Villaflor: Neil’s burden

Noel Villaflor
·2 min read

WHEN Neil Etheridge signed a four-year contract with Birmingham City last September, everything looked bright for both the Azkals keeper and the Championship League club.

Etheridge is a top-class goalkeeper who saw English Premiership action in the 2017-18 season with Cardiff City.

He played so well that he was nominated for the Player of the Month award in August 2017 and won the club’s Player of the Year award at season’s end despite Cardiff’s relegation.

Back in the Championship, an injury saw Etheridge losing his position as Cardiff’s first choice goalkeeper.

So when Etheridge suited up for Birmingham, his fans got really excited with his prospects at a new club, where he would regain first keeper status.

Blues fans, on the other hand, welcomed Etheridge because the club finally has a decent goalie.

That meant with a solid keeper between the sticks and new head coach in Aitor Karanka, Birmingham should improve from their dismal performance last season of being just two rungs away from relegation.

Fast forward to February 2021, and the fans’ expectations were far from reality: Halfway through the season, Birmingham is faring worse than they did last year.

At 21st spot, Birmingham is a rung away from the relegation zone and just two points clear of the third bottom-placed club, which has two games in hand and could possibly overtake the Blues in the succeeding days.

The Blues’ dismal run continued with a goalless draw with Wycombe, the league’s worst team at 24th place.

In short, Birmingham is in a precarious state and faces relegation to third-tier League One.

This is a nightmare scenario for Etheridge, who can only do so much for a team with a leaky defense and anemic offense, the fourth worst in the league with only 19 goals converted.

If not for Etheridge’s heroics, the Blues could have lost more matches.

As the second half of the season will be a fight for Birmingham’s survival, the burden on Etheridge to save his club has just gotten heavier.