blues must be on their guard.

"When you look at the table you maybe think 'there has to be a reason for them being there?'," commented the Head Coach. "But when you see, for example, the last five games
alone - they drew four - and a lot of those draws could have been wins.

"They are a team that is playing better and better and improving.

"This is a game where we need to have a lot of focus, we need to treat it with respect and have a lot of determination, intensity and be aware that the table is lying in their case."

Blues, who have Fran Villalba back in the squad after he missed the last two matches due to illness, have gone toe to toe with the league's top two, Leeds United and prior West
Bromwich Albion, in their previous two home fixtures and been edged out despite stirring efforts.

"Yes, it is annoying we didn't get anything from those games," said Clotet. "But it just highlights the difference between us and them.

"Those are teams prepared to have a push for promotion this season. We played probably a couple of the best games this season and we were close to something against them, but there is still a gap.

"A gap we need to shorten and utilise the good work everyone is putting in to try to get as high as possible this season, be as positive as we can, and be in a good position to be contenders next season.

"It took Leeds a lot of years to build their team, West Brom have been in the Premier League. They've come back down, reassessed and having another push.

"There is distance between the clubs. But that doesn't mean we are feeling sorry for ourselves - on the contrary.

"It is motivation. We competed very well against them and it highlighted areas where we need to get better. We scored goals against them, they obviously scored goals against us, two teams who are hard to contain.

"But we competed, did some very good things and there are positives that we can build on. We just can't be that naive to think we are on the same level as them yet."

The crazy way the Leeds game ended is out of the system, Clotet feels.

"No one plays like Leeds. We have a few things, but when they win the ball they try to put a lot of problems on you with numbers forward, runs, a lot of aggression. No one else does this kind of football.

"So it was that kind of game. We are a little bit similar, but we have a lot of differences. The game at Elland Road was similar, the teams were both still in their early stages, so they were probably a little less dangerous.

"At the end of the day, we didn't get the result but despite us losing, we did deserve a point. At 2-0, it looked as if it was going to be a long afternoon for us. We managed to stay
in it, against a team like theirs. Not many others do that."

With Dan Crowley getting up to speed after his injury, Villalba is the next off the sidelined list - and Jake Clarke-Salter is making excellent progress after dislocating his shoulder.

"Fran is back ready for selection," reported Clotet.

"Jake has been having a few training sessions with the squad, a lighter load. We hope that he can be back. Not for this game, but he is shortening the distance before he can play again."

At the dawn of a New Year, Clotet pays tribute to the patience and understanding of the Blues faithful.

"I would like to thank all the fans for the support, knowing the process we are in.

"We are very aware that we'd like to have more points and be higher in the table.

"When you assess all the circumstances and you balance the season, coming to the end of the year, there are things to consider.

"When you assess that we are changing the playing style, the fact we have had to accommodate a lot of players new to the country, new to the league, young players as well;
also incorporating those from within, who have come through the Academy.

"I think we deserve to have more points than we have got.

"I am satisfied to see the team in a position where we are safer than we have been before and that gives the opportunity to platform and keep improving.

"We always want more and more, just like our fans.

"The gap between teams is clear. It is about shortening this gap as much as possible and slowly turning ourselves into a team that can be a contender.

"I would like to thank the fans for their understanding of this and that helps us to keep going when it may be volatile at times. Expectation needs to be grounded on teams, players and everything else.

"We do everything based on what's best possible from the squad, to get injured players back in, that has been a bit of a problem for us, this past month, really.

"I would like like to wish the fans a very successful and healthy 2020. From us here, we are working very hard to deliver the best show and best results possible for them. Everyone knows we have a group of players doing everything for the shirt for them, the Club."