King: Pressure Is Off Birmingham
Marlon King insists the pressure is not on Birmingham heading into the npower Championship play-offs.
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King, with 18 goals to his name, has spearheaded a City campaign which, it is fair to say, was relatively low on expectations last summer when the striker arrived on a free transfer from Coventry.
An overhaul of the club's squad following relegation from the Barclays Premier League, a change in management, well-documented cash-flow problems and a gruelling Europa League campaign left supporters hoping for, rather than expecting, an immediate return to England's top flight.
But only a minority could have predicted how the season would have panned out.
A mixture of Bosman signings and emerging young talent have become fans' favourites, a memorable European adventure had the most positive of impacts on the pitch as well as in the stands, and manager Chris Hughton has performed superbly under tough constraints to lead the charge.
Sixty games later and Birmingham head to Blackpool on Friday night for the first leg of their play-off semi-final having finished a commendable fourth in the table.
King said: "My feeling is, being brutally honest, if we didn't have Europe and the other cup games I think we would have finished automatic (in the top two).
"But we've got a job to do and it's Blackpool. It's going to be a tough two games and then we'll take it from there."
He continued: "If we considered (missing out on automatic qualification) a disappointment then I don't think we'd be at this stage discussing play-offs.
"If we dwelled on 'what could have been' then I don't think we would have been able to have got to this stage of finishing fourth - strongly. We haven't lost in our last nine games, five draws and four wins is very, very strong by anybody's record.
"And I don't think anybody in the play-offs would want to play us. I don't think the pressure is on Birmingham City, I think it's on other teams.
"Blackpool will want to get back to where they came from, West Ham have spent a lot of money and Cardiff have been in and around it. We're just a relaxed bunch and we've got a very calm and cool manager and staff, and we've got very passionate fans and people around the club."
The team spirit and togetherness at St Andrew's is something which King is keen to emphasise, praising both the players in the dressing room and boss Hughton, who is linked to the upcoming vacancy at West Brom.
King, who is bidding to become the first Birmingham striker to reach 20 goals in a season since Steve Claridge in the mid-1990's, tasted Championship play-off success with Watford in 2006.
And he believes Birmingham have got the qualities needed to progress to the Wembley final on May 19.
"It takes what we've got in the changing room," he said. "The guys we've got, it's a great feel, a great togetherness.
"It's never been about whatever's gone on outside the club, who's thinking what, what the supporters may be feeling. We just want to go out there and give 110% blood, sweat and tears.
"That's what we've given all season and that's what we'll continue to give until we're told to go on our holidays."